Parenting matters are often very emotionally difficult and stressful for all members of a family, including children. It is essential that parents recognise the need to support their children, while also ensuring that the children maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents. This can be an emotionally complex task, which can become increasingly complicated by insufficient communication between parents. Family therapy can assist parents and/or children with the emotional impact of separation, help parents communicate better about issues to be decided, and allow greater understanding the emotional issues and/or trauma a child may have. Introducing family therapy relatively early in any family law matter will allow any underlying issues to be therapeutically addressed, and potentially resolved without unnecessary Court intervention. However, family therapy is beneficial and encouraged at any stage in the matter, providing long-term benefits for the family even after a family law matter is finalised.
Where family therapy is undertaken in the context of a family breakdown, it must be decided whether family therapy will be reportable or not reportable.
Reportable family therapy
In matters of high conflict, the Court may direct a family to attend reportable family counselling to resolve issues that may have arisen and/or minimise harm to children. In reportable family therapy, a therapist will report the progress of the therapy to the Court. The family practitioner may be called upon to provide an opinion regarding outcomes achieved in therapy and opinion regarding certain matters raised.
Reportable family therapy can be beneficial for the following reasons:
- The family therapist would likely have access to Court material. This would allow the therapist to be better informed of the experiences and allegations of both parties, rather than a one-sided account of events and circumstances.
- The Independent Children’s Lawyer (if appointed) can speak regularly with the family therapist to understand ongoing issues and challenges, progress being made at family therapy, and to determine whether the Court should be made aware of any issues or concerns.
- If a Court orders that a Family Report be conducted in a matter, the expert preparing the report would be allowed to speak with the family therapist to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the issues and the nature of the family relationship.
- If a Court were to be made aware of any issued which had arisen in family therapy, it can make Orders which specifically deal with these issues.
Alternatively, some disavantages to family therapy include:
- Knowing that a Court may become aware of the issues addressed during family therapy, parties may feel apprehensive or disinterested in meaningfully engaging in family therapy. Parties may be deliberately selective in their disclosures to a therapist or modify their behaviour so as not to contradict what has been said to the Court.
- When a practitioner reports on matters discussed with a child, it may hinder the already delicate relationship which a therapist builds with that child. This may prevent any real future progress between the child and therapist.
Non-reportable family therapy
In other circumstances, a Court may order that the parties and/or children participate in non-reportable therapy. This means that counselling is completely confidential, allowing the family to attend without fear that any information disclosed will be disclosed during their family law proceedings.
Advantages of non-reportable family therapy include that parties feel like they are in a safe space to discuss any issues in dispute, often allowing families to confront an accept any damage which may have been inflicted, and assist in healing from this. The important relationship between the practitioner and the family is protected by the confidential nature of the therapy, as practitioners are not required to disclose personal and private information to the Court.
Non-reportable family therapy also has its disadvantages. A practitioner would be unable to discuss any issues or concerns which have arisen during the course of family therapy with the Court or the Independent Children’s Lawyer (if applicable). This would mean that the Court, as well as any Expert writing a Family Report, would not be able to consider potentially crucial information for a Court’s decision making. Further, without access to Court materials, the family therapist may not be able to provide an effective therapeutic service as they may not have received all necessary and relevant information.
Whether family therapy is reportable or not reportable, family therapy can assist with parenting issues occurring since separation, help rebuild relationships which have suffered as a result of the separation, or help parents adjust to their new roles as single parents. It is evident that therapy with a specialised family therapist can be a vital resource for families undergoing separation.
If you believe family therapy might assist your family, or are wondering whether reportable or non-reportable might be best for you, reach out to our experienced team of family lawyers.