You and your child’s other parent have decided not to stay together.
Well, now what?
The process of separation or divorce is difficult—filled with intense emotions and perhaps heightened conflict due to hurt feelings from the past relationship.
You Want What’s Best for Your Child
You both want what’s best for your child, but if you’re like most separated couples, you may not agree on what that is.
You’re reading this page, so the adjustment to your separation has been difficult on your child. Perhaps there have been more tantrums, higher displays of emotions, controlling behaviors or even some disruption in some milestones such as sleeping through the night, potty training, listening, eating or school achievement.
You’re looking for help because you want to make sure that your decision to separate as a couple does not have a negative lasting impact on your child’s development, behavior and life in general.
But what kind of help does your child need right now?
Is Counseling Right for Your Child?
Because the process of separation and/or divorce can be painful and emotional, getting your child started in counseling can be a confusing and emotional process for the parent(s). To ensure that your child gets the help he or she needs, it’s important to consider the motives behind the decision to seek out counseling (and to know what pitfalls to avoid) to ensure that getting your child enrolled in counseling is in his or her best interests (hint: sometimes it’s not!).
Below are a few things to consider when deciding whether to enroll your child in counseling following your separation or divorce:
I’m concerned my child might be in danger. Will counseling help to assess my child’s safety?
Many parents seek out counseling following their separation from the child’s other parent because they are afraid that their child is in danger during visits and time spent with the other parent. If this is the case, counseling is not the appropriate choice. Counseling is focused on helping the child to process their experiences and adjust in a way that is healthy and appropriate for their age and abilities. Counseling is not intended to identify child abuse and neglect.
If the main reason you are seeking counseling for your child is to assess whether your child is in danger or has experienced abuse or neglect, a forensic evaluation is the more appropriate choice. You can learn more about forensic evaluations by contacting Sanford Child’s Voice or by contacting Child Protection Services to report concerns related to abuse and neglect. The number for the Sioux Falls area is 1-877-244-0864.
I think my ex is causing my child’s behaviors. Will you be able to make recommendations so that my child stays in my custody?
Many divorce attorneys encourage their clients to seek out counseling for a child if behaviors develop during the divorce process. While the motives behind this seem focused on getting the child the help he or she needs, the toxic environment that the court room offers rarely provides a positive ending to this situation.
A child who is involved in counseling during the process of their parents’ divorce can become a pawn in the parents’ divorce when attempts are made to take information from the counseling process and use it as part of the divorce proceedings. Unless required by law, the therapist will not make recommendations pertaining to custody and will not provide information (written or verbal) about the child’s progress in therapy.
A mental health professional should not provide custody recommendations as part of the counseling process, as they are not trained to provide this type of professional service. If the primary reason you are seeking counseling is to get a recommendation regarding custody of your child, a custody evaluation is the right choice for you. To find custody evaluators in your area, contact your local court system for a list of approved custody evaluators.
I think that my ex is causing my child’s behaviors. Can I bring my child to counseling without my ex’s consent?
Many well-intentioned parents enroll their child in counseling in an attempt to help them with behaviors that seem to be caused by the other parent. Because of the reason they are seeking out counseling, these parents naturally do not want the other parent to know what is going on.
Usually, these requests are genuine and aimed at helping the child to adjust appropriately. However, no matter how genuine the request, a therapist does not have the right to withhold this information from a parent who has a right to consent (or decline) to their child’s treatment.
It is safe to assume that if you currently share parenting time with your ex, your child will not be allowed to enroll in counseling without consent from both parents and a clear understanding about the intent of the counseling process.
In rare occasions (such as if there is a court order or an open child protection case), counseling may take place without the consent of one or both parents. However, if the child spends any unsupervised time with the non-consenting parent, continuing counseling is not considered in the best interests of the child.
My ex and I just cannot get along. Can you help us to get along while you also help our child?
One of the most common things I see when working with a child of separated/divorced parents is the child’s difficulty coping with the conflict that has developed between his or her parents. While including parents in the counseling process is typically a part of counseling for children, doing so in high conflict separation/divorce scenarios has proven to not be effective.
If you believe that the main reason for your child’s maladjustment is related to co-parenting challenges, counseling for your child is not the best choice. Instead, you and your ex should meet with a therapist to discuss your co-parenting relationship and resolve the conflict between you. You may do that at Encompass, or we can provide a list of referrals for co-parenting therapy.
If you and your ex have attended co-parenting counseling and resolved your differences but your child’s maladjustment remains, setting up an appointment for your child would be the appropriate next step.
If you still believe that enrolling your child in counseling is the right thing to do, give us a call at (605) 275-0009 or schedule your appointment online right now.
For more information about what to expect with counseling for a child of separated or divorced parents, be sure to check out the Special Forms section on the forms page.