A Custodial & Non-Custodial Parent Have Equal Access to Child’s Mental Health Records

Family Law Case Review

Case: Meridian Health Services Corporation v. Thomas Martin Bell
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it denied a mental health provider’s motion to quash and motion for protective order with regard to a child’s mental health records that were the subject of a father’s subpoena duces tecum.

HELD: Absent a court order that limits the access of either parent, a custodial and non-custodial parent both have equal access to a child’s mental health records.

HELD: A therapist’s or physician’s belief that the release of a child’s mental health records to a parent would be detrimental to the child is not, by itself, a justification to withhold the records. The provider is affirmatively obligated to seek a court order limiting the access of the parent(s).

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 2011 with one Child. Litigation regarding parenting time followed. In 2015, Father’s attorney contacted Meridian Health Services Corporation requesting Child’s therapy records. Meridian responded that Father would first need to submit a medical release form.

Before a release form was tendered, Meridian sought and received from Child’s physician a letter stating that a release of Child’s mental health records could be detrimental to Child. Meridian used that letter as a basis, ostensibly pursuant to Ind. Code 16-39-2-4, not to release Child’s records to Father.

Father noticed Child’s therapist for deposition, along with a subpoena duces tecum requesting her “complete file.” In response, Meridian filed a motion to quash and motion for protective order. The trial court took no action prior to the scheduled deposition. The therapist failed to appear at the deposition. Father filed a motion for rule to show cause, and all of the motions were set for hearing.

After the hearing, the trial court concluded that Ind. Code 16-39-2-4 limits the release of mental health records to the patient if doing so could be detrimental; that statute does not apply to a release of records to a third party, such as parents of a child. The trial court denied Meridian’s motion to quash and motion for a protective order, but did admonish both parents not to discuss the records with Child, or even to let Child know they had access to the records. Meridian was later ordered to pay $6,270 towards Father’s attorney fees. Meridian appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Court agreed that Ind. Code 16-39-2-4 did not apply in this situation, and that Child’s therapist was not justified under the law to fail to appear at the deposition. At all times, Meridian (or Mother) could have petitioned the Court for restrictions on Child’s mental health records, but it did not do so. In essence, the law puts the burden on the provider to seek from the trial court access limitations for such records being sought by a parent; it does not put the burden on the parent to overcome the provider’s reluctance to deliver the records.

The Court also affirmed the fee award against Meridian, but emphasized that it was not because Meridian initially opposed releasing Child’s records, but because it continued to balk at doing so after the trial court had denied its motion to quash.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Meridian Health Services Corporation v. Thomas Martin Bell

 

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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