Can a Family Court Judge Order Marriage Counseling?

When there is conflict in a marriage, there is no universal solution. For some couples, it may be better to divorce and go their separate ways. For other spouses, there may be a chance to reconcile their differences using helpful tools, such as marriage counseling. In certain instances, a judge may intervene and order marriage counseling before granting a divorce.

Grounds for Divorce in Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania allows for both fault and no-fault divorce filings. In a fault petition, the petitioning spouse claims that the respondent spouse’s actions have caused the marriage to fail. The soon-to-be ex-spouse is responsible for providing proof of these destructive actions, which could include adultery, abandonment, imprisonment for two or more years, and abuse or other cruel treatment. Family court also allows fault divorces on the ground of indignities, which can include any ongoing behavior that creates hardships for the spouse. The definition of indignities can be somewhat subjective. In divorce cases based on this claim, either spouse can request that a judge orders them to undergo marriage counseling and delay the divorce.

No-fault divorce petitions are much more common. In a no-fault divorce petition, one or both spouses can request a dissolution of the marriage if it has become irretrievably broken. The petitioning spouse certifies that the conflict or discord between the two spouses is great enough to negate the legitimacy of the marriage and that there is no recovery possible for them. They do not have to cite specific behaviors that caused the dissolution of the marriage. A mutual consent divorce requires each party to submit a sworn statement affirming that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If the other spouse does not consent, the petitioning spouse can still move forward with the divorce if they show that the couple has been living apart for a year, or if they can prove that the marriage cannot be repaired.

How can I Request Court-Ordered Counseling?

The notion of the marriage being irretrievably broken is an important one that could come into play if the respondent spouse disagrees with this assessment. In their response to the petition, the spouse may state that they feel there is a potential for reconciliation and ask a judge to issue an order for marriage counseling. The judge has the legal authority to do so if they agree that there is potential for reconciliation. If requested, a judge can require up to three marriage counseling sessions with a qualified therapist within three to four months. A qualified therapist could be a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or religious leader, such as a priest or rabbi, that the court has deemed fit.

Is it Common for a Judge to Order Marriage Counseling?

Judges do not exercise this authority very often as they do not consider it their duty to weigh in on the retrievability of the marriage in divorce cases. There are numerous steps to filing a divorce petition, as well as financial considerations. Additionally, while a court order could require someone to show up for a couple’s therapy session, it cannot compel them to actively participate. Marriage counseling can be challenging, and even when both spouses try to cooperate, divorce may still be the best option.

The judge does not have to grant the respondent spouse’s request for counseling. If the respondent spouse is committed to pursuing marriage counseling after the divorce has been filed, they can ask the judge for counseling. They will need to provide some evidence that that marriage can be saved, which can be very difficult as situations can look different from each person’s perspective. Building a compelling narrative may help convince the judge.

If there is one central disagreement that is causing conflict, the spouse can argue that the marriage would benefit from counseling around this issue. It is common for marriages to end because of disputes over how to handle money or differing parenting strategies. Marriage counseling might be able to resolve these issues.

There are some alerts that will usually prevent a judge from ordering counseling. Serious issues in the marriage, such as adultery or addiction, make it difficult to see reasonable potential for reconciliation. If one spouse is being subjected to any kind of physical, emotional, or financial abuse, it may be dangerous for them to remain in the marriage. It is highly unlikely that the judge will recommend counseling in these serious situations rather than granting the divorce.

Marriage Counseling for Parents

While it is rare, there are cases in which a judge will order marriage counseling without the request of one of the spouses. If the couple has children that are under 16 years old, the spouses may be required to attend counseling before the divorce can proceed. In these cases, the well-being of the children is a major factor. If it is possible for them to live in a unified two-parent household, it may be in their best interest. This is not true for all families, however, and the proceedings may continue after the session requirements have been fulfilled if reconciliation is not possible. A Pennsylvania family court judge may order divorcing parents and older children to attend some type of counseling to help them handle child custody issues productively and make the transition as smooth as possible for the children.

Counseling can be a valuable resource for married couples. Speaking to a qualified counselor can help determine whether differences can be resolved before entering into divorce proceedings rather than after the petition has been filed. Court-ordered counseling is rare. Whether a spouse is hoping to receive an order for marriage counseling or is wishing to avoid one as they file for divorce, having an experienced divorce lawyer by their side can help them with obtaining the best possible outcome.

Bucks County Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Provide Tailored Solutions to Families

Our Bucks County divorce lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. have successfully represented spouses in all types of divorce proceedings. We are committed to getting you the best possible outcome for your situation. Call us at 888-999-1962 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.