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Mental Health

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Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors have an unrivalled ability to maximise a client’s position where there are issues of mental health in family disputes. 

Whether we are acting for a client suffering from mental health issues (including anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, or personality disorders, including narcissism/NPD and EUPD/BPD) or it is the former spouse/partner or coparent who suffers from such conditions, our unique understanding and experience in these cases, ensures that the right result is achieved for the client and the family.  

Ultimately, if it is possible, issues of mental health in family breakdown should be dealt with outside of the family justice system as far as possible.  The adversarial, undermining, unsupportive, lack of transparency and openness and inability to support/educate any children involved, is completely inconsistent with axioms of mental health. 

Yet, time and again, we encounter law firms who believe that mental health is simply another opportunity for making allegations or undermining the sufferer.  They do so because their only strategy is to seek to undermine the other side, believing that increased blame and aggression will ensure the truth comes out (when, in fact, it has the opposite effect).  This “weaponisation” of mental health issues is not only completely inconsistent with axioms of mental health but is also extremely damaging to an individual’s litigation strategy, unless the mental health condition is previously diagnosed, obvious and presenting a clear welfare issue at the time of the family breakdown.  Likewise, the most common tactic adopted by the poorly advised sufferer is to seek to minimise, deny or deflect away from the issue of mental health which causes a fundamental weakness in their case. 

This type of advice completely misunderstands the complexities of mental health difficulties and addressing such problems in litigation and can completely undermine an individual’s case if based on mental health.

We are able to formulate strategies to ensure that if it is our client who is suffering from mental health issues, these issues do not prejudice their case any more than absolutely necessary.  Those same strategies, also ensure that where the sufferer is the former spouse/partner/separated co-parent, that the strongest case is presented, without confusion, white noise or the risk of stereotypes or "blow back" (where raising a mental health issue becomes detrimental to the non-sufferer) and in such a way to ensure that the court and its officers take the issue seriously.

Without such expert knowledge, there are many ways in which mental health can be improperly dealt with or cause difficulties in family law representation.  For example:

(a)  testing for alcohol and substance misuse does not always provide the answer one is looking for nor prove that there is any problem around parenting;

(b)  a lack of understanding around conflicts and how they operate, often leads to accusations of narcissism/NPD in the other parent, which can be extremely damaging, if it has not been previously diagnosed;

(c)  often, paradoxically, the existence of a diagnosis, prognosis and care plan can be unhelpful to a parent who is seeking to demonstrate that the mental health related behaviour is relevant in relation to parenting or where a former spouse/partner/separated co-parent is seeking to rely upon mental health for an improved financial settlement;

(d)  ultimately, expert psychiatric and psychological reports can be damaging to proving that mental health is an issue that should be taken into account.  After all, court-appointed or not, mental health professionals are care professionals, who are very unlikely to “write off” the mental health sufferer or believe that interrupting their relationship with their children will assist their recovery. 

(e)  court-appointed or not, mental health professionals are only as good as the case history and attribute primary importance to the court directed consultation which will be impacted by the self-serving, self reporting of the parent being assessed, who is aware of the high stakes of failing the assessment.  

(f)  without a proper understanding of how to respond to such manipulation, individual therapy undertaken by direction of the court or Cafcass is simply an exercise in futility, allowing the sufferer to manipulate the court by using therapist-client confidentiality to claim that they have improved and abided by the courts wishes whilst, essentially, making a mockery of the time and financial commitment to get them to that point.  Without proper insight, many legal cases can be “won” in court, only to be “lost” through an individual attending therapy claiming to be “cured” in an environment where the courts have lost interest and notwithstanding that they are in breach of one of the axioms of mental health that improvement will only be seen if an individual attends therapy/psychological treatment voluntarily and with an active wish to remove the restrictions which their mental health problems present to their everyday life. 

The interaction between an understanding of mental health and how to represent a client in the family justice system is particularly important in relation to alcohol abuse and personality disorders (for example narcissism/NPD and EUPD/BPD) as the vast majority of the population consume alcohol and all have a personality.  It is, therefore, a question of degree as to whether an individual is a problematic drinker or has a problematic personality such that it impacts the family and is relevant to the legal case.  As with factual allegations, issues of mental health can be turned on their head so that a negative becomes a very strong positive for the sufferer and, conversely, a belief by one parent that the other has a relevant mental health problem, leads to accusations of negativity, unqualified opinion, weaponisation and a lack of child centricity/empathy.

The family justice system is largely ignorant of the impact of mental health issues on legal cases, thereby making it important that the impact of the mental health issue on family members is fully understood by court-appointed experts, Cafcass and social services and court alike. As with other areas, superficial conclusions are reached, for example, that an alcoholic should not have overnight contact for two years (completely ignoring more constructive ways of dealing with the condition and that recovery is, in fact, lifelong) or that temporary abstinence from alcohol demonstrates that the individual is cured rather than this being a possible diagnostic indicator for the condition itself.

As we are experts in mental health within the family justice system, we increase the likelihood that individuals will not only gain the support they need but appropriate safeguards can be put in place for the whole family unit.

Cases we have been retained on include:

    • Alcohol and drug abuse and dependency;
    • Anxiety and depressive disorders, including bipolar disorder;
    • Personality disorders, including the “Cluster B” disorders of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)("narcissism"), anti-social personality disorder, EUPD (borderline personality disorder (BPD)) and histrionic disorder;
    • “Cluster A” personality disorders, including paranoid personality disorder;
    • Aspergers and autistic spectrum disorders;
    • Schizophrenia and psychosis

Where the court requires a court-appointed expert’s report on issues of mental health, due to our expertise, we are able to obtain more favourable reports for our clients as we have the ability to speak the same language as the expert concerned and ensure that our client’s concerns are properly communicated and the correct questions asked of the expert.

In certain cases, court proceedings can be avoided entirely in favour of a longer term care plan.

Contact our Family Law Solicitors

If you have a family dispute that needs resolving, we are here to help and look forward to your call. Please contact us, or call us on 01483 826 470.


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