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Family lawyers v. psychologists, Round 2

One of last year’s fiercest lobbying battles in the General Assembly has been one-sided so far this time around.

Domestic relations attorneys, with the support of the Virginia Bar Association and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, are determined to get Virginia Code § 20-124.3:1 repealed.

The provision bars use of the records or testimony of a mental health therapist against a parent in a custody dispute. It was enacted in 2002 at the behest of clinical psychologists, who contended that their patients were likely to be less candid when getting treatment if they knew that what they said might cost them custody of their children.

The domestic relations bar countered that other provisions in state law list the mental health of a parent as one of the factors a judge must consider in deciding custody. It makes no sense for another law to make the best information about a parent’s health inadmissible, the attorneys insist. And they say there’s no evidence real evidence that parents avoid therapy because of custody battles.

Last year, groups of lawyers were balanced by blocs of psychologists at hearings on the repeal effort. This year, the lawyers have been back, but the psychologists have not. A spokesman for them acknowledged that the law needs changing but asked for another year to work out a compromise. The lawyers countered that two years of effort in that direction have produced nothing.

So far, the intensity of their effort has prevailed. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee reported SB 330 yesterday to the full Senate on a 13-1 vote.

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