By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
Working with the Court in managing chaotic situations involving children and counseling is challenging and requires an additional set of skills. This article should help to evaluate court-involved counseling. It is important to know how counseling will affect the legal process and how the legal process will affect counseling.
Families are often referred to counseling or mediation because (1.) a child is distressed, or (2.) a parent is hoping for support in a court case, or (3.) counseling or mediation is court-ordered. Each of these scenarios differs in the nature of the information that is presented to the counselor or mediator, and in the expectations of the counselor or mediator. Each participant has an agenda that is influenced by the legal process. The clinician should be focused on the psychological health of the client, the mediator should be focused on communication and negotiation, and clinicians and mediators should respect the role of attorneys, forensic evaluators, parenting coordinators, and the Court. Clinicians and mediators should not mix roles unless there is a waiver. If there is a court order, the role should be clearly defined.
Clinicians and mediators should be knowledgeable in child development, and obtain each parent’s perspective and maintain objectivity. The clinician should be careful with attitudes and beliefs of the children that reflect one of the parents. These attitudes and beliefs may be hiding true feelings and may be causing distress. Clinicians and mediators should also know characteristics of divorcing parents and children, family systems, best practice for high conflict, and understand relevant research and standards of practice. Clinicians and mediators should also have ongoing training, especially in domestic violence, parental alienation and estrangement, and special needs of the family and children. Clinicians and mediators should be understanding of expectations and processes of the legal system and work well with collateral contacts.