Q & A

In-Depth Explorations of Family Law
For Our Readers by RRBF&B

What are the Roles of Mental Health Professionals in Divorce?

A divorce is a foundational change that can create upheaval for all involved. Even if you were the one to initiate the divorce, the process and aftermath of dividing your household, finances, and family unit can create undue stress for you and, if applicable, your children. Given the high levels of stress, mental health professionals can serve several important roles in the divorce process. 

What are some of the roles that mental health professionals fill? 

Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other mental health professionals are often called upon to provide individual therapy to spouses and/or children during or after the divorce. They also may serve as co-parenting counselors; divorce or parenting coaches as part of the collaborative divorce process; expert consultants to divorce attorneys; or guardian ad litems to advocate for the children in divorce.

What roles do co-parenting counselors fill? 

Co-parenting counselors, who are often clinical psychologists trained in working with divorcing families, help facilitate more constructive conversations between parents. Co-parenting counselors are well-versed in child development and can bring that perspective as they help enhance each parent’s toolbox for interacting with the other parent on day-to-day child issues. A co-parenting counselor is not there to make decisions about who’s right and who’s wrong, but to facilitate conversations and help each party see the other’s point of view. A co-parenting counselor can often help brainstorm options that you and your co-parent may not have thought of. 

Co-parenting counselors can also help the parties put together a parenting plan, which details when each parent will have the children and otherwise provides a framework for how the custody agreement will be implemented. The co-parenting counselor can then send the parenting plan to the co-parents’ attorneys for the creation of a legally enforceable document. 

In the long term, co-parenting counselors can provide an alternate method for resolving parenting disputes that may arise over time. The divorcing parties may agree upfront that, before either party files a motion with the court over a child-related issue, that they will go to the co-parenting counselor first. This encourages more conversation and more constructive, creative resolutions while allowing issues to be addressed and solved rapidly, rather than waiting months for an issue to be adjudicated by the court. 

For the co-parenting method of alternative dispute resolution to work, both parties must be committed to try to communicate with each other and operate in good faith. 

What is a mental health professional’s role in collaborative divorce? 

Mental health professionals are part of the professional team in a collaborative divorce, which is an alternative to litigation in which both parties and their attorneys agree to resolve issues using non-adversarial techniques. For the collaborative process to be successful, both parties must be committed to resolving issues and negotiating a compromise that best meets their needs and the needs of their children. 

A mental health professional may serve as a parenting coach or, if there are no minor children involved, a divorce coach. Parenting coaches play a similar role to co-parenting counselors, helping the parties create a parenting plan in addition to helping divorcing spouses to effectively communicate and hear the interests of the other spouse. The parenting or divorce coach helps to enhance communication during the collaborative meetings, which take place in an office rather than in court. At these meetings, all the difficult issues that would have been addressed during litigation are addressed, but in a private setting. The mental health professional will help facilitate the difficult conversations and keep the collaborative process moving forward in an efficient, effective manner.

How do attorneys consult mental health professionals? 

Divorce attorneys may consult with a mental health professional for his or her expertise on parenting issues or to better understand their client or the other party. For instance, if one of the parties has a mental health or substance use disorder or a particular medical issue, attorneys can consult with a mental health professional to learn to better communicate with, understand, or advocate for their client better.  

How do mental health professionals serve as guardians ad litem? 

When a divorce involves young children, a mental health professional who is trained as a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed by the court or by the divorcing parents to advocate for the child in the divorce. GALs will typically meet with the child, the parents, their lawyers, the child’s school personnel, and potentially other professionals in the child’s life to get a complete picture of the child’s needs. GALs serve as witnesses during divorce trials, taking the stand and testifying about what they believe would be in the best interest of the child regarding custody, visitation, and related matters. Typically either mental health professionals or attorneys, GALs must undergo comprehensive training and be approved by the state to serve in this role.

The family law attorneys at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt serve as trusted advisors, working with mental health professionals and other professionals to represent clients in divorce or custody matters – in the conference room and courtroom – and appeals in Connecticut. If you are considering a divorce or seeking a modification or your child custody orders, contact our family law attorneys at 860-206-9096 or online.