Professional counselors may accomplish many desirable results.

I recommend my clients see a counselor in three situations: They want to reconcile their marriage. They want help with the emotional problems that accompany separation and divorce. They want a credible expert witness who can establish their mental and emotional fitness relating to custody or other issues. These are legitimate reasons to see a counselor.

By the time one party hires a lawyer, the marriage is usually beyond repair and no amount of counseling will save it. Still, one should try if there is any hope. Even if the counselor cannot save the marriage, he may help the parties deal with the emotional problems of separation and divorce and help them remain friends even after they are no longer husband and wife.

At the final hearing, the trial judge will ask if there is anything he can do, such as order marriage counseling, to help you and your spouse reconcile. If the answer will be yes, then you should see the marriage counselor before you hire me, but understand that you cannot force your spouse to see a counselor or remain married.

You can find a marriage counselor under “Counselors,” "Family Counselors," or “Marriage Family Child & Individual Counselors” in the yellow pages or online. Do not! Get recommendations from your lawyer, your doctor, or someone you respect who is in a position to know. Some ministers are trained and qualified as marriage counselors but many are not.

Many counselors are unwilling to testify in court, even providing in their contracts they will not testify by deposition or in court. This is like buying a pistol with no ammunition. It makes a nice threat but it not helpful when you need it. Counselors from other states are problematic because they are not easily subpoenaed or deposed.

If your counselor might testify as an expert witness, credentials and resumes become important. Helpful credentials include doctoral degrees, professional publications, teaching or lecturing in seminars or classes, previous qualification as an expert witness by a court, professional awards and honors, and regularly reading professional publications. The counselor must exhibit a good demeanor and convincing manner on the witness stand. It helps having a counselor with a good working relationship with your lawyer.

Have a firm understanding with your counselor regarding confidentiality. Do not make admissions of fault that may come back to haunt you in court unless you are satisfied that your counselor will go to jail before revealing your confidence. Remember that your spouse or anyone else except your lawyer can quote you in court if they heard you make the statement. See My Favorite War Stories #6: Some Counselors Are Risky, page 20, for an example of how an unethical minister-counselor devastated one client. The legislature improved this situation with a confidentiality statute that became effective on December 8, 20 1989. This statute primarily applies to counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals excluding doctors. Caution is still advisable.

If you go to counseling, go in good faith. Cooperate with your counselor. You have everything to gain and little to lose.

My Favorite War Stories #6:
Some Counselors Are Risky

The husband was from Rock Hill. My client, the wife, was from another state. They attended his family's church. They had marital problems, including the wife's adultery. They went to their minister for counseling. The wife confessed her adultery to the minister. The husband subpoenaed the minister who testified to the statements the wife made. The family court judge granted custody of the young son to the husband. This happened almost fifty years ago, but I remain suspicious of ministers as marriage counselors to this day.