Going to therapy is an incredibly personal decision for an individual to make. This is also true of a decision to take your child to therapy if you are a parent. Coordinating the efforts of two parents is difficult enough as it is even if the parents are married. However, if you and your co-parent are no longer married then the challenge becomes even more profound. Disagreeing about therapy and counseling is a frustrating position for both parents to be in. You may want to encourage your child to speak to someone about issues in their life to learn coping and communication skills. On the other hand, your co-parent may be against that idea completely for various reasons.
Therapy is a subject that is becoming more "mainstream" but still carries with it some baggage from generations gone by. We've all heard the derogatory term "shrink" used to refer to psychiatrists and therapists. Beyond the stigma that is sometimes associated with therapy visits, you must contend with the idea that you are somehow weak or more vulnerable than the average person if you are open to a therapist or even consider attending therapy. You are likely to find just as many proponents of therapy as you are detractors. If you happen to not share the same opinion as your co-parent, then you are in a position where it is difficult to make a positive difference in your child’s life.
Or are you? In many situations, you may be able to take matters into your own hands and see to it that your child can attend family therapy sessions if that is what you believe is in their best interests. A parent is presumed to always act with the best interests of their child at heart. This means that you are given the benefit of the doubt when acting on behalf of your child. The leeway and latitude that a parent is given in Texas to do things on behalf of their child are exceptional. You can pursue things like therapy for your child and there is very little that a person can do to stop you from doing so.
When you file a divorce or child custody case some potential roadblocks can go up in front of you when it comes to sending your child to therapy if you think that is the right thing for him or her at this point in their life. For one, you and your parent share specific rights and duties to your child under final orders for a child custody or divorce case. Regarding the subject matter at hand, you and your co-parent likely share the right to make decisions regarding psychological treatment for your child under the final orders of your child custody or divorce case. How that right is divided between the two of you will make all the difference in the world.
Sole managing conservatorship versus joint managing conservatorship
All conservatorship orders in Texas family law cases are not considered equal. Take an order that contains rights and duties allocated along the lines of a joint managing conservatorship. This means that you and your co-parent will, for the most part, share the rights and duties associated with your child evenly. Joint decision-making is the name of the game in this regard. You two would need to put your heads together on most things when it comes to raising your child. If the two of you can’t agree on a particular subject, then you would need to appoint a “tie-breaker” in your orders. Or, in many cases, your child just wouldn’t get to do what you or your spouse would like. This includes something like attending family therapy sessions.
A sole managing conservatorship is another way to divide up the rights and duties that you and your co-parent hold concerning your child. A sole managing conservatorship means that you or your spouse would be appointed as the sole managing conservator. This conservator holds the lion's share of rights and duties. The circumstances that may call for you or your co-parent to be able to exercise these types of rights can vary from situation to situation. If it is obvious that one of you is better suited to hold these rights, then that is what should be done. A sole managing conservator likely holds most rights concerning decision-making for your child when it comes to psychological treatment.
Rights concerning a child are generally held in three different ways: exclusive, joint, and independent. The exclusive right to decide means that only you can decide regarding a certain right that you exercise on behalf of your child. A jointly held right means that you and your co-parent must decide together about the right that had been discussed. This forces the two of you to put your heads together and hopefully set any differences that you have aside to do what is best for your child. This is the ideal situation because you and your co-parent can voice your opinion and meet in the middle many times. Unfortunately, that is not always the way things work out. Finally, you two could have the independent right to decide for your child. Typically, the way that this works out for you all is that the parent who has possession of your child at the time the decision is made gets to do what he or she wants. Your child can go to therapy with you when he or she is in your possession. However, your ex-spouse can refuse to take your child to their appointment if that is scheduled for the weekend.
A divorce can be a time when counseling can help a child
In a time when so much of your child's life is up in the air, attending counseling may be the best option for your child. Consistency and stability may be missing from the life of your child at this moment. You probably feel the same way about your own life but now imagine how that feels to a child who is ill-equipped to handle a divorce and has zero life experiences to draw from. Your child can feel like their whole world is crashing down at their feet. What's worse, your hectic schedule these days may prevent your child from sitting with him or her and talking through whatever problems they are experiencing.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that your child may need some help when it comes to their day-to-day life during a divorce or in the period after your divorce is over. Understanding your limitations when it comes to parenting your child takes a great deal of patience and understanding of yourself. You may already be feeling like you have let yourself and your family down by going through a divorce in the first place. The stress that you feel may be something that you have pushed onto your children and your extended family.
This does not have to be the case. You have resources available to you where you can help your child receive family counseling if that is your choice. However, you need to decide that this is what is best for your child. Next, you need to review your court orders to determine what requirements are in place as far as coordinating these therapy visits with your co-parent. If you all are joint conservators, then you may need to both agree to the counseling visits to send your child. However, if you have the exclusive or independent right to be able to have your child attend family therapy visits like this then that is something you should consider based on the needs of your child.
We are not born as natural or even effective communicators. Many people that I have spoken to on this subject will tell me that it's a shame that they were not able to handle the communication aspects of this issue themselves. Instead, they see deferring to the experience of an experienced family counselor as a mark against them. I don't think this could be any further from the truth. The reality of the situation is that none of us are born natural communicators. We all must learn the skills necessary to communicate and then practice those skills. True, the gift to communicate comes easier to some of us than to others. However, we all need to give ourselves some grace when it comes to communicating with our children about the difficult subject matter. No matter how much you try and practice these skills it may be that you won't be able to practice sufficiently to develop the necessary skills by the time your child needs you to exhibit those skills.
This is where marriage and family therapy can come in handy. Helping your child figure out their emotions is tough. Having an experienced family therapist on board to assist in this regard can be a huge leg up for your family. Helping your therapist key in on specific areas of your child’s life is an important assist that you can give him or her. Talking with the therapist after treatment sessions can help you know what is happening in the counseling session if your child is old enough to attend these appointments without your oversight.
Best interest standard regarding family therapy
We spoke earlier in today's blog post about how it is presumed that you as a parent are acting in the best interests of your child when you make decisions for him. The whole premise behind this presumption is that parents like yourself should be given a large amount of latitude to make decisions for their children without fear of being second-guessed by the State of Texas. This presumption extends to medical and psychiatric treatment, as well.
If your co-parent does not want your child to attend counseling or therapy, then she may want to challenge this in court. If you hold an independent or exclusive right to make decisions like this for your child, then you do not need to consult with your co-parent. You may choose to do so to make sure that your co-parent is aware of the situation. However, this is not necessary and can present a situation where your ex-spouse or co-parent purposefully attempts to manipulate you or your child for that matter.
You may be asking what happens if your child is already attending counseling. In that situation, a court would look to the circumstances that your family finds itself in to decide how essential the therapy visits are to your child. By working with your co-parent to make sure that your child can attend these visits, you can do a lot of good for yourself when it comes to being named the primary conservator of your child. This is what it means to do what is best for your child and not necessarily in your self-interests.
If your child has a behavioral, educational, psychological, or other proven need then counseling and therapy may be necessary for his or her development. If you find yourself in a situation where you are going to have to push hard for your client to continue therapy after the divorce this may show a judge a few things about him or her. In that situation, you can help the judge to see that you are doing what is in your child's best interests even though you may not always agree with everything that happens in therapy sessions.
The needs of your child presently and in the future factor in heavily to the best interest of the child's determination. Attending therapy may be necessary if your child has been diagnosed with a condition like bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression. Your disagreement with your child attending therapy or counseling may be based on actual concerns that you have with the process, but if it is apparent that counseling is necessary based on different diagnoses that your child has received over the years then even your legitimate concerns over the subject are not enough to forbid him or her from attending counseling.
You can find an experienced family therapist in your area through a variety of sources. Word of mouth is a place that you may have looked to already. Talk to friends, neighbors, and the school counselor about who they would recommend for the job. Next, you can contact your health insurance provider to learn more about therapy and what is and is not covered by your insurance. Finally, you can perform some research online and see what your co-parent thinks about the situation. Remember that you may be able to avoid telling your ex-spouse about the situation if you do hold an exclusive or independent right to do so.
To co-parent more effectively I will mention here at the close of today’s blog post that the issues of family therapy can be enhanced if you and your other children participate in the process. Making sure that you and your co-parent are a united front in this regard can be important because your child will likely be hesitant about going to therapy in the first place. You can do a lot to help your child stay at ease with the subject by locking arms with your co-parent in a metaphorical sense. Your child can sense problems in the parenting world and can emotionally lose their grip on the situation.
All in all, counseling and therapy can be treated just the same as a visit to your child’s primary care doctor is concerned. Understand that this is psychological treatment and may not be necessarily like taking your child to the doctor once a year. What your child wants to do may not be in their best interests. All you can do is follow your conscience and then be honest with your co-parent about your expectations.
Another important aspect of this discussion that I wanted to mention because our time is over is that this situation presents a good reason for you to become very familiar with your court orders. If you don't already have an understanding of your court orders, then you should obtain a copy and review them. The more familiar you are with your court orders the better equipped you will be to care for your child and the less likely you will be to get into an argument with your co-parent about something that could benefit your child tremendously. Sharing information, your feelings, and your positions on this subject may be a breath of fresh air for your co-parent as much as anything else.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.