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2012: Can the San Diego Superior Court Judge Order Counseling in Custody and/or Visitation Cases in a Paternity, Divorce or Legal Separation?

In a divorce, legal separation or paternity in San Diego Superior Court for family law matters, a Judge has the authority to order counseling. The normal procedure is, first, for the parents to attend the mandatory family court services for mediation. Absent abuse, molest, neglect or other legal emergency under the California Family Law Code, parents must attend mediation before a Judge will make an order regarding their parenting plan. These cases are heard in the following San Diego Superior Court Houses: San Diego; Vista; Chula Vista and El Cajon.

Under the California Family Law Code, a Judge can order counseling and require both parents and/or the child or children to attend and participate. These are only for cases where custody and/or visitation is an issue and the Court finds that the parent’s dispute or between a parent and a child would pose a “substantial danger” to the best interests of the child and/or children and that this is in the best interests of the child and/or children. The best interests test consists of many different factors which include, but are not limited to, stability, bonding, frequent and continuing contacts; sibling relationship, abuse, neglect, molest and some other parental conduct which could be harmful to a child. The purpose of the counseling is to improve the parenting skills of one or both parents and also to reduce any conflicts between the parents and the parents and/or child or children.

As to the payment of these costs, this is an issue in many cases. During a divorce, legal separation and paternity, the Judge may order both spousal support and/or child support. These orders are designed to, in some measure, equalize incomes of both parents so that both may be able to support their child and/or children. Any disparity of income, in this manner, may be equalized by the support order. The Judge will, in the ordering of payment for these counseling costs, fix the costs and order each party to pay in proportion to their ability to pay as long as the order does not jeopardize either parties financial obligations. Of course, this is a subjective determination. The Judge can also find “good cause” and order payments or apportionment in a different amount or percentage. The Court must state the reasons why the dispute would pose a substantial danger to the best interests of the child and that counseling is in the best interests of the child. If there is a history of abuse, by either the parents to each other or to the child or children and a protective order is necessary, then the Court may order the parties to participate in the counseling separately.

The Court will take the recommendations of the Court appointed counselor as the expert. As such, it is crucial to have input into who is appointed as much as possible. To make an informed and intelligent decision regarding this issue may make the difference in the outcome.

If you have a case in San Diego Superior Court which is a paternity, legal separation or divorce and there is a need for counseling, please feel free to contact us for a confidential consultation.

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