Brain injury diagnosis risks being weaponized in family courts

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One of the most essential steps in supporting women with brain injuries caused by intimate partner violence is that they are able to get an assessment or diagnosis that confirms those injuries. They won’t be eligible for provincially funded brain-injury supports until they do.

But as the latest research emerges from the Okanagan-based SOAR initiative – Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research – it’s clear that this diagnosis could then be used as a weapon against the mother in child-custody cases or child-protection investigations. That finding emphasizes just how important it will be to build protections into other systems so that confirmation of brain injury can’t be used against the mother unless it has been proven to interfere with her ability to parent.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tyee story on SOAR’s unsettling finding:

The study, published in the Journal of Law and Biosciences, interviewed 12 family lawyers in B.C. and Ontario to examine how a hypothetical client’s brain injury diagnosis would impact their legal strategies if they represented her or the alleged abuser in a parenting dispute.

They shared that they had seen perceived problematic behaviours like partying or mood swings scrutinized in women and dismissed in men during their years of practice.

But the participants said while a diagnosed brain injury could be used as evidence of abuse, it was a double-edged sword.

No expert could ever say with 100 per cent certainty an injury or behaviour was the result of abuse without other physical evidence, one lawyer also shared.

And as the alleged abuser’s lawyer, the lawyers said they would likely use the records to argue her capacity to parent was diminished.

Journalist Moira Wyton writing in The Tyee,Feb 10, 2023

As many as 90 per cent of women who have experienced intimate partner violence are estimated to have a brain injury from that violence, and more than half will have multiple injuries. Very few such women have an assessment or diagnosis for their injury, however, and in many cases have no idea themselves that they have a brain injury.

Read more about Board Voice’s advocacy work at the intersection of brain injury and intimate partner violence.