Why you shouldn’t allow a family assessment
If you’re in the middle of a heated court battle over custody or the right to determine place of residence with your toxic ex-partner, then sooner or later the topic of family assessments will come up if you don’t reach an agreement.
However, what may at first appear to be a “normal” additional official hurdle in the court marathon, where you think “you’ll just have to take that one too, it’ll be fine”, you must not take it lightly. There’s a pretty big potential danger for you here – and I’m not writing this to scare you.
But as always, danger recognized, danger averted.
So prepare yourself, get informed, and weigh in.
A note at this point: You know that I am not a lawyer, and I cannot and do not want to give you legal advice here. In any case, please consult with a lawyer you trust if you are unsure about what a family report means for you in your situation.
However, this is a topic that comes up again and again, and that my clients and many mothers in my Facebook group are confronted with sooner or later.
So I’ll give you a few points of view so that you know what you’re getting into when you agree to a family assessment.
If you have already done so, I will give you a few tips below on what you can do to get the appointment with the expert behind you in the best possible way.
I’ll also talk about the options you have if the expert opinion doesn’t turn out well for you.
What is a family assessment? Why is it ordered?
If a judge does not have enough evidence to help make a decision at trial, experts are retained to gather more extensive information that will then assist the judge in being able to make a decision.
Thus, a family assessment is intended to be an aid to decision-making and not to prejudge the judge’s decision.
It is very important that the judge describes very precisely in his order the question with which he is sending the expert and what specific assignment he is given. He must then adhere to this fixed framework.
However, depending on the assignment and the issue at hand, the expert may need very specific skills and expertise. It may well be that different experts come to completely different conclusions for exactly the same assignment.
Also, many experts like to go out on a limb and come to psychological misjudgments that could be accepted unchecked by the judge.
So the potential risk to you as a mother with a toxic child father is enormous.
We all know how well narcissistic people can sell and present themselves.
Therefore, my first tip right from the start:
You can refuse a family report if the judge suggests that as a measure.
And that must not be interpreted to your disadvantage. Period.
The judge must also point out in the hearing that a family report is voluntary for all parties involved.
However, I have often heard that mothers feel cornered and coerced into agreeing to a family report. Then there is the stress in court, you just want to end everything quickly and say yes and amen to everything.
Especially since we, as the part of the highly conflicted parents that is more in need of harmony, are not at all ready for a ruckus.
After all, we know we only want what’s best for the child, so what could possibly happen to us?
But maybe you’re also thinking, “Great, then the expert will finally officially determine that the Ex is highly disturbed, and everything will finally be fine. After all, the court won’t possibly give custody to such a person?”
That can pretty much backfire, my dear. I would never recommend that you agree to a family report if that is your intention.
Because this will fall more on your feet than on your Ex. You are also in the boat if you have lived with a narcissist for years. Then he has “infected” you, so to speak.
The financial aspect should not be underestimated. An expert opinion can take months, and that also affects your wallet.
The costs for an expert opinion are borne equally by the parents.
If you receive legal aid, the state will pay your share. But your entitlement to it will be reviewed again and again in the first few years thereafter – so if something changes in your salary and you would no longer receive legal aid, then you will be asked to pay afterwards.
Incidentally, expert opinion costs totaling 20,000 euros and more are not uncommon.
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Are there any good reasons to agree to a family assessment?
“Only if you have nothing else to lose,” says Carola Wilcke, with whom I talked about this topic. Carola leads the Lion Mamas group on Facebook, where such expert opinions are discussed every now and then.
Meaning: the children were first awarded to the toxic child’s father and live there, and you want to fight for them to be able to come back to you.
If, on the other hand, the children live with you, then you should at least refuse an expert opinion on your ability to bring up the children – having the children examined, on the other hand, can make sense and this alone can prove your willingness to cooperate.
But again: Discuss with your lawyer the best strategy for your situation, whether the children need to be examined at all.
The special risks you take with a family appraisal
- The assessor could exceed his competences by defining the criteria of the child welfare himself.
- Errors and deficiencies in the assessment can be well concealed – and the error rate is enormous. An expert opinion can easily contain 100 pages or more, and it is very laborious and expensive to work through formal and procedural deficiencies.
- The judge could take over the recommendation of the expert 1:1 in the wording in his judgement, which is however not sense of the thing. He must critically question the expert opinion and formulate his final verdict transparently so that the verdict can be understood. 4.
- But what may turn out to be a real sword of Damocles at a later date: If you have follow-up proceedings after that, this expert opinion can always come back to haunt you.
Gee – I agreed to the appraisal in the courtroom – can I withdraw those after the fact?
Yes, especially when you have a decision in your hands that the next step should be a family appraisal, and the terms of reference for the appraiser are completely vague.
Sometimes it even says that the expert should give a legal opinion – that is not allowed, that is the task of the judge!
Yes, that can make your hair stand on end.
What do you do if the appraiser shows up at your door tomorrow?
Then you’ll have to go through with it, sweetheart. However, you don’t have to put up with everything.
So take a deep breath, take your heart in your hands, stay authentic and protect yourself as best you can is the motto.
What are appraisers not allowed to do under any circumstances?
- You are not allowed to act outside of the given mandate, i.e. to determine other aspects. The framework should therefore be as clear as possible to you (and the assessor, of course!).
- They are not allowed to carry out investigations for which they are not qualified (e.g. if special psychological know-how is required). Therefore: feel free to ask what qualification the assessor has.
- They must not negatively evaluate the fact that you reject parts of the appraisal, but must accept that. This alone is tricky for us agitated mothers.
- A family appraisal is not a credibility appraisal. The judge must decide who is right with his arguments, the expert must not lean out of the window. (Now guess how often it happens that an expert acts as a second judge. Bingo – damn often!)
What’s the best way to behave during the reviewer’s visit?
I have heard of a case in which a mother was examined at home with her children for 7 hours (!). And in a very mean, biased way, à la “Oh, I see, that’s the kind of mother you are!”
I would have watched something like that for an hour or an hour and a half and then calmly and firmly complimented the appraiser out the door.
You definitely don’t have to put up with that! The Basic Law protects personal rights and the right to informal self-determination, i.e. what information you disclose about yourself and what happens to it!
Yes, you also need courage to stand up for yourself and your child. But you can train that beforehand.
So inform yourself well.
You have the right to present yourself in the best light. You don’t have to go through all the rigmarole.
You can have someone present the whole time you or the child are being evaluated.
You may also refuse individual psychological tests or home visits.
If the child is to be evaluated, both custodial parents must agree. And you can insist on being present when the child is evaluated.
Children must be told that they can refuse questions. The child’s attitude must be respected; he or she must not be persuaded.
If you notice that the evaluator is not neutral, then you can reject him and file a bias motion in court. If the court then examines the request for bias, it is not at all decisive whether the expert is actually and demonstrably biased, but whether it is comprehensible for the judge that you believe this. So.
Do you want to feel confident about managing child hand-offs with your toxic ex?
What do you do if the report turns out to be mega bad for you?
File an objection quickly via your lawyer – you have two weeks to do so.
You then have a counter-opinion drawn up (e.g. if the expert is biased). This can take a long time – but the court is not allowed to make a decision until the counter-opinion has been evaluated and examined by the court. So you gain time.
There are experts who write counter-opinions – but you will have to pay for them as well.
Be sure to discuss this with your lawyer.
On the other hand, does a good expert opinion mean for you that you have already won the trial?
Unfortunately, a good expert opinion is no guarantee that you will actually win the case. It is a stage success – nothing more.
In principle, the rule from above also applies – of course – to the other side, and a counter-opinion can be requested.
So please hold back the champagne bottles – until you have the final decision of the court in your hands.
You see, a family expert opinion is definitely a very delicate matter and should be sought by you in the rarest of cases (see above).
Please discuss strategically with your attorney and get well informed beforehand – I can’t say it enough.
If you notice that something is getting out of hand, you must courageously put a stop to it.
Sitting like a mouse in front of a snake and fatalistically letting everything happen to you is not an option!
I myself can’t support you if you’re already in the expert opinion mess. But there is help available, for example, through Carola Wilcke’s Lion Mamas group on Facebook.
If, on the other hand, you have a court hearing coming up in which this could become an issue, I can help you with my Court Royal program to prepare yourself mentally so that it doesn’t come to that in the first place.
So that you can strongly and powerfully say “No, I don’t want to do that.” when asked.
Have you already had positive experiences with expert opinions? Then please leave a comment below, then other mothers will also benefit from it. Merci!
More information and references
With this article I could only address the most important main points of this complex topic. If you want to get more detailed information – which I highly recommend – then get the Book by Uwe Tewes: “Psychology in family law – to the benefit or detriment of the child?” (Springer-Verlag), which, in addition to the conversation with Carola Wilcke, has been the basis for this article.
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