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California Court Upholds Sanctions for Disclosing Information in a Custody Case

Custody cases often produce custody evaluations and other sources of sensitive information. As such, certain documents may be deemed confidential and both parties are prohibited from disclosing any information in the document. If a party, or his or her attorney, discloses information in a confidential document it can result in adverse consequences.

This was illustrated in a recent case decided by a California appellate court, in which the court imposed sanctions on a wife’s attorney for revealing information contained in a confidential custody evaluation. If you are involved in a custody dispute, it is important to retain an experienced California family law attorney who will act in the best interest of both you and your child.

Facts Regarding the Divorce Actions

The wife had a child with her first husband. They divorced but were engaged in an ongoing custody dispute. The court ordered a custody evaluation and a psychological evaluation. The wife then married her second husband and gave birth to a second child. The second marriage dissolved, but the custody issue was unresolved. The first husband filed an affidavit in support of the second husband in the second action, alleging that the wife engaged in substantial misconduct involving both children.

It is alleged that the wife’s attorney deposed the first husband, and during the deposition asked him several questions regarding what he and his child stated during the custody evaluation. The first husband testified that he did not remember in response to the majority of the questions and declined to finish the deposition. He then filed a motion for sanctions for disclosing the confidential information in the custody evaluation. The court granted the motion, imposing sanctions on both the wife and her attorney. The wife then appealed.

California Law Regarding the Disclosure of Confidential Information

The court noted that California law deems information in a psychological evaluation involving custody of a child confidential, and states that the information may only be exposed to the parties and their attorneys, a judicial officer or court employee, or counsel for the child. The court was not persuaded by the wife’s attorney’s argument that the “information” protected by the statute was solely the recommendation set forth in the valuation. Rather, the court stated that the purpose of the statute was to protect the privacy of the child and encourage candor, and therefore, the entirety of the report was confidential.

Further, the court found that even though the attorney did not directly disclose the information in the report, her deposition questions clearly indicated the contents of the report. The court stated that a court reporter was not a court employee, and therefore the disclosure was not made solely to parties permitted to receive the information under the statute. Lastly, the court noted that the disclosure was not in the child’s best interest. As such, the court affirmed the sanctions as to the attorney. The court reversed the sanctions imposed on the wife, however, finding that there was no evidence the wife directed the attorney to disclose the confidential information.

Consult a Skilled California Family Law Attorney

Child custody disputes can become very heated, but determining a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of your child should remain the focus of any action. If you are involved in a custody dispute, you should consult a skilled child custody attorney to help you seek an outcome that is in your child’s best interest. Ethan M. Weisinger is a proficient California child custody attorney who will work tirelessly to help you pursue a favorable outcome.  Mr. Weisinger can be contacted at 925-258-2020 or through the online form to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION: TIPS FOR APPEARING IN FAMILY COURT SERVICES, Walnut Creek Divorce Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2019

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