Mental Health Services for Family Law Cases

My practice is focused primarily on providing a full range of clinical services to clients, attorneys, and the court for family law (child custody) cases. This overview of my practice is intended to help attorneys and clients understand the sometimes-subtle differences between similar clinical services and between the same services offered by different providers. I have tried to make this summary as brief as possible. For many of these services, a more detailed description is available.

I am happy to consult with clients and attorneys to select the most appropriate service for each case. For those services that I do not offer, I maintain a referral database and would be happy to assist you in locating a qualified provider.

Please note that the time estimates for each service depend on the complexity of the case; the number of parties involved; whether any of the parties are not local; the amount of cooperation between the parties; and the number of risk factors such as restraining orders, domestic violence, child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, criminal history, and move-away situations.

Mediation
A series of confidential meetings with the parents to work out a mutually-agreeable, age-appropriate child custody schedule (parenting plan) that can be filed as a stipulated court order. Successful mediations usually take between 10 and 40 hours of work with a typical case taking about 20.

 

Coparent Counseling
A series of (usually) confidential meetings with the parents and as many of the other significant parenting figures as possible to work on improving the communication, cooperation, trust, and respect among all of the adults in the children’s lives and to find solutions for any outstanding parenting problems. Successful coparent counseling usually takes between 15 and 60 hours of work with a typical case taking about 25 hours of work.
 
Custody Evaluation
A formal non-confidential legal procedure governed by Local Rule 3. The evaluator, who must be appointed by order of the court pursuant to EC 730, conducts an extensive investigation of the case and prepares formal recommendations to the court. A separate Findings Report is also prepared in some cases and submitted along with the recommendations. The evaluator is then available to the court as its expert. Evaluations usually take between 25 and 75 hours of work with a typical case taking about 40. If the evaluator is called to testify, the costs will increase significantly.
 
Special Master
A court-appointed judicial official with the authority to make rulings and interpretations regarding existing custody orders within a carefully defined scope in a particular case. Special Masters can only be appointed by stipulation. The amount of work in Special Master cases depends on the number and complexity of the petitions submitted for rulings. Each petition to the Special Master usually takes between 3 and 20 hours of work with a typical petition taking about 6.
 
Reunification Counseling
A clinical procedure intended to reunify the children with an estranged parent in a manner that will be beneficial to the children and to both parents. Reunification counseling is usually not confidential and often includes one or more reports to the court, Family Court Services, another agency, other professionals, or the children’s attorney, if there is one. Successful reunification counseling usually takes between 20 and 100 hours of work with a typical case taking about 30.

Therapeutic Supervision

A series of non-confidential supervised visits of one or both parents with the children, usually followed by a report and recommendations to the court, Family Court Services, another agency, or the children’s attorney, if there is one. Successful therapeutic supervision usually takes between 20 and 100 hours of work with a typical case taking about 30, about the same as reunification counseling.

 

Emergency Screening

A mini-assessment, usually limited to a specific issue (such as selection of school or imminent travel) that constitutes an emergency. These are done routinely at Family Court Services, where they are ordered by the court. Emergency screenings are usually quick, taking between one day and a week or so and involving anywhere from 4 to 20 hours of work.

 

Counseling and Therapy

A series of clinical sessions to help the client better understand their personal and interpersonal dynamics, explore the underlying causes, and develop corrective or coping strategies and skills. The “client” might be an individual, a couple, a family, an extended family, or any other group. The work usually involves about one to two hours per week or every other week for between 4 and 50 weeks.

 

Executive / Business Coaching and Consulting

A custom-tailored program designed to improve communication, cooperation, and effectiveness within a company or department. I have had several years of experience in this field. It is not currently a primary focus of my practice, but I might be able to help a small company with specific personnel problems. For larger assignments, I know some people who do this as a specialty.

 

Co-Mediation

A collaborative team approach to settling dissolution cases involving a mediating attorney for the financial and property settlement and a mental health clinician for the child custody settlement. The two mediators work closely together and with the representing attorneys to produce a complete settlement solution. In cases where this is possible, it is the ideal way to resolve dissolution cases. Compared to adversarial approaches, collaborative approaches are quicker, cheaper, less disruptive, and less stressful. They produce solutions that are better tailored to the specific needs of the families, and ones that last longer with better compliance.

 

Arbitration

This is a new service that I am considering adding to my practice. I think it might fill a gap between mediation and evaluation or Special Master. I plan to investigate and use standard guidelines for both binding and non-binding arbitration. I will add more details as I have them.

 

 

Common Services That I Do Not Provide

 

The following services are ones that are commonly used in Family Law cases, but that I do not personally provide. I feel that these services require special training or facilities that I do not have. I do know of a number of clinicians who provide these services and I would be happy to help you or your client locate one.

 

Supervised Visitation / Exchanges

This is typically a non-clinical service that does not require a licensed clinician. The purpose is to have someone to watch the visit and make sure that the court’s orders are followed and that nothing harmful happens to the child. Often a simple factual report is made after each visit. There are a number of people who provide this service for around $30-$50/hour. If a more clinical service is required, such as making clinical observations, recommendations, or interventions, then therapeutic supervision would be indicated (see services provided).

 

Child Therapy or Counseling

This involves a series of confidential counseling or therapy sessions with a child, with or without the parents, to work on child-specific problems or to provide comfort or support to a traumatized child. This type of work is best done by a licensed, experienced therapist who specializes in work with children and is set up with the appropriate tools, including toys, games, sand tray, easel, dolls, etc. Children are not small adults. They require a completely different approach than adults do. It is also important that the therapist is experienced with the child’s age group as different approaches are indicated for very young children than for adolescents.

 

I do accept cases where the primary focus is on the parent-child relationship with emphasis on the parental role. The parent accepts primary responsibility for all difficulties and for their resolution. The child is only included to enable me to observe the parenting skills and the parent-child relationship and to give the parent a chance to practice their parenting skills.

 

I am very concerned about the overuse and misuse of child therapy. Children are almost never responsible for family dysfunction and they have very little ability to change family dynamics. If there is family dysfunction, it is almost always an adult problem. Therapy should always be directed at the adults first. Even if there are child-specific conditions, they will be exacerbated by adult dysfunction and will require high-functioning adults in order to deal with them effectively. Once the adult dysfunction is under control, an effective program can be worked out to deal with any remaining child dysfunction.

 

Psychological Assessments

This is a formal clinical process in which a licensed psychologist administers validated psychological instruments (tests) and prepares a psychological profile. This usually requires a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, a clinical psychology license, and specialized training in the specific instruments.

 

Drug and Alcohol Counseling and Treatment

This includes quite a wide range of services from individual counseling to inpatient treatment. This type of work is best done by a certified drug and alcohol counselor (CDAC). Some drug and alcohol treatment requires monitoring and/or treatment by a medical doctor and may involve treatment in an inpatient facility lasting 30-90 days or longer.

 

Domestic Violence Counseling and Treatment

This includes quite a wide range of services from individual counseling to anger management to certified batterer programs (usually 52 weeks long). This type of work is best done by a certified domestic violence counselor who has extensive training and experience. Treatment usually involves some type of group work.