Court Ordered Mental Health Evaluations

If you get involved in any legal situation that implicates your mental health, you may be ordered to undergo court ordered mental health evaluations. This can arise in a number of contexts, including civil, criminal, or family law matters.

Mental health assessments are performed by a qualified professional. That professional evaluates your mental health, looking for conditions such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, or others.

Court ordered evaluations usually begin with a short written or online evaluation. There is then a follow-up with a mental health professional to discuss those written answers. In-person evaluations typically range from 45 to 90 minutes. This evaluation can be conducted remotely over the phone or by video conference. The mental health professional then uses your written answers and in-person interaction to produce a report for the Court. Depending on the therapist’s findings, this report may include a treatment recommendation. The Court can then use this report to evaluate an individual in the context of the court case.

Court order mental health evaluations can arise in a number of contexts.

Most central in the popular imagination is the evaluation of a criminal defendant in a murder trial who seeks to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. However, court ordered mental health evaluations also occur when a criminal defendant seeks to represent himself in court: failing to order such an examination in this contact can result in a conviction being reversed on appeal.

In a criminal proceeding, being ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation (especially outside of the two aforementioned contexts) may be a good sign that the Court (or prosecutor) considers your mental health status to be a mitigating factor in your alleged offense and may be considering some form of treatment in lieu of incarceration.

Mental health evaluations are often ordered in child custody actions, where the objective is to determine a parent’s suitability for child custody or visitation. In sexual assault actions, victims may be ordered to undergo an evaluation both for their own protection and to determine their ability to testify. Individuals involved in civil lawsuits may be directed to undergo an evaluation of their mental competence which appears to be at issue, such as where an elderly litigant appears to be suffering from dementia. Evaluations can even be ordered in animal hoarding cases.

If you’ve been ordered by a court to undergo a mental health evaluation, contact Nancy Hilsenrath, LCSW, CASAC, SAP, to find out more, including the cost of an evaluation and what to expect from the process.


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