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Instructing mental health experts in family court proceedings

In order to best instruct and interact with a court-appointed expert psychiatrist or psychological strategist in family law proceedings, your legal adviser must not only have sufficient expertise to understand how those professionals approach their task but also how the subject matter of their assessment (be it one or both of the spouses, cohabitees or parents) may also approach what is essentially a high-stakes, involuntary assessment of their mental state/personality. 

In virtually every case we deal with-albeit this firm is chosen by its clients because of its unique in-house mental health expertise and, therefore, its "joint legal psychological approach"- there are allegations of either diagnosable (against the relevant diagnostic criteria) or personality related disorders of one or both of the parties. 

The "other side" (the spouse, cohabitee or parent against whom we are acting for a client) will wish to present themselves in the best possible light and/or not be sufficiently detached from reality to incriminate themselves as having a diagnosable or discernible psychiatric or psychological problem in the course of such a court appointed psychiatric or psychological assessment, particularly where their prior medical history does not evidence such a problem.  Accordingly, a high degree of expertise is required of your legal adviser to ensure that the expert is supplied with the fullest and most contemporaneous case history against the backdrop of which the expert is proactively invited to tender his opinion.

The expertise required by your law firm is a specific understanding of the patterns of that person's behaviour and symptomology within the relationship and at the point of its break up in order that the client’s actual experience of their numerous upsetting and harmful interactions with the individual can be best presented to the expert and appropriate questions asked.  In our experience, clients knowing that there is something "wrong" with their partner often resort to labels or searches of the Internet to best understand and seek evidence in order to rationalise the inconsistent, confusing and often fixed behaviour of their partner.  Such labelling and "self-diagnosis" can be problematic as it is frequently the case that it is the degree of severity and the context in which the behaviour is presented in the other side that supports a concern around their mental health rather than the strict existence or absence of certain diagnostic criteria.

Further, even if the court-appointed expert is able to confirm a diagnosis, that can be a double-edged sword.  First, it means that a prognosis and care plan can be put into place which to a great extent can neutralise the risk inherent within such a diagnosis (therefore, the involvement of an expert "backfiring").  Secondly, it does not follow that the diagnosis necessarily makes that individual a "bad" or incompetent parent.  It is, after all, the patterns of behaviour and the context in which they present themselves during the relationship that in many cases has caused its eventual breakdown, not a simplistic diagnostic label.  By simply "gambling" on the outcome of an expert report in respect of the other side, the risk is run that the client’s painful experiences from many years of being subjected to their daily pathology are minimised if not entirely negated.  This is particularly a risk in conditions where "denial" is part of the symptomology.

Rather than seek to grasp this double edged sword, in the same way that individuals often litigate with the same dynamic as existed in the marriage or relationship, a client’s communication within the litigation with the other side invariably also reflects the dysfunctional interaction which the client has experienced within the relationship.  Such communication, does, however, need to be solicited at an early stage before it is confused with the acrimony which may develop within a family dispute and the, often stereotypical, aggressive, "he says, she says" interaction between the solicitors themselves.  By knowing how to articulate the client’s concerns about the other side’s dysfunction with a joint legal psychological approach, the pretence of reasonableness that the other side will invariably wish to portray can appear to be manipulative to both the court and expert alike.  

This is just another example of how, on the basis that the subject matter of family law proceedings are human beings and their unique psychologies, interactions and dysfunctions that the best chance of succeeding in your case is to have a law firm that not only understands your legal position but can articulate the emotional and/or psychological dysfunction that has led to the litigation in the first place.Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors is a law firm with a unique combination of legal and psychological skill sets which not only will protect your legal position but maximises the chance of successfully proving the existence of mental health issues which are disputed by the other side.

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