Psychology in Family and Child Law

The search for home truths

February 28, 2008

It is almost impossible to be involved in family law without discovering that when families get into difficulties, rational thought tends to fly out of the window. Disputes over topics that appear minor assume enormous proportions. Solutions that appear sensible to an outsider are fiercely rejected by the parties involved. Without an understanding of the psychology of families and the impact of family breakdown, much of what happens when couples separate is incomprehensible. In many cases, psychologists' reports can play a crucial role in the court's determination of how best to resolve a case. Hence a book outlining the relevant psychological issues for family lawyers is invaluable.

This book opens with three useful introductory chapters. These set out the roles that psychologists can play in the family courts; the methods psychologists use in preparing these reports; and the different forms of psychological testing. The rest of the book is divided into three main sections.

The first sets out the psychological issues that can arise in relation to children. These include the assessment of child abuse. Usefully, there are separate chapters on sexual abuse and emotional harm. There are also chapters that will be of assistance on disputes over residence and contact that cover parental alienation and attachment. One important chapter sets out the range of therapies and treatments that can be available for a family going through difficulties.

The second part considers issues arising in relation to adolescents. There are very useful discussions of various disorders that can plague adolescents, including eating and behavioural disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is surprising that there is not more material here about the assessment of adolescents' capacity or competence. A key legal question can be whether a child is "Gillick competent" and so entitled to take some decisions for him or herself. A discussion of that issue would have been useful.

The third part considers mental health issues relating to adults that can arise in a family law case. There are helpful chapters on a range of disorders that may become apparent to lawyers dealing with clients. Anxiety-based disorders, affective disorders, personality disorders and psychosis are all considered. Family lawyers are likely to be particularly interested in issues relating to substance-based disorders given their prevalence in public law work especially.

This book is an extremely helpful guide to the psychological issues family lawyers may face. It is written in an accessible and approachable manner. It will greatly help lawyers appreciate the significance and limitations of the work of psychologists for the family courts. In improving the dialogue between the legal and psychological professions it is hoped that a better service can be offered to families in difficulties who get involved in the law.

Who is it for? Any professional involved in family law including lawyers, social workers, judges, children's guardians and academics.

Presentation: This is a very well-presented text with a good structure. It is easy to quickly find the information you are looking for.

Would you recommend it? Yes.

Psychology in Family and Child Law

Author: C. van Rooyen and B. Mahendra
Edition: First
Publisher: Jordans
Pages: 250
Price: £45.00
ISBN 9781846610677

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