Ruling on a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to impose psychotherapy in a marital dissolution and custody order.
The issue arose in Lesley Farley Pitcavage v. Joel Michael Pitcavage, 29A02-1307-DR-597, in which Hamilton Superior Judge Daniel J. Pfleging ordered Lesley Pitcavage to undergo psychotherapy in order to participate in parenting time with her young daughter.
The Pitcavages have one child from their short marriage and Lesley Pitcavage has two children from a previous relationship. Joel Pitcavage had concerns about how his wife and her daughter A.F. interacted – they argued and got into physical altercations at times, and the mother was often passive to A.F.’s violent outbursts. Both are victims of sexual assault and violence, with A.F.’s perpetrator being Lesley Pitcavage’s brother.
Out of work, Joel Pitcavage moved to the St. Louis area and told his wife he wanted to take their daughter with him. She filed for divorce in 2010, and they battled over custody of the girl. The court-appointed clinical psychologist recommended Joel Pitcavage receive primary physical and sole legal custody – which the court granted – and that Leslie Pitcavage participate in “intensive individual pyschodynamically oriented psychotherapy.”
“We recognize that parents have an interest in rearing their children without undue interference from the courts, but in any child-related matter—whether it be custody, visitation, or termination of parental rights—the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Court-ordered psychotherapy may not be appropriate in every case, but here, where the evidence supports the mandate, we find the Child’s emotional development outweighs Leslie’s opposition to psychotherapy. Because the parenting time condition is based upon the trial court’s endeavor to protect the child’s emotional well-being, we cannot say that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to order Leslie to attend psychotherapy.”
The judges also affirmed the rest of the divorce decree with the exception of the valuation of Leslie Pitcavage’s 401(k) account. They ordered the trial court to enter a value of $56,820.36, the amount of the account as of Jan. 1, 2010. The trial court had valued it at $10,424.99, the amount she contributed to the account during the marriage.