It is very common during, or even after, a divorce that parents and children alike need someone to talk to about their feelings and emotions. As family law attorneys, we understand that a portion of our job will deal with helping clients manage their emotions, however, we are not trained as therapists or counselors. Therefore, we often suggest that families seek outside counseling to handle the emotions of a divorce. Specifically, if children are involved, we urge clients to tend to their children’s emotional needs during the divorce. If meeting the children’s emotional needs in a divorce includes involving them in therapy or counseling (whether by the wishes of one or both parents, by recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem or by order of the court), we offer the following tips:
- Present a united front for the children regarding therapy. Often times children are resistant to therapy and see it as a form of “discipline” or that they are being sent because something is “wrong” with them. Therefore, it is important to explain to your children that therapy is not a choice; therapy is a requirement. Like any ailment that requires medical attention or treatment, depression, sadness and anger require the same attention. So, therapy is being required for the children’s health and happiness. Your words as the parents and adults, not the children’s, are the final say on this issue.
- That is not to say that you, as parents, should not be compassionate if your children are resistant to therapy. It is important to be understanding, yet consistent with the expectation of attending therapy. One way to do so is to present to the children the positives about therapy (i.e. it is a safe place to discuss feelings) and talk through the negative feelings they have towards therapy.
- Do not “grill” the children on what is discussed in therapy. Therapy is intended to be a “safe” forum for children to discuss and work through their feelings about the divorce. They need this therapy to be a safe place and know that what they tell the therapist is confidential.
- Do not threaten to “tell” the therapist on the children if they are misbehaving or acting inappropriately. Rather, talk to the children about their behaviors and indicate that it may be helpful to involve the therapist in a productive way to help both the parents and the children look at ways to cohabit better.
- Do not blame one parent or the other for the reason the child is in therapy. The children are in therapy to help cope with the emotions that they feel as they go through the divorce process. Remember, this was not their choice to have their parents divorce. So, it is important that the children feel supported by both parents in their therapy.
If one parent objects to the children attending therapy and the court needs to decide this issue, it is almost certain that the court will order the therapy. Children going through a divorce or contested family law situation can almost always benefit from counseling. The courts typically err on the side of caution and allow an expert to become involved. Counselors are generally very honest and will tell the parents when and if counseling is appropriate. Therefore, objections are generally futile and only portray the objecting parent in a bad light – as someone who does not care about the welfare and well-being of their child.
Just as a therapist is there to help manage counseling needs, an attorney is there to guide you through the legal process. It’s important to direct the right question to the appropriate expert. When you do have family law-related legal needs, please do not hesitate to call our office at 414-258-1644 to meet with one of our attorneys for a free half-hour consultation.