When minors are not protected during the process of formulating a preliminary expert’s opinion

The process of producing a preliminary expert’s opinion should represent a lengthy stage in the separation or divorce procedure, during which conflicts may be addressed in depth in order to find the best solution in relation to the custody of minors. We should also consider that if an expert’s opinion is requested, it is obvious that there is already conflict between the spouses who are in the process of separating, so it should come as no surprise to the expert who is in charge of writing the report, for indeed the need for an expert’s opinion is always motivated by conflict. So, unless serious violence – even psychological – comes up during this process, custody should always be joint, and the child should be sent to live with the parent who is deemed most fit, and who is not always necessarily the mother.

Without prejudice to the fundamental principle of double parenthood, the expert’s opinion is essential in order to bring out all the conjugal behaviours that could interfere with a normal parental relationship and the negative behaviours directed against a child by one of the parents who is immature or whose personality has not yet been fully formed and is therefore as yet unfit to be an assertive and empathic parent. In this case, the Independent Technical Consultant should be a psychologist specialized in working with minors and families, who does not focus on “finding the guilty party” but rather on understanding how to intervene and possibly take action with one or both parents. Intervening does not mean taking the children away but rather helping the parents to understand that certain wrong dynamics towards the children should be changed, even pointing out how to behave adequately, and being firm so that the parents realize that children must be protected, not exploited. Instead, the situation often becomes such that one of the parents succeeds in using his/her manipulative and charming skills to convince the Independent technical Consultant that he/she is right.

1rst The case of a woman who asked the Independent Technical Consultant to help stop the psychological violence and persecution exerted by her former husband who used his profession and power to threaten to destroy her and kill her and to threaten their children to take away all their money if they tried to defend their mother. Instead of putting an end to this situation, the Independent Technical Consultant told the woman to stop complaining and just accept her ex husband, because there was no evidence to prove he was indeed threatening her, and that even if the children confirmed the violent nature of their father, they would have to accept him for what he was. The Independent Technical Consultant eventually increased the number of days the father could spend with his kids and granted him 45 days of vacation with them during the Summer. Three years have passed and the grown children are currently living with their father; one of them no longer wants to see his mother, on the grounds that she is a negative person, while the other one sees her only with his father’s permission. Both go to private universities, paid for entirely by their father who threatens he will stop paying for their tuition, holidays and motorcycles if they dare to spend even one night at their mother’s house.

2nd Case of a man who desperately asks the Independent Technical Consultant – who was hired by the mother in order to get sole custody of their son on the grounds that her husband stressed her out – to get to the bottom of why, for three years now, his son often stays home from school because he is sick, which is actually hardly ever true, and whenever he asks his ex wife about the child’s health she tells him to mind his own business, that he is tedious. The “Manchausen by Proxy Syndrome”, a severe form of violence, creeps into everyone’s mind, but one day the mother produces the papers from two of the very many medical exams and hospitalizations the child has undergone, the only two in which the father was present, thereby instilling the doubt that it was the father who wanted his son to be sick. The fact that the father had produced the long lists of medical visits in which only the mother’s name appeared as the accompanying parent was of no use. It was sufficient for the woman to complain that her former husband was tormenting her to shed doubts on the father, who did in fact protest, but only because he was anxious at the thought of having a “hospitalized” son. Confronted with the grievances of a woman who put on a show, sobbing and speaking with a trembling voice, the Independent Technical Consultant wrote in her report that “maybe” that father was exercising a form of violence known as “hypercare” and that “maybe” his son should be taken away from him. The final expert opinion was filled with “maybes”. The suspicion of violence had shifted entirely to the father who had reported what was happening to his son. The inconclusive and slanderous report, which offended him as a person and as a father, fortunately was rejected by the Judge, who was a serious person and knew what he was doing, for he realized that the mother wanted full custody, accusing her ex husband of being an unfit father only to get as much money out of him as possible, to cover both her ordinary and extraordinary expenses, in spite of the fact that she had a good job and received substantial alimony. When, a few weeks after the expert’s opinion was filed, the judge asked, “So, madam, what are the problems between you and your ex husband?” the woman no longer mentioned the child and went on to complain that her ex husband did not want to give her the cottage in the mountains. So the divorce ended with no financial or practical changes to their previous arrangements: the woman did not get the cottage and stopped complaining about her son’s health. The boy has now grown up and currently suffers from eating disorders; he spends most of the night playing videogames and does not want to continue his studies. He has developed a phobia for illnesses. He sees his father regularly.

These are just two of many absurd – at times incomprehensible – cases of conflict between two parents in which an expert’s opinion, rather than providing an opportunity to restore order among roles and values, becomes a fertile ground for manipulations and stances taken by him or her. And what about the poor children?

Dottssa Stefania Jade Trucchi