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Psychiatrist ordered to testify in child custody case

Rhode Island residents may know that courts weigh many factors in deciding child custody issues. The primary consideration is always what is in the best interests of the child. To determine what is in the child's best interests, courts typically look at such factors as who is the primary caregiver, the wishes of the child, the age and sex of the child and evidence of use of drugs or alcohol by either parent, among others.

In evaluating these factors, courts may hear testimony from expert witnesses such as a psychiatrist. In one recent case, a judge has ordered a psychiatrist at a Veterans Administration Hospital to testify in a child custody dispute despite the government's opposition to that testimony.

The custody dispute involves an U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is seeking joint custody of his 1-year-old son. The former service member suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the veteran, the psychiatrist's testimony would demonstrate that he should get joint custody of the child. The veteran waived his doctor/patient privilege, but the VA still insisted on refusing to allow the testimony at the custody proceeding.

The judge determined that the testimony would be crucial to the court's decision of what is in the best interests of the child. The judge stated that the court does not want to meddle in the Veterans Affairs Department's responsibilities, but the safety of the child requires it.

The lawyer for the child agrees that the psychiatrist should testify because the veteran suffers from episodes of stress and rage, and the psychiatrist's testimony would help to identify triggering events the court should be aware of that could affect the safety of the child.

Source: The Post-Standard, "Syracuse judge orders VA psychiatrist to testify in contested child-custody case," Jim O'Hara, Aug. 31, 2012

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