Should I Attend Couples Counseling?

That is not an easy question to answer. Although a great deal of my practice centers around family law, primarily divorce and related financial and personal issues, I don’t like to see people get divorced and don’t encourage them to do so. So my first instinct is to say “Yes, attend couples counseling.” If you don’t want to be divorced or aren’t sure about whether you should be divorced, counseling can help clarify that decision for you. That doesn’t mean that if you participate in couples counseling then you won’t get divorced. That is one possible outcome, but it is possible that participating in counseling could help you and/or your spouse decide more definitely that divorce is the right decision for you and your family.

Even if you experience divorce after engaging in couples counseling, you may go into the divorce process with a better understanding of how and why your marriage ended. Maybe you will gain some insight that could help you in future relationships. Maybe you and your spouse will agree that even if you’re going to be divorced, you want to consciously keep your children’s best interests foremost in your minds throughout the process.  You may be able to discuss how you want to proceed through the divorce process (see my blog post about the first decision to make in divorce).

If you are not facing the possibility of divorce, but are having some relationship problems, then it may be best to participate in counseling earlier rather than later. In my experience helping clients through the divorce process, I have found that many couples wait until they are actually discussing the possibility of divorce before starting couples counseling. Not having performed a scientific study, I can only guess from my observations that counseling at that stage in their relationship was often too little, too late.

Ultimately, you and your spouse must decide whether to attend couples counseling and live with that decision. There are many qualified, experienced marriage and family therapists in central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hershey and surrounding communities. You can get specific recommendations from your family doctor, friends, family, coworkers, etc. If you would like to discuss couples counseling or any other divorce or family law issue, please contact me.

My Approach to Practicing Law

I emphasize providing “effective and efficient legal services.” That means I want to do everything necessary to serve my clients and accomplish their goals. I do not want to take unnecessary actions or make my clients incur unnecessary expenses. I strongly believe in self-determination and encourage my clients to be actively involved in the decision-making regarding their legal actions. Three general principles are integral to my family law and estate planning practice.

First – Use my time and your money wisely. Don’t pay my hourly rate to do things that you can accomplish on your own, such as gathering and organizing financial or other documentation. Gathering and organizing information is an inevitable part of most divorce actions, but it is not the most effective or efficient use of your money or my time to have me do it, assuming you are capable of doing so. Also, use my time and experience to address legal issues. We will certainly discuss the personal and emotional aspects of a legal problem, but don’t use me as your therapist. That’s why I recommend that all of my clients engage a therapist while experiencing divorce proceedings.

Second – Make decisions privately and use court only as a last resort. I practice primarily in Dauphin, Cumberland and York counties and they all have excellent court personnel and judges. However, the court process is not the most effective or efficient way to resolve divorce and other family disputes. By engaging the help of a mediator or collaborative law professionals you can resolve divorce and related family disputes privately and more effectively and efficiently than through litigation. If you have never been involved in litigation, then you must take my word for it and heed my advice – that’s why you hired me, right?

Third – Focus on what’s important to you and don’t get distracted. Most of my clients want to have their divorce or other family conflict resolved or their estate plan created and move on with their lives. Part of my job is to remind my clients of their goals and question whether their actions are furthering those goals and are in line with the things they tell me are important to them.

If you live or work in central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hershey, Mechanicsburg and surrounding communities and would like to discuss how I practice or any other family law or estate planning issue, please contact me.

A Recent Project

I recently had the pleasure of creating a podcast with John Gavazzi, PsyD. John is a psychologist and we recorded the podcast for use by psychologists, but it has tremendous potential for non-psychologists also. Here are two different links to the podcast:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/what-psychologists-need-to/id809007108?i=242673314

http://www.mixcloud.com/Ethics_and_Psychology/what-psychologists-need-to-know-about-divorce-collaborative-law-and-mediation/

It’s a 55 minute question and answer discussion of the basics of divorce, including some substantive law from the PA Divorce Code and some discussion of the different processes people can use to work through divorce or other family conflicts. It’s like a free seminar with lots of valuable information, available for anyone who wants to download it!

If you’re looking for information about divorce, the collaborative process, mediation and litigation and you would rather listen to a podcast than read about it, this is perfect for you. I would love to get some feedback about this from listeners/readers.

The details of this information could easily fill hours of time, so we stuck to the basics. John and I have already discussed creating another, similar podcast about parenting arrangements (otherwise known as custody), so hopefully that will be forthcoming in the future.

If you know me or have read much of what I’ve written, you know I want my clients to make informed decisions. For that reason, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to educate people about these issues, even if I may never speak with them in person.

I’d like to thank John Gavazzi again for including me in his podcast project.

Counseling and Divorce

I believe everyone going through a divorce should talk with a mental health professional. Psychologist, therapist, social worker, take your pick. I don’t think I’m overreacting. This is a huge, life-changing event and it’s different from other life-changing events, like the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby. When a loved one dies or a baby is born, family and friends usually gather together to offer support and guidance. That’s not necessarily the case with divorce.

Lots of people may want to be supportive when a friend or family member is getting divorced, but they often don’t know what to do and may even make the situation worse. Friends and family members are protective and usually not objective about the situation and often end up feeding the negative thoughts and behaviors instead of fostering constructive problem-solving.

People going through a divorce need an objective support person to help them look at the situation with an eye towards making the best decisions possible and also thinking about how the situation came about. That’s where a therapist can help.

Finding a therapist is a lot like finding any other professional to help you. You can get names from friends, coworkers, professional referral services and others (like your lawyer). Then check out the referrals. Look at their websites. Finally, go meet with them and find someone with whom you’re comfortable. You’ll need to develop a level of trust with your therapist to get the most out of your time together.

Infidelity and Divorce

I initially titled this post “Divorce and Adultery” but changed it because “adultery” has a specific meaning in the PA Divorce Code and I wasn’t talking about just that specific meaning. When I talk about infidelity, I’m talking about a whole range of events that lead one partner to decide that they may not trust/love/respect the other person enough to stay married to him or her. What that means varies from person to person and couple to couple.

My purpose is to explore how that ultimate outlook of “my partner did something wrong so I can’t stay married” influences decision-making and outcomes in divorce situations. It’s very important for individuals to understand two concepts about infidelity. The first is how it affects their perception and decision-making. The second is the legal impact (or lack thereof) of infidelity in the divorce process.

You should not let your partner’s infidelity or your partner’s reaction to your infidelity or the whole convoluted, tangled mess surrounding infidelity involving both of you cloud your decision-making. It is not in your best interests or your family’s best interests to make decisions based on the emotions surrounding infidelity. You can’t ignore those feelings and just decide to deal with them later, either. You need to acknowledge and address those emotions and thoughts and how they affect your decision-making before you start making final decisions. That means slow down, take a breath, find a good mental health professional to talk with and take some time to get your head on straight before you make life-altering decisions like whether to get divorced, how to divide your assets and how to raise your children.

Individuals who have engaged in some type of infidelity should heed the same advice. Don’t make hasty emotional decisions that will have long-term impact when your world is turning upside down. Slow down, take the time to educate yourself and plan your future with the help of those around you. That includes family members, but I believe it’s a mistake to rely solely on family members or close friends for support, advice and guidance during such a stressful time. Objective help and advice from mental health professionals, financial professionals and legal professionals is a key part of the support you need. These should not be people who always agree with you, but people who are willing and able to give you advice based on the cold, hard facts even if it’s not advice that you want to hear.

You should also be aware of the legal impact of infidelity so you can make informed decisions. Under the PA Divorce Code, infidelity means little or nothing legally. This is often shocking to people. First of all, the infidelity may not even rise to the level of “adultery” or “indignities”, which are two of the legal names for bad things people can do that may impact their divorce proceedings. If you both want to be divorced, it doesn’t matter who did what wrong, the court will enter a no-fault divorce and will not entertain any testimony about infidelity. If alimony is an issue in the divorce, infidelity may be one of seventeen factors in the court’s decision about how much alimony and how long it will last, but only if the court first decides that alimony is needed. And even if it is a factor, it’s almost insignificant relative to the other financial issues that are the real basis for the alimony decision.

Don’t Pay Your Attorney for Non-legal Help

An alternative title for this post is “Asking Your Attorney to Help with Non-legal Matters is not a Good Use of Your Hard-earned Money.” Over the years, I’ve seen clients involve their attorneys (sometimes me) in situations that required no legal training or expertise and absolutely did not need the involvement of an attorney. Most of the time, when your attorney recommends that you or someone else take on projects instead of him or her, it’s with the goal of saving you time and money, not because he or she doesn’t want to work.

For example, many people find the process of gathering and organizing documents to be burdensome and not much fun. That may be the case, but you’re hiring some incredibly expensive clerical help if you deliver a stack (or boxes – believe me, it happens) of unsorted documents to your attorney for him or her to review and organize for you. I’ve also had clients ask me to contact the document sources, such as banks and investment firms, to request documents. You don’t need your attorney to do this! You will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in attorney’s fees by gathering and organizing documents required for your case and delivering them in a neat, orderly way to your attorney.

The second big area where I see clients using their attorneys’ time ineffectively is in discussions about their children’s schedules and activities. Do you need two attorneys sending letters back and forth, plus some phone calls and letters to each of their clients, to work out the transportation schedule or decide whether your children are enrolled in baseball or gymnastics? No. You can make all the arguments you want, but you don’t need attorneys to do that. Spending time with a jointly chosen therapist or mediator can address the issue more effectively, more efficiently and more economically. If you rely on your attorney to make these arrangements, you will need your attorney’s involvement for the rest of your life! Even when your children are grown, there will be weddings, graduation parties, grandchildren’s activities – the list goes on and on. Work with a neutral person who can help the two of you make those decisions and teach you how to more effectively make those decisions on your own.

The third area is sometimes tough to address. Some people rely on their lawyers to be mental health therapists, which is a big mistake. Although some lawyers have backgrounds in mental health fields, we’re not therapists. I give legal advice and to do that effectively, I need to understand how my clients are thinking and feeling. But spending two hours talking with me about your spouse’s possible mental health diagnosis is not a cost-effective use of my time. I usually recommend that my family law clients see a mental health professional to help them through the stress of difficult personal situations. I am friends with many psychologists, social workers and therapists and I have great respect for the work they do. That’s why I trust them to counsel my clients. I care about my clients and want them to be happy, healthy and productive, so if I recommend that you see a therapist it’s not because I think you’re crazy. It’s because I recognize how incredibly stressful these situations can be and want someone to handle your mental health needs as professionally and conscientiously as I will handle your legal needs.

Remember that you’re paying your attorney for his or her legal expertise and advice. If you don’t understand why your attorney is recommending a course of action, ask her or him. They’d better be able to explain. And sometimes, the explanation may be that you’re better off having someone besides your attorney handle certain tasks.

Counseling and Divorce

I believe everyone going through a divorce should talk with a mental health professional. Psychologist, therapist, social worker, take your pick. I don’t think I’m overreacting. This is a huge, life-changing event and it’s different from other life-changing events, like the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby. When a loved one dies or a baby is born, family and friends usually gather together to offer support and guidance. That’s not necessarily the case with divorce. Lots of people may want to be supportive when a friend or family member is getting divorced, but they often don’t know what to do and may even make the situation worse. Friends and family members are protective and usually not objective about the situation and often end up feeding the negative thoughts and behaviors instead of fostering constructive problem-solving.

People going through a divorce need an objective support person to help them look at the situation with an eye towards making the best decisions possible and also thinking about how the situation came about. That’s where a therapist can help. Therapists can help us gain insight into our thoughts, actions, attitudes, behaviors, etc. That insight is invaluable for individuals going through a divorce. At a time when everything about your life seems to be changing and you’re forced to make life-altering decisions, the better you can understand your own decision-making processes, the more you’ll be able to support yourself and your family.

I’ve had many clients tell me that they don’t need counseling because there’s nothing wrong with their decision-making. Their spouse is the one who needs counseling because he or she “decided to throw away their entire life together” or “can’t recognize all the problems that led to their separation” or all the other reasons to show why the other person isn’t thinking clearly. There are at least two sides to every story and there are at least two people involved in every relationship that’s ending. In my experience, both of those people could benefit from additional insight.

None of us have the ability to change anybody else. We can only change our reactions to others. That self-change can be the most positive outcome of a personal challenge like divorce, if we make it happen. It starts with increased self-awareness and insight, which is the purpose of engaging in therapy. If you’re getting divorced, you owe it to yourself and your family to get some professional help.

There are many qualified, experienced therapists in central Pennsylvania, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey, York and surrounding communities. If you would like to discuss counseling and divorce or any other family or estate planning issue, please contact me.