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
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
⏯ Counselors may get asked to - or even pressured to - issue
false claims or perpetuate lies that go beyond their own
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
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:
email@example.com. Phone: (914) 902 - 3325