Can Counseling Be Ordered in Divorce and Child Custody Cases?


When California courts are faced with child custody cases – whether as a result of divorce, a child custody modification, or a child custody matter outside of marriage – it always focuses on the best interests of the involved children. Further, California courts have considerable discretion in the matter, which means they can order counseling when it is deemed appropriate, and such practices are not uncommon when there is considerable distance between each parent’s position on the matter and they show little ability or inclination to bridge the gap. If you are facing a child custody concern, an experienced California child custody attorney can help.

Child Custody Basics

In California, child custody is determined in relation to both physical and legal custody. Legal custody has to do with how you and your ex will address the matter of making primary parenting decisions, such as the following:

  • your children’s schooling
  • your children’s religious upbringing
  • your children’s healthcare needs
  • your children’s travel and participation in extracurricular activities

Physical custody, on the other hand, determines you and your children’s other parent’s parenting time schedule. If you and your ex can find common ground and come to an agreement regarding both physical and legal custody, you can expect the court to accept the terms upon which you’ve mutually agreed.

Further, just because you and your soon-to-be ex are unable to reach an agreement regarding child custody, you have options to consider before the court’s intervention is required, including:

  • you and your divorcing spouse allowing your respective child custody attorneys to skillfully negotiate child custody terms on behalf of each of you
  • you and your divorcing spouse proceeding to mediation, where a professional mediator will help you explore your co-parenting options in a neutral space that allows you both to lean on the skilled legal guidance of your respective child custody attorneys while retaining your decision-making authority

If you’ve exhausted these options, however, the court will need to make primary child custody determinations on your behalf, and toward this end, it can implement the tools available to it, which can include requiring counseling.


Ultimately, the court wants both parents to work together as effective co-parents to help ensure that their children’s best interests are honored. It is established that children benefit from having healthy, happy relationships with both parents – barring adverse circumstances – and successful co-parenting is one of the most effective means of reaching this goal. When parents are at odds regarding child custody, which is not uncommon, it can derail their ability to co-parent successfully, and California courts find that counseling with a licensed professional – or another form of counseling service – can be extremely beneficial.

The goal is to help parents become more effective at communicating with one another and at setting their differences aside when it comes to doing what’s best for their shared children. The court can order counseling for up to a year in its efforts to bolster improved co-parenting, but there are important considerations to keep in mind:

  • California courts must have a specific reason that is based on specific findings to order counseling in relation to child custody.
  • The court’s reason for ordering counseling must be based on its determination that the children’s best interests will otherwise be jeopardized.

Communication Between You and Your Ex

You’re going through a divorce or child custody case, which means emotional turmoil is the norm, and no one expects you and your divorcing spouse to be on perfect terms. In fact, it’s very common for communication to break under these circumstances. When it comes to child custody, however, it’s imperative that you keep the lines of communication open throughout the process – because effective co-parenting is not something you can put on hold until the terms of your case are resolved.

As such, it’s important for you and your children’s other parent to find a way to communicate with one another that does not derail your emotional equilibrium moving forward. If speaking directly to one another – on the phone or in person – doesn’t work, there are alternatives, including communicating electronically. In fact, there are even apps for that now.

Reach Out to an Experienced California Child Custody Attorney Today

The skilled legal guidance of a practiced California child custody attorney can help you successfully navigate the most effective and efficient path forward toward child custody terms that uphold your parental rights and work for you and your children.