California Family Court Ordered Counseling

There are instances when the California family court may require the parties and the child to participate in outpatient counseling. This often happens in a custody or visitation dispute. Counseling can be done with a licensed mental health professional or through other community programs and services that provide appropriate counseling. The type of counseling may differ depending on the need of the parties. Examples of counseling that may be ordered are mental health or substance abuse counseling. The required counseling must not last for more than 1 year.  

Before the California family court can order counseling, the following criteria must exist:  

  • The dispute between the parties poses a substantial danger to the child’s best interest.  
  • The counseling is in the child’s best interest. 
  • The financial burden created by the court order for counseling does not otherwise jeopardize a party’s other financial obligations.  

Counseling is not limited to a dispute between parents. It can be between one or more parents and the child, between one or more parents and another party seeking custody or visitation, or between a party seeking custody or visitation and the child.  

If the court finds that the above-mentioned criteria are present, it must include in its findings the reasons why it believes that the criteria required are present.  

When is there substantial danger?  

The court considers various factors in determining whether or not a custody dispute poses a substantial danger to the child’s best interest. The court must consider any history of domestic violence against any of the following individuals within the past 5 years. 

  • A spouse or former spouse. 
  • A cohabitant or former cohabitant. 
  • A person with whom respondent has a dating or engagement relationship. 
  • A person with whom respondent has a child. 
  • A child of a party. 
  • Any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree. 

Aside from domestic violence, the court must also consider any other relevant factors that may evidence a substantial danger to the child’s best interest.  

What are the goals of counseling?  

There are mainly three goals sought to be achieved by court-ordered counseling. They are:  

  • To facilitate communication between parties regarding the minor child’s best interest.  
  • To reduce conflict regarding custody or visitation; and  
  • To improve the parenting skills of each parent.  

What if there is a history of abuse?  

The court may order the parties to participate in counseling separately and at separate times if there is a history of abuse by either parent against a child, or by one parent against the other parent and there is a protective order in effect.  

What about the cost of counseling?  

The cost of counseling must not jeopardize the parties’ ability to meet their financial obligations. The court cannot order counseling if the cost of counseling will jeopardize the party’s ability to meet financial obligations.  

If the court finds that counseling will not adversely affect the finances of the parties, the court may divide the cost of counseling between the parties in such a way that they can afford it. If separate counseling has been ordered because of a history of abuse, each party is required to bear his or her own cost for counseling. A different way of dividing costs can be done in the last instance if a party can show good cause.  

The costs for the child’s counseling is considered ‘additional child support’ and is to be divided between the parties accordingly.  

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