The role of the mental health expert witness in family law disputes

Can J Psychiatry. 1983 Jun;28(4):255-8. doi: 10.1177/070674378302800403.


Mental health professionals are frequently called upon to appear in Family Court as Expert Witnesses in order to help the judge make difficult decisions in disputed cases, involving issues like custody, access and abuse. The adversary system often serves to intimidate or to antagonize the expert witness, or to render his/her judgment as suspect and even invalid. An approach is suggested in which the expert is designated as an "amicus curiae" (impartial friend of the court), rather than as a "hired gun" by one of the disputants. Even with this procedure, however, the expert witness must possess specific personal and professional characteristics which lend credibility to his/her testimony. The work is difficult, and requires considerable knowledge and skill; the responsibilities are heavy, but the opportunity to do exciting and vital work on behalf of children and families make it more than worthwhile.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child Advocacy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Divorce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Expert Testimony / methods*
  • Humans
  • Legal Guardians*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis