There are so many different reasons why you may consider using a therapist in your family law case. Often, couples going through a divorce have their own personal therapists. This can be a very healthy way to deal with the difficult personal situation they are going through. Some parents need a therapist to assist them in effectively communicating and co-parenting. Many minor children have counselors to talk to about their parent’s separation and other issues related to the family law case. Finally, sometimes when parents are estranged from their minor children, it is required that they attend something called “reunification therapy” to rebuild the relationship between the estranged parent and the child.
In this video, attorney Jessica marshall discusses the advantages and cautions for using family therapists, especially in court.
Things to be Avoid if Using a Therapist in Your Family Law Case
All of these therapists are extremely useful, particularly when you have someone knowledgeable about the family law process. However, in my experience as a Chicago family law attorney, there are certain things to be aware of when using a therapist and being involved in a family law case.
Therapists Testifying in Court
First, your therapist probably does not want to testify, nor are they typically a very convincing witness on your behalf. A lot of therapists develop a relationship with their clients which is personal and private, in order for the therapy to be truly effective. They also often have a bias in favor of their client due to said relationship. It is the same as having your sister or brother or mother testify in your favor. A judge will think “well, of course, they will sing your praises, they are your mother” and not a neutral party. Therapists can sometimes fall in the same category.
They usually have a bias.
Additionally, therapists value the confidential nature of their client relationship. For that reason, they often hesitate to testify in a case. Subpoenaing them and forcing them to come to testify may not have a good result. So, a therapist is not a good witness to call, in most scenarios, in family law matters.
Similarly, your child’s therapist does not want to testify, for many of the reasons outlined above. Your Judge typically does not want your child’s therapist to come to testify, either. There is currently a statute which prohibits disclosure of information from children’s therapists to Guardian Ad Litem’s and Child Representatives in domestic relations matters. Public policy in Illinois is that a child’s relationship with their therapist should remain private.
Don’t Delegate Decision-Making Authority
Another pitfall with utilizing a therapist in a divorce case has nothing to do with testimony nor disclosure. Instead, it has to do with letting a therapist or mental health treating professional “drive the bus” in the case. This is most likely to occur in a reunification therapy type of scenario.
For example, putting into an Allocation Judgment that the parties will take the recommendations of a therapist for purposes of increasing parenting time. The problem with doing this is that a lot of therapists are a bit conservative about pushing the children too far too soon in reunification therapy. And, they will err on the side of caution.
This can become exhausting after a while. Therapists tend to not mind if time is passing. They want to do a good job and they are careful and cautious, as they should be. However, they have a different standard than does a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative, or even a Judge, when it comes to deciding when it is time to move parenting time along. They do not tend to move quickly.
Judges are in a position where they often have to push people along to the next step, otherwise, cases linger before them forever. They are far better suited to keep the decision-making authority as to when parenting time increases. They typically move faster than a therapist would. However, being in Court often means attorneys and legal expenses. And, if there are limited means to continue fighting the fight, using a therapist to move things along may be the only financially viable option. However, extreme caution is necessary when adding provisions such as these to a court order.
Contact Anderson & Boback if you have questions about your family law situation including the role your therapist may have in your case.