In this article, we will discuss court ordered counseling in family law cases. The goal of this article is for our child custody lawyers to help you understand under what circumstances the family court will order counseling, what findings it must make to do so and what your options are regardless of whether you request the counseling or wish to oppose it.
Any time there are contested custody or visitation issues, the Family Court can order parents to participate in counseling with a licensed mental health professional or other types a counseling services. This counseling can take place for up to one year. The purpose of the counseling is to cause effective communication and parenting between the parents and the child, consistent with California’s best interest of the child standard. Family law judges do not want to see conflict over custody and visitation. The best child custody attorneys recognize such conflict quickly and, if the issues cannot be resolved, seek family court intervention quickly. Most of the time, when counseling is ordered, it is designed to reduce or eliminate that conflict and only after mediation between the parents was not successful to resolve the disputes.
The Family Court order for counseling cannot be made unless the court determines that there is a substantial danger to the best interest of child and the counseling is also in the child’s best interest. The court must make specific findings and must specifically state the reasons that it has ordered counseling. Once again, experienced child custody attorneys know to request specific findings and not assume the Court will provide it.
Some of the factors of the family court takes into consideration include whether or not there has been any history of domestic violence between the parents, between the child and either parent, or between the child and another person who is part of a custody dispute.
This other person is typically a sibling or a grandparent although any person who cares or has custody of the child can be involved in this process as well. For the domestic violence to be relevant, courts generally look at incidents within the past five years. In cases where there has been actual physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by either parent against a child and there is some type of protective order in place (such as a family court or criminal one), court will often order counseling sessions to be separated such that the child is not placed in counseling sessions with the parent who caused the abuse.
There are exceptions to this rule although the more severe the harm to the child, the less likely the Court will place the child with the abuser in the counseling session. Knowledgable custody attorneys take the care to ensure that the family court is aware of the abuse (whether physical or emotional) before counseling is ordered. Child victims of physical or severe emotional abuse are rarely mentally equipped to sit with their abuser in counseling sessions and speak candidly about the incidents.
One question that is sometimes asked is how a family law judge divides the cost of such counseling. That decision is within the sound discretion of the court. If the court determines that there is a financial hardship created by its counseling order, it can fix that hardship by ordering one person to pay for counseling or jointly dividing the counseling fees. The court generally divides the counseling fees 50/50 unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. If a court is going to put the financial burden on one of the parents or a party, the court does have to explain its reasoning. Child custody attorneys should ensure there are updated income and expense declarations filed with the court so the court is aware of each parent’s financial situation.
Before the counseling is complete, the court can hear requests from either parent to continue the counseling. If the counseling is not completed, the court can hear requests from either parent to change the counselor or to modify the terms. Courts generally do not like to make modifications while counseling is in place unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. A good lawyer should not bring modification requests without first communicating with the counselor and ensuring that the request has merit. It is rare that the family court would modify a counseling order without hearing from the counselor so experienced lawyers know to anticipate this and get the information ahead of time.
The decision to ask the court for counseling for your child or to oppose a request is a sensitive one. Parents should take care to make sure that the court is fully informed of the position including why counseling would or would not be in the child’s best interest, why the counseling is unnecessary because there is not sufficient conflict or danger to the child, and why there are other less intrusive means to accomplish the same goal of reducing conflict that may exist between the parents and child. In our experience, we’ve seen counseling effective in cases where the child has been through physical or emotional abuse by one parent and the child needs counseling to assist with that abuse.
If the custody case is one of parental alienation, a parent can ask for counseling within the context of reunification proceedings.
Before you make a decision to request counseling or oppose it, you should speak with experienced child custody attorneys.
That is exactly what the attorneys at our law firm are. We can not only help you find out what your options are but which ones make the most sense for your case.
Our attorneys are available for a consultation to speak with you about the issues of your custody and visitation case.