Counseling is often an integral part the divorce process. While Illinois law does not require marriage counseling prior to filing for divorce, and judges cannot compel a couple to attempt to reconcile, many couples do attend marriage counseling prior to filing for divorce or during the divorce process. In cases where both parties are willing to attempt to reconcile, the court system is generally supportive and will allow divorce cases to be placed on “inactive status” while the parties are working on their relationship. If the parties do reconcile, a petition for dissolution of marriage can be voluntarily dismissed by agreement at any time before a judgment is entered.
More commonly, however, the issue of counseling arises when the parties have minor children who are going through a tough time. Cases involving divorce, child custody, or visitation can be heartbreaking and emotional for children, particularly in high-conflict cases. Enrolling a child in counseling, or in other divorce support programs, may be beneficial to the child. Doing so may help give the child or children an avenue to discuss their feelings and develop effective strategies for coping with the stress that comes from living with parents who are litigating their way through the court system.
Although counseling can be quite beneficial for children, parents should understand the potential implications of enrolling a child in counseling. For example, if custody or visitation is an issue, the court may scrutinize a parent’s decision to enroll a child in counseling without consulting the other parent first. A parent who is not consulted about enrolling the child or selecting the counselor might raise valid questions about whether the other parent has the willingness and ability to facilitate the relationship between the child and the parent who wasn’t consulted. Furthermore, if a parent unilaterally decides to enroll a child in counseling and the other parent objects, a court could order the counseling to cease or order that the child change counselors. This can have an extremely negative impact on a child, especially if the child has established a rapport with a particular counselor. In cases where counseling for a child is being considered, consulting an experienced family law attorney first is advisable.
The court may order counseling for a child, the parties, or family counseling, under Section 608 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. In order to do so, the court must find that one or more of the following events has occurred:
- The parties have agreed to attend counseling
- The child’s physical health is endangered
- The child’s emotional development is impaired (including as a result of visitation abuse)
- One or both of the parties have violated a parenting agreement with regard to conduct affecting the child or conduct in the presence of the child.
If the court orders counseling pursuant to Section 608, issues discussed in counseling sessions are deemed to be confidential. They cannot be used in court and cannot be relied on by a court-appointed expert. This law preserves the confidentiality of counseling, and prevents parties from utilizing counseling for strategic purposes.
In sum, counseling may be valuable if you or your children are suffering as a result of the divorce or separation process, if there is emotional or physical abuse or parental alienation. The attorneys at Kollias & Giese, P.C. can refer you to experienced counselors and help you approach the legal process in a way that benefits you and your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.