Why Therapy During and After Your Divorce Can Be Beneficial

cropped shot of a therapist talking to a male patient as he sits on the couch - therapy during divorce concept

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events you will ever experience along with death of a loved one, moving, and changing jobs. Receiving therapy during your divorce can be beneficial, cost effective, and help you process your emotions so you can start your next chapter with a fresh and healthy perspective. If you are worried having a therapist during your divorce will hurt your case, don’t be. You will not be required to disclose the content of your work with your therapist unless you sign a release because it is privileged. We can help you decide whether to keep your work confidential, or disclose it. It will depend on the circumstances of your case.

Should You Get Therapy During Divorce?

Working with a therapist before or during divorce can make the entire divorce process easier to handle. When divorce clients are referred by their therapists, they often come in seeking to understand the legal aspects of divorce. They may not decide to file right away, they just want information so they can make an informed, and unemotional decision. These potential clients have generally dealt with the emotional impact of divorce on their children, their spouse and themselves. They often appear well-grounded, rational, and equipped with meaningful questions.

In contrast, when a potential divorce client has not already worked with a therapist, they may present as highly emotional and have difficulty digesting the information and advice they are being given. They may not have had the chance to really analyze the emotional aspects of their divorce, or how their current emotions are coloring their understanding of their case. Our divorce attorneys often urge our clients to work with a therapist before making the decision to file for divorce.

How Does Therapy Help with Divorce?

Divorce is a legal process, but it is also highly emotional. Every decision clients make, from child custody to property division is made through the filter of their emotions. A spouse who has made the decision to divorce on their own responds differently than the spouse who is served with divorce paperwork without notice. Attending therapy during divorce can help to process those emotions and separate emotional reactions from strategic legal decisions.

Attorney vs Therapist: Understanding the Professionals’ Roles

A good lawyer can provide a lot of advice on a variety of topics. However, most lawyers are not trained to deal with the psychological impact of divorce effectively. Therapists are. Just as you wouldn't call an electrician to explain how to fix the leak below your sink, you should not use your lawyer as your psychological lifeline in times of emotional crisis. Although your lawyer may be extremely empathetic and a good listener, your lawyer should not be the first person you talk with about how your divorce is making you feel and behave. Bring up your feelings first with your therapist first to see if you can come up with ways to help reduce the intensity of your emotions. It is likely your attorney can help implement some of those ideas. For example, appearing at mediation by video, versus in person, can help many people reduce their anxiety going into mediation. And requesting that communications between you and your spouse go through a monitored platform versus having your phone bombarded with off-putting text messages can reduce your stress and improve communications.

Another very good reason to work with a therapist during divorce is it will save you money. Lawyers usually charge more than therapists. Many therapeutic services are covered by health insurance, leaving a small co-pay for you to bear. Have your moment, or it will have you - but vent first to your therapist and then give your lawyer the reader’s digest version of what you are experiencing. It is important for your attorney to know when something is bothering you, otherwise they cannot try to help you. But if you talk it out with your therapist first, you are likely going to be more succinct and productive when it comes time to talk with your lawyer.

In some cases, the other spouse will try to weaponize a client’s emotions, intentionally acting in ways that will trigger emotional responses that lead clients to requesting their lawyer to go to court for them. By working with a therapist to process those emotions, you may be able to avoid, or at least reduce, the need to file motions and litigate issues in court, further reducing your fees.

Custody, Divorce and Mental Health

Some parents (or spouses) worry about receiving therapy during divorce because they think their mental health might be held against them. They may assume the Court will treat seeing a therapist as a sign of weakness; showing that they are incapable of managing their own problems effectively. They may also fear that it might hurt them in a custody contest.

It is true that parents’ mental and physical health is one of the twelve best interest factors the Court considers in awarding custody. However, having a mental health diagnosis isn’t the end of the story. The courts see people daily who are not dealing well with their divorces. Judges really appreciate parties who seek appropriate help during troubled times and come to the court ready to settle their cases. Judges generally won’t penalize a party for working with a therapist. In fact, if you have a mental health diagnosis, maintaining regular treatment will work in your favor while allowing your regular treatment plan to fall by the wayside can have a devastating impact on your case. It is untreated mental illness including failure to attend regular therapy appointments, get regular blood draws as ordered by a physician, and take prescribed medications reliably, that will negatively impact your custody case.

Should You Use a Children’s Therapist During Custody Disputes?

You and your spouse may also consider providing the children with a therapist during divorce (most therapists require both parents’ consent). When both parents agree their child(ren) need a safe place to process the divorce, perhaps because they are confused, mad or scared, it can be a real gift to the child to enroll them in therapy. Older children can usually articulate their anger and confusion verbally, with the parent(s) being the preferred target. Younger children will often act out their anger and confusion. Either way, it becomes difficult to parent the children during a divorce, particularly when you are challenged with your own grief, anger and uncertainty. If you provide the children with a safe haven to vent their feelings and develop strategies to cope with the situations they face, parenting and co-parenting may become easier during the divorce and after. The child's therapist can help both parents understand what their children are experiencing and feeling and offer suggestions on how to better deal with it and meet the child's needs.

The Mental Health Professional’s Role in Collaborative Divorce

Ideally, your spouse would benefit from having a therapist too. Some therapists will offer divorce counseling to the couple. That is one option, especially if you have been in marriage counseling and you both like your therapist. Or you each can have an individual therapist.

If you and your spouse have committed to the Collaborative divorce process, you will likely work with mental health professionals who act as coaches. These professionals are not interested in entering diagnoses or taking sides. Instead, they specifically help the parties to work on their divorce process and communicate in constructive ways. They serve as facilitators and help everyone involved manage the intense emotions that are part of the divorce process. Most people prefer a one-coach model, where the same therapist works with both parties, but some prefer a two-coach model, where each party has their own coach, and the coaches talk with each other to help the parties work better together during the process.

Emotions can negatively affect a person’s decision-making during the divorce process. Hiring a therapist to work on your divorce team can have an enormous positive impact for you.

At NSSS&B, we want to help you get a healthy divorce. Our Ann Arbor family law attorneys recognize the importance of emotions and mental health in the divorce process, and we happily refer our clients to therapists during divorce. Whether you choose a collaborative divorce or traditional litigation, we will work with you to create strategies to reduce conflict, manage your emotions, and protect your mental health. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.