Asta Dervinytė-Bongarzoni, Nomeda Gutauskienė


The objective of the study is to analyse how child’s psychological wellbeing and development is preserved in high-conflict child-custody cases. We have analysed contemporary legal aspects of discontinuation of marriage and discussed child’s psychological problems and psychopathological signs which formed during a delayed and high-conflict parents’ divorce process or due to post-divorce disputes between the parties; the psychopathological signs were diagnosed during a child’s psychological-psychiatric assessment. We have also investigated which questions are sought to be addressed by the court, requesting an assessment of child’s psychological wellbeing.Research materials and methodology. The analysis was based on court enquiries submitted to child psychiatrists and psychologists of the Child’s Developmental Centre of Vilnius University Children’s Hospital in year 2007 – 2011 and on conclusions and recommendations of a complex psychological-psychiatric assessment. 449 enquiries and 60 conclusions and recommendations of complex psychological-psychiatric assessment were analyzed. Using qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis court enquiries were divided into categories based on their content and frequency.Results. We were able to categorize enquiries into three groups allowing us to assess child’s three key needs: 1st group – enquiries related to a child’s her opinion on a given subject, 2nd group – enquiries analysing if that opinion is not influenced, 3rd group – enquiries related to assessing child’s emotional relation to other family members. Categories of enquiries according to their frequency: I. Family relationships: enquiries related to assessing child’s emotional relation to other family members; II. Opinion: enquiries asking to directly determine child’s opinion on that matter (for example, in relation to place of residency); III. Influence: enquiries analysing if that opinion is not influenced: IV. Consciousness: enquiries related to child’s ability to express his/her opinion;. The court made only two enquiries on child’s psychological wellbeing; recommendations on addressing child’s mental health problems made up only 3.6% of total number of enquiries.30% of all court enquiries were not categorized due to their diversity or irrelevance. Most of them were either repetitive, or not reflecting child’s interest or not requiring special psychological knowledge. It demonstrates that the parties participating in a court process lack knowledge related to: child development, family system and psychodynamics.Conclusions: 1. The research of child‘s needs in legal family process revealed the complexity of the analyzed problem which involves both legal and psychological aspects. During a legal process, a child involved in a family conflict triangle is demanded to express his/her opinion on his/her parents while being psychologically and emotionally dependent on them. 2. Child‘s opinion should be taken into consideration only after having considered child‘s interests (understanding them as a holistic concept involving child‘s physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological, and social development) and after having assessed each of the parents‘ ability to ensure them. In our research population, the court‘s enquires sought to clarify a child‘s opinion and a possible influence on this opinion by others, whereas enquires related to parents‘ abilities to satisfy child‘s interests were rare. 3. During a child and family assessment, multiple psychological problems and emerging psychopathological symptoms were discovered, it demonstrates that child‘s developmental needs are neglected during a family legal conflict. 4. Timely psychological or psychiatric help is crucial in prevention of child‘s mental health disorders. 5. A scientifically based approach and knowledge of child‘s development and family system‘s psychodynamic processes is to be included in specialists‘ development and studies.

Keyword(s): child‘s psychological wellbeing, parents’ divorce, high-conflict child-custody cases.
DOI: 10.5200/sm-hs.2014.007
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