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One of the topics that comes up frequently for a counselor who works with divorce cases is the issue of going to court.
The battle over custody
Protecting your child is one of the most important roles you have as a parent. In fact, protecting our kids comes instinctively to us as parents.
When you are coming out of a relationship with your ex, you are usually feeling vulnerable. Perhaps this was an ex who you felt may have threatened your safety. Either way, you feel instinctively protective of your child.
This desire to protect your child will have some impact in how you respond in a custody situation.
The other truth is that almost always, you are hurt by your ex, and when we are hurt, it’s in our nature to push back. This “push back” often comes in the form of hurting the person back.
Combined with feeling protective and feeling hurt (and often angry) parents don’t always see or take into consideration what’s in the best interest of their child at the moment.
It is often during this time that many parents and families come into a counselor’s office.
How does the counseling relationship work?
Once a counselor and/or play therapist begins working with a child and family, building trust, providing a safe place for the child to express their feelings, it’s important to do everything to preserve this sacred bond.
This bond between the therapist and child will be the catalyst to healing and future good mental health.
In order to protect children and other individuals in the counseling relationship, counselors are required to be licensed. Being licensed means they must follow ethical guidelines as well as the operating bylaws of their state licensing board.
One of the guidelines for counselors is that they are not permitted to be in a “dual relationship” with their clients.
This means that if they are in a counseling relationship with a client, they are not allowed to be in any other type of relationship. This includes a type of legal relationship or arrangement. I’ll explain further.
Why is this important?
The counseling relationship can be very emotionally intimate.
Your child’s play therapist/counselor is trained in creating a safe place for your child to learn about and process their feelings.
The child/individual can feel very vulnerable within that relationship for a time while they are going through the healing process. This is normal and part of the process.
Therefore, every effort is made to protect the child/individual during this time and in this counseling relationship.
How is this related to court?
When a counselor goes to court, they have entered into a different type of relationship with the child/individual.
This presents a problem for the counseling relationship for a few different reasons:
- The counselor is now in a type of legal relationship with their client
- The counseling relationship ensured confidentiality (which is another ethical guideline that counselors must follow). When a counselor testifies in court, confidentiality is no longer maintained
- The counselor is not ethically advised to go back into a counseling relationship because the counseling bond may be compromised, and confidentiality is lost
- Some states can even revoke a counselor’s license if they do go to court and then return to the former counseling relationship
So, what can parents do to get the support they need for their child in court?
Don’t worry, there are still experts who can help.
Psychologists are doctoral level experts in the field of psychology who are trained in providing evaluations for children/individuals.
Parents will need to find a psychologist who specializes in custody evaluations. Your child’s counselor may know someone they can refer you to who does these evaluations.
Your lawyer can also recommend a guardian ad litem to represent your child. This is a lawyer who is specifically trained to work with children in order to present their best interests in court.
Depending on where you live, there are often other court-appointed advocates who can advocate for your child’s needs in court.
So why does this really matter?
During a time when parents are feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, they are often not thinking at their best.
There is often a level of desperation, and understandably. This is a very difficult time. (Read more about that here).
Parents often think that having their child’s counselor go to court during this time is the best solution. However, this is rarely the case.
Preserving the counseling relationship; and thus, offering a consistent, safe space for your child to process their feelings during this difficult time is a much better option for your child.
Building an army of support
Creating a healthy team of supportive individuals is the best thing you can do for your child now and for the future.
Finding people who can support you and your child during this time especially is crucial.
Your child’s counselor is just one of those healthy team members.
Having additional team members can help to provide expertise, balance, and accountability. This can create the best possible outcomes for your child.
This team can include: teachers, school counselor, custody evaluator, supportive friends and family, guardian ad litem (special court-appointed lawyers to represent children), family lawyers, case workers, and more.
Trust me when I say,
keeping your child’s play therapist or counselor out of court is truly in your child’s best interest.
During this time of upheaval and often many changes in their lives, children need a constant. Their counselor can be one of their constants.
This may not seem to be very important. But in the big picture of your child’s future mental health, it’s a very big deal.
Giving your child’s counselor permission (this requires written permission) to speak with your lawyer and others can also be helpful. It’s also a safe way for your child’s counselor to offer support for court while still maintaining the counseling relationship.
Collaborating with as many people on your child’s team is important and a wonderful way to support your child.
If you have questions or concerns, make sure to talk to your child’s counselor about this. They are there to educate and support you and your family.