The controlling principle in all child custody determinations is the best interests of the child. See Schallinger v. Shallinger, 699 N.W.2d 15, 19 (Minn. Ct. App. 2005). The “best interests of the child” are defined by statute as meaning “all relevant factors,” including the 13 factors listed in the statute. See Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1.
The mental health of each parent is an important issue in every child custody and visitation dispute, and the statute explicitly lists this among the 13 factors to be considered. See Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(9).
The case law in Minnesota provides that the Court has broad discretion to analyze a parent’s mental health as part of its determination of custody and visitation. See Meyer v. Meyer, 375 N.W.2d 820, 826 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985) pet. for rev. denied (Minn. Dec. 30, 1985) (The district court has considerable discretion when weighing custody factors relating to mental health); see also Durkin v. Hinich, 442 N.W.2d 148, 151 (Minn. 1989) (The district court has broad discretion when determining custody of children); Olson v. Olson, 534 N.W.2d 547, 550 (Minn. 1995) (The district court is also afforded broad discretion in visitation matters).
The reason for the broad discretion afforded to the District Court in custody and visitation disputes is based on the public policy that, with regard to issues of custody and visitation, the ultimate question is what is in the child’s best interests. See Minn. Stat. § 518.175, Subd. 5. To that end, safety and security top the list detailing the best interests of a child.
While evaluators can recommend psychological testing, the ultimate responsibility to determine the issues to be considered in deciding custody and visitation rests with the Court. In fact, the statute authorizing the investigation and reports available to the Court states that “[i]n contested custody proceedings…the court may order an investigation and report concerning custodial arrangements for the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.167, Subd. 1 (emphasis added).
Rule 35 of the Rules of Civil Procedure also supports the request for a psychological examination and two requirements before the court can order a psychological examination. See Minn. R. Civ. Proc. 35.01. First, the mental condition of the opposing spouse must be in controversy, and second, good cause must be shown. See Haynes v. Anderson, 304 Minn. 185, 232 N.W.2d 196 (1975); see also Morey v. Peppin, 353 N.W.2d 179 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984) (case involving a child custody dispute in which the mother was required to furnish access to her mental health records, since her mental health was in controversy in the proceedings).
According to the Court in Haynes, an adverse examination cannot be permitted unless the person’s ability to be the custodial parent is in controversy. See Haynes v. Anderson, 304 Minn. 185, 232 N.W.2d 196 (1975).
The Court in Haynes also explained that showing of good cause requires the demonstration of a factual basis to the court as to why the other spouse’s mental condition is in controversy, and that the inconvenience of the examination will be minimal and/or that the inconvenience of the examination is outweighed by the potential impact of the examination on the issues involved. See Haynes v. Anderson, 304 Minn. 185, 232 N.W.2d 196 (1975).
Once the psychological evaluation has been ordered and performed, the examined parent may request a copy of a detailed written report of the examining physician setting out his/her findings and conclusions, together with the reports of all earlier examinations of the same condition. See Minn. R. Civ. Proc. 35.02(a) (2008). After such request and delivery, the examined party, upon request, is entitled to receive from the other party a like report of any examination, previously or thereafter made, of the same mental condition. See Minn. R. Civ. Proc. 35.01(a). If the other party refuses to deliver such a report, there may be sanctions issued. See Minn. R. Civ. Proc. 35.01(a) (2008).
While an order by the Court requiring a party to undergo a psychological evaluation will not by itself, prevent abusive behavior, it will provide the Court and its agencies with important information that can be used to create a custodial and parenting time arrangement for the child that will inhibit and avert dangerous situations for the minor child. See Kuebelbeck v. Humphrey, 402 N.W.2d 202, 204-205 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987) (district court may severely restrict visitation when noncustodial parent has denounced custodial parent and disturbed child during visits), review denied (Minn. April 29, 1987); see also D.A.H. v. G.A.H., 371 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. Sept. 19, 1985) (evidence of abuse supported the district court’s decision which restricted visitation and required the father to submit to psychotherapy prior to further consideration of the father’s visitation status).
The decision to order a psychological evaluation and release of anger management counseling records should be made responsibly; however, a judge or judicial officer cannot be held liable to anyone in a civil action for “acts done in the exercise of judicial authority.” See Linder v. Foster, 209 Minn. 43, 45, 295 N.W.2d 299, 300 (1940) (quoting Stewart v. Cooley, 23 Minn. 347, 350 (1877)). Judicial immunity extends to persons who are integral parts of the judicial process. See Myers through Myers v. Price, 463 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Minn. Ct. App. 1990), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. Feb. 4, 1991).
Minnesota law even extends quasi-judicial immunity to court-appointed psychiatrists, physicians, psychologists, and social workers. See Sloper v. Dodge, 426 N.W.2d 478, 479 (Minn. Ct. App. 1988); see also In re Scott County Master Docket, 618 F. Supp. 1534, 1575 (D. Minn. 1985) (court-appointed psychologist extended quasi-judicial immunity), aff’d in part and rev’d in part, Myers v. Morris, 810 F.2d 1437 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 828, 108 S. Ct. 97 (1987). Judicial immunity applies to determinations and acts in a judicial capacity, “however erroneous or by whatever motives prompted.” Linder v. Foster, 209 Minn. 43, 46, 295 N.W.2d 299, 300 (1940) (quoting Stewart v. Case, 53 Minn. 62, 66, 54 N.W. 938, 938 (1893)).