Mental Health Allegations in Child Arrangement Order Court Applications
Mental health allegations in child arrangement order court applications can take many different forms but the allegations can affect the order made by the family court. In this article, our family law solicitors look at how mental health allegations are assessed in children law proceedings.
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Types of mental health allegations in child arrangement order applications
Parents can raise concerns during child arrangement order proceedings about the other parent’s mental health or their child’s mental health.
Mental health allegations against the other parent can include:
- Mental health issues arising from alcoholism or drug usage
- Unresolved feelings of depression or anxiety arising from the relationship breakdown or divorce
- Psychological issues such as narcissistic personality disorder
- Psychiatric issues such as psychosis or schizophrenia
- Mental health issues giving rise to anger management and domestic violence or abuse
Mental health concerns about children in child arrangement order court proceedings can include:
- Low mood and low self-esteem
- Anger management issues – this can result in involvement in school bullying or issues at home over self-control and inappropriate behaviour towards parents or siblings
- Anxiety and depression – these concerns can have an impact on a child’s school performance or their attendance at school
- Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa
- Thoughts about self-harming
Assessing mental health allegations in child arrangement order court applications
If concerns are raised by a parent about the other parent’s mental health, or their child’s mental health, the court will consider the seriousness of the allegations and the relevance of the allegations to the court proceedings.
The family court is alert to the fact that on occasion malicious false allegations can be made by one parent against the other to try and help support their case. In other situations, the mental health allegations may have little bearing on the outcome of the court application but they may still require investigation and assessment. For example, many parents experience depression but that does not mean that they are not loving and capable parents.
If a parent raises mental health allegations about the other parent it is important that their family law solicitor puts them into context so the court understands the reasons behind the parent’s concerns. For example, you may be concerned about your child’s anxiety because of the domestic violence your child observed during your relationship with your ex-partner or you may be worried about your former partner’s ability to look after your baby because of the parent’s depression and its impact on their ability to meet your child’s physical and emotional needs. Alternatively, if your child has an eating disorder you may be worried about your child’s welfare during contact because the other parent does not accept the child’s diagnosis and will not support or adhere to the child’s dietary regime.
Court-ordered reports and assessments
Once court proceedings have been started no assessment should be undertaken without court permission. A judge can order:
- A report by CAFCASS – this report is undertaken by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and an officer is appointed to investigate and report
- A report by social services – this is referred to as a section 7 report and can be ordered where there is existing social services involvement with a family or there are safeguarding concerns
- A report by a psychologist or psychiatrist – the court cannot order a report on an adult if the adult agrees to the report. If an adult refuses to participate in an assessment and report then the court may draw inferences from the refusal to engage in the referral. If an assessment of a child is necessary the court can ask a specialist child psychologist or child psychiatrist to see the child and prepare a report
How does mental health impact on child arrangement order applications?
In children law proceedings the court has to consider a range of factors before making a child arrangement order, specific issue order, or prohibited steps order. Those factors, referred to as the welfare checklist, include:
- How capable each parent, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs
- Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
- The child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- The range of powers available to the court
A court will carefully assess the extent and relevance of mental health allegations. For example, a parent may acknowledge that they have anger management problems but be committed to attending counselling, or a parent who has previously refused to accept their child’s mental health diagnosis may agree to attend family counselling.
A court may conclude that whilst a parent does have mental health concerns that their health can be managed because of the importance to the child of maintaining a relationship with both parents. The court could conclude that any risks presented by mental health concerns could be managed through supervised contact, injunction orders, or the input of social services.
In child arrangement order proceedings that involve mental health allegations, the court proceedings can become complicated. For example, the court could order that domestic violence allegations should be the subject of a finding of fact hearing or the court could order that a child of sufficient age and understanding should be made a party to the court proceedings. Specialist family law solicitors can help look at the relevance of the mental health allegations to what child custody or child contact orders are in the best interests of your child.
Online and London Family Law Solicitors