How counselling can help you avoid family court – from a Brisbane Family Lawyer
Tonight I saw a post in a Facebook group of which I am a member along the lines of the following: “Has anyone been successful with marriage counselling? We’re not thinking divorce, just looking for something to help us get through the repetitive, cyclical, blame game, same arguments over the years that never get resolved and fester until the next time one of us gets angry. I don’t want to end my marriage, I’m trying to save it.”
Over the 20 odd years that I have been practising as a specialist family lawyer, I have encountered many clients who have never been to counselling. I always ask clients whether or not they had counselling for their relationship issues, but sadly, the answer is often no. This is something I’ve never been able to understand. If your marriage is on the verge on the breakdown and going to counselling to deal with your relationship issues gave you an opportunity to save it, why would you not try counselling?
It’s actually a legal requirement for family lawyers to recommend separating parties attend counselling. However, by the time they come to see us, the damage is often done. On more occasions than I can remember, I have had female clients come to me and when I’ve asked them the question about counselling, their response has been along the lines of, “My husband refused to go.” The other response has been to the tune of, “He said that I was the one who need counselling, not him or us.”
But the post I saw on Facebook tonight was not about counselling at the end of relationship. It was about a woman saying, “Hey, no marriage is perfect. We have our ups and downs just like anyone else but there’s a recurring theme here with some relationship issues and I’d really just like to deal with it so that we can move past it and just get on with things.”
This, of course, is the kind of thing that the Americans do. Anyone who’s seen an ongoing programme like Sex in the City (now I am showing my age) knows that every second person in New York City has a ‘therapist’. It is about dealing with problems in our lives and relationship issues as they arise, not waiting for a wound to fester. If your spouse won’t go to counselling with you, them why would you not go to counselling on your own? It’s not a sign a weakness or that there is something wrong with you. It’s about getting strategies to deal with relationship issues, how you might raise those with your partner in a constructive way and what to do if those issues are not resolved. Going to a counsellor does not make you ‘mentally ill’. Rather, it makes you someone who has insight into your own functioning and has a desire to be the best possible person, parent and partner you can be.
If you do separate, then counselling is just as important and is something I encourage for all my family law clients. Divorce is one of the most stressful life experiences you can have. Everyone goes through a cycle of grief. Some handle it better than others. The ones I have seen handle it best, are the ones who go to counselling. They have an outlet to talk about what is going on and an unbiased ear. Family and friends are well-meaning during a divorce, but they can’t give you the independent perspective that a counsellor can.
Those who love you may also grow tired of hearing about your heartbreak or the issues you are having with your ex. Why not preserve those relationships as positive, to help you move forward, and save the angst for counselling?
One of the dangers that arises is where separated parents find themselves headed to the Family Court. The relationship between them has become so toxic that they cannot talk to each other. Invariably, there is underlying emotion driving this.
Family law clients who have been deeply hurt or betrayed – for example, if there has been an affair can be so consumed by anger, jealousy and pain, that they are blinded by it. They cannot see past those emotions and create a relationship with the other parent that sees them headed straight towards the Family Court. Those clients who work in counselling to get through those emotions and move forward, are most likely to avoid the Family Court.
Similarly, family law clients dealing with a narcissistic or high conflict ex, can benefit from counselling to obtain strategies on how to deal with that person.
You do not have to ‘go it alone’ if you are having relationship issues. Ending a long term relationship is a big step and counselling can only assist with the decision making process.
If you are separated, then counselling can offer valuable insight and assistance, and help you avoid the Family Court.
Jennifer Hetherington is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with over 20 years experience. She heads Hetherington Family Law a Brisbane family law firm focusing on keeping clients out of court, their motto being ‘Conflict is not inevitable’.
Jennifer is Winner of the Sole Practitioner of the Year in the 2017 Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards