New 2024 Act Mandates Depression Screening for Birth Mothers

New 2024 Act Mandates Depression Screening for Birth Mothers

In a landmark move, Arkansas has enacted Act 316 as of January 1, 2024. The act requires mandatory screening for depression in birth mothers within the first six weeks of giving birth as an attempt to address mental health concerns, such as post-partum depression (PPD). 

From a societal perspective, Act 316 represents a monumental recognition of the mental health difficulties encountered by new mothers — but from a family law perspective, it can also pose complications for custody arrangements. 

What Is Act 316?

Act 316, which amends Arkansas Code Title 20 and Title 23, establishes the obligation for healthcare providers attending births to facilitate depression screenings for birth mothers. It also mandates that health benefit plans cover these screenings within the specified timeframe. Here are some key facts you need to know about Act 316:

#1: Screening Mandate and Patient Refusal

Act 316 requires healthcare providers attending births in Arkansas to facilitate depression screenings for birth mothers within the first six weeks postpartum. If a birth mother declines the screening, the healthcare provider must document the refusal in the patient's medical records.

From a family law perspective, this provision could absolutely be relevant in cases where mental health is a factor in custody disputes. 

#2: Confidentiality of Screening Records

Act 316 emphasizes the confidentiality of records, reports, and data related to depression screenings, protecting the identity of individuals involved. This confidentiality could be crucial in family law cases if one party seeks access to the mental health records of the other. 

#3: Health Benefit Plan Coverage

Health benefit plans must provide coverage for depression screenings of birth mothers within the first six weeks postpartum. In custody and family law cases, this coverage could be significant when assessing the overall well-being of a birth mother. 

What Does This Act Mean for New Mothers?

The rates of PPD have escalated dramatically since COVID-19, so providing this kind of covered and mandatory mental health assessment is an incredible piece of progress in supporting the overall well-being of mothers during a critical period of adjustment.

But it’s also for new mothers navigating custody disputes to fear this act. Courts could take into account the mental health of both parents — and compliance with Act 316 could sway custody decisions since judges make determinations that prioritize the best interests of the child.

Another important note is the act requires healthcare providers to document instances where a birth mother declines the depression screening. In a custody case, this documented refusal may be presented, which means the court will likely consider the reasons behind the refusal and its potential implications for the mother’s mental well-being.

Contact Hickey & Hull Law Partners

If you find yourself in a custody dispute, it’s completely natural to have concerns about how the outcomes of the depression screenings might influence your case and the court’s rulings. 

We also know that you may be apprehensive about the possibility of your mental health status being unfairly leveraged against you in the determination of custody arrangements.

But Hickey & Hull can help protect you and fight for your family, no matter the situation. Chat, fill out our online form, or contact us today to get a free consultation. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.