Children – single expert – general child and family psychiatrist preferred over specialist perinatal psychiatrist

In Lambard & Lambard and Ors (No.2) [2020] FamCA 858 (14 October 2020) McClelland DCJ considered a disagreement over the appointment of a single expert psychiatrist where the proceedings concerned the parties’ 19-month-old daughter.

Post-birth, the mother suffered an acute mental health episode which resulted in her attempting to take her own life and then while hospitalised, she sustained further injuries which resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair ([5]).

The mother contended that any mental health concerns had been treated and were in remission, the father contending that the mother’s behaviour pre- and post-birth presented concerns as to the mother’s parental capacity and posed an ongoing risk to the child.

Where the parties agreed that a single expert psychiatrist should be appointed, the court was asked to determine whether such expert should be the specialist perinatal psychiatrist sought by the mother and maternal grandmother or any of the three general psychiatrists sought by the father and the paternal grandmother.

The court said (from [26]):

[26] Having regard to the … issues, it can be seen that the postnatal aspect of the mother’s mental health is but one aspect of many issues to be considered … It may be that a psychiatrist with specialty in perinatal psychiatry may not necessarily have expertise in respect to other potential issues including, for instance, the post-traumatic consequences of the mother’s attempted suicide and ongoing injuries and disabilities. (…)

[34] … I am of the view that the appointment of a single expert from among the list of names of the three qualified psychiatrists proposed by the father and paternal grandmother is the appropriate course of action to pursue in this matter. That is despite the fact that it is acknowledged that none of those three psychiatrists are specialists in perinatal psychiatry. … [I] am satisfied that they each have the required training, study and experience that qualifies them as having specialised knowledge on the issue of the mother’s mental health and to provide a prognosis in respect to that issue.”

Robert Glade-Wright is the founder and senior editor of The Family Law Book, a one-volume loose-leaf and online family law service (thefamilylawbook.com.au). He is assisted by Queensland lawyer Craig Nicol, who is a QLS Accredited Specialist (family law).

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