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Therapists in Family Court System: When It Makes Sense… and When It Does Not

With the year we’ve all been through, it’s not surprising that

licensed family therapists play a growing role in divorce and

child custody cases here in New York and around the country. In

most cases, that’s good news. But they’re brought into litigation

for varied reasons and motivations. Should they be part of your

own family law case?


Should You Bring Your Family Therapist to Court?

The answer is nuanced and not always clear cut. We do see

family counselors playing larger roles in cases where the

following are central:

⏯ Divorce and custody dispute resolution

⏯ Family relationships

⏯ A child’s welfare

Yet there are both pros and cons to weaving therapists into the

process. Let’s break down a few of them, starting with some Benefits.


A Relief Valve When Tensions Run High

When family conflicts escalate, therapists can lower the flames

by serving as a safe outlet for a client’s negative emotions. In

many cases, more than one family member will see their own

counselor to work with.

Often, a qualified, licensed counselor can keep channels of

communication open between key parties or litigants. When

family members walk away from fractured relationships,

therapists can seek pathways to bring them back.

In most cases, the therapist you choose will be knowledgeable

about laws and regulations that might differ by state, county or

local region. (Make sure your therapist has that local

expertise.)     


Licensed therapists can become valued team members working

to find the best outcome for all family members.

Yet there are caveats to be aware of, too. Here are some

potential Pitfalls to watch for.


Can Your Therapist SAY That in Court?

Be cautious about therapists testifying when:

⏯ They show an overt bias toward their client over others. Not

unusual, therapists typically bond with their clients, and are

prone to support them over others

⏯ Privacy laws are involved. Therapists may be unwilling, or

legally unable, to testify in court. (Be aware that subpoenas can

override privacy laws.)

⏯ Your state has statutes or HIPPA agreements protecting client

confidentiality. Often both parents need to sign HIPAA release

forms to ensure the child’s privacy rights have been met.

⏯ They can be put in full control of child custody arrangements.

Therapists often approach such arrangements slowly and with

caution. That’s not a bad thing; but beware of cases that linger

for weeks or months longer than they would otherwise. Judges

may want to move your case along.


When Therapists Get Stuck in the Middle 

Can a family therapist testify in court if they do not want to?

While most would arguably prefer not to - they may be

compelled to, as we mentioned earlier. Judges will sometimes

order family or individual therapy if they see a need. But

because each situation is different, know the reasons for any

court-ordered therapy request.

⏯ While not common, court-ordered therapy might be used to

later assist with verdicts on a family member’s mental health or

parenting abilities 

⏯ Counselors may get asked to - or even pressured to - issue

false claims or perpetuate lies that go beyond their own

evaluations.


Family Law and Therapy: Are Your Rights Protected?

A therapist’s involvement in family law cases can make sense

when legal boundaries and the legal process is respected. It

behooves you to understand those processes. At the outset,

make sure you understand what will be the role and

responsibilities of the therapist.  Where children and custody

rulings are involved, always have the child’s well-being front and

center.


Christine Moccia is a divorce and family law specialist in Rye Brook, New York.

She has more than 28 years of experience as a litigator, advocate, negotiator, and

adviser. Christine has successfully helped clients in the areas of divorce,

separation, mediation, custody, child and spousal support, and prenuptial /

postnuptial agreements. Visit www.christinemoccial.com. Email:

cmoccialaw@gmail.com. Phone: (914) 902 - 3325

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