John T. ChamberlinAttorney at Law
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Will the court order counseling in a child custody case?

Emotions can run high in a California child custody case. This is true whether the situation is somewhat amicable or it has grown into an outright child custody dispute. Above all, the courts will seek to achieve what is in the best interests of the child. Part of that might include a requirement that the parents or anyone else who is part of the child custody or visitation disagreement - including the minor child - take part in professional counseling. Understanding how the law handles this is critical to a case.

The counseling can involve mental health and substance abuse. It will continue for up to one year in the following circumstances: the dispute presents a danger to the child's well-being; and the counseling will be in the child's best interests. The court will have certain criteria when determining if the dispute has reached the level of "substantial danger" to the child. It will weigh factors such as domestic violence in the previous five years involving the parents, the child, or another party who is seeking custody or visitation.

Finances are also a consideration with the order for counseling. Should the court find that there is a financial burden associated with the order for counseling and it does not put other financial obligations in jeopardy, the cost will be fixed and both parents will contribute to it. When it issues an order for counseling, the court will explain why it found that there was a danger to the child and that the financial burden does not place the financial obligations of the parents in jeopardy.

The goal of the counseling is to foster communication regarding the child and his or her best interests; to lower the amount of conflict over child custody and visitation rights; and to help them become better parents. If there was a protective order over domestic violence in the past, the counseling will be conducted separately and at different times. The costs will be apportioned to each parent appropriately and depending on the financial circumstances of each.

Child custody is a difficult issue to navigate in any situation. When there is an ongoing dispute over the different factors that go into child custody, it might be necessary for the parents and child to take part in counseling. It is up to the court to determine its importance. With this and other child custody issues, it is vital to have legal assistance to seek the best possible outcome for the parents and the child. Calling for advice and help is imperative.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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