This is a case study which follows a live case as it makes its way through the family courts, post the extended working definition of domestic violence (which is not a legal definition). The new definition includes emotional duress and coercion, as well as physical harm.

Mina doesn’t understand why she has to have a parenting assessment and wonders whether she can challenge the court’s request that she have one. She has taken care of her children for several years, the children do well at school and all their medical records are up to date, each one having been numerous times to the doctor for vaccinations and standard check ups.

No one has had the time to explain to her that the court needs a certain kind of evidence to confirm her parenting abilities and that if she refuses to be assessed, the court will not only view this in a negative light, but may also penalise her in some way. The former is easier to explain than the latter, because the latter is just sheer bloody mindedness, which should play no part in the process, but which sadly, is integral to it, most of the time.

Mina now understands why the assessment is necessary and her desire to co-operate with the Local Authority and everyone involved in her case is still earnest. She decides not to challenge the decision.

The Local Authority were supposed to organise the parenting assessment last week, but Mina has not heard anything from them. There is a tight deadline to get the assessment done and processed and the LA are running behind. Other professionals in the case are also concerned by the LA’s slow response to the timetable, a problem that has been a feature throughout the case. No one has even called Mina to try to arrange a time for the assessment.

But she is concerned by something else, too.

The Local Authority have just had a psychiatric assessment done on Mina and it has come back with a rather positive outlook. Mina is not unwell nor is she suffering from any kind of mental illness, but the Local Authority want to have another psychiatric report along the same lines but with a different psychiatrist. Mina would like to know if she can challenge the need for a second report.

The need to push back from time to time is not because Mina wishes to be awkward or because she has something to hide. The constant fear of waiting on assessments is causing her anxiety and the poor organisation of the Local Authority is playing a large part. Mina does not know about the new guidelines which have come into force which require the courts to cut down on expert reports and once she finds out about these, she decides to speak with her solicitor to find out if the second report is necessary and if not, whether it falls foul of the new guidelines.

Will the Local Authority get in touch in time to organise the court ordered assessments and is it too late to challenge the need for a second report by a psychiatrist? In a world where efficiency is essential, it also appears to be something of an enigma.

DV