Hidden Damage of Divorce: Losing a Child’s Therapist

Jun 29, 2010

Some of the destruction of an ugly adversarial divorce is obvious:  tens of thousands in legal fees for each party, annihilation of the family finances, arguments, personal attacks, stress on the parents and kids, etc…We can all readily identify these known drawbacks.

But, there are many other “hidden” costs.  These costs are part of the collateral damage of an adversarial divorce.  These are the losses and negative consequences that are not obvious except to those that have been through it.

One of these losses is frequently the loss of a good therapist.  Sometimes the therapist is working with one of the parties.  Sometimes the therapist is working with a child.  Sometimes the therapist has been working with the whole family.

Either way, high conflict divorces frequently cause families to lose these invaluable therapeutic relationships.  A recent example of a local therapist serves as a cautionary tale.

This therapist spent two years in therapy with the children of a couple in a rocky marriage.  In that two years the therapist developed a strong relationship of trust and openness with the children.  This therapist was the only buffer between the conflict in the home and the kids.  That relationship allowed the kids to open up with their therapist.  The result was that the therapist was able to really help the kids with important emotional and psychological issues at the hardest time of their lives.  The therapist even worked with the parents at times to benefit the family.

Then the divorce hit.  The parents ignored the warnings from the therapist about choosing an ugly divorce.  A high conflict divorce ensued.  The attorneys, doing what they’d been hired to do, started sending subpoenas to the the therapist for the therapy notes of the last two years.  Each attorney  trying to “protect” their client by digging up any possible dirt on the other parent in the therapy notes.

Eventually, the therapist is subpoenaed to testify at a hearing in court.  One or both parties disagrees with the therapist’s evaluation of the family.  The therapist instantly becomes a target.  The attorneys attack the therapist in order to attack the therapist’s opinions (which they themselves asked for). 

The result?  The therapist gets tired of being attacked and manipulated in the divorce.  The therapist spends hours and hours on the case that will not be compensated.  So, the therapist terminates the relationship with the kids to get out of the parents’ cross hairs. 

The impact? The kids lost a therapeutic relationship with the one person that was truly helping them cope with the divorce.  The kids may or may not even try to establish that kind of relationship again.  So, the kids suffer because the parents wanted to fight. 

This happens frequently.  Almost every therapist has a story like this.  Most therapists have already sworn off involvement in these kinds of families.  But, most parents do not consider this kind of collateral damage when choosing what kind of divorce they want to experience.  However, if divorcing parents truly care about their kids, these collateral effects need to be considered before electing to divorce the hard way.  Whatever the parents are trying to accomplish in a hotly contested divorce is rarely worth the loss of a child’s therapist. 

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