Applications of Forensic Psychiatry in Civil Cases

The term “forensic” frequently conjures images of district attorneys finding a speck of evidence that lands a hardened criminal in jail, but forensics play an important role in the civil courts, as well. forensic psychiatric is a field of applied science that can dramatically sway the ruling of a judge in civil cases such as child custody disputes and assessing the extent and impact of psychiatric damages.

Child Custody Cases

Ensuring that children are entrusted to a responsible and rational adult is no easy task, and it doesn’t become any easier when the question of a guardian’s mental status is brought into question. Forensic psychiatry can be used to determine what impact a potential guardian’s mental status has on their capability to properly guide and raise children. In hotly disputed cases where the other party is likely to reference the opposition’s mental illness in an attempt to shift the balance of custody, it can be beneficial to bring in a forensic psychiatrist to give an independent review of the person’s ability to function. Conversely, if a potential guardian is attempting to mask the extent of their illness, the outside counsel of a forensic psychiatrist may be necessary to highlight to the court any possible dangers that the children could be facing. The APA has guidelines specifically regarding the use of forensic psychiatry in child custody cases to do everything possible to provide accurate and fair evaluations in order to achieve the best results for the child.

Mental and Emotional Damage

Although suing for emotional distress is often used as the punchline for a joke about baseless lawsuits, suffering mental harm from someone’s actions is anything but funny and deserves serious consideration when determining the damages that a defendant should pay out if found responsible. A forensic psychiatrist’s report can be used to determine the extent of the mental harm, including its impact on the plaintiff’s ability to successfully hold a job and lead a fulfilling life. Defendants can also make use of forensic psychiatry reports to discourage frivolous lawsuits where malingering plaintiffs attempt to use the legal system to extort money. 

Keep a Forensic Psychiatrist in Your Corner

Before you head into the courtroom, whether it’s a civil or criminal case, consider the role that the question of psychiatric health is likely to play in the proceedings. Even if you don’t proactively hire a forensic psychiatrist, keep the capabilities of the field in mind and be ready to ask the judge to allow you time to have a report compiled if mental health is called into question.