In my career as a therapist, I have worked with many families who were going through divorce or custody battles. It’s often very rewarding to help these families and children through the play therapy process. It also can be quite harrowing when parents are at war, family court is part of the equation and a therapist is roped into the legal process.

I have been subpoenaed and have testified in court too many times to count. Through my experience I have developed a passion about helping therapists stay out of family court if at all possible and if unavoidable, how to be prepared. I am currently writing a book for child and family therapists that includes perspectives from many seasoned therapists who have done this kind of work along with a few revered attorneys and guardians ad litem.

Meanwhile I am providing training and consultation on this topic for therapists and today on the blog I want to share some top tips.

Play therapists are very vulnerable to the risks when dealing with cases that may end up in court. Just by being a witness to what a child experiences, we set ourselves up to be pulled into litigation.  Here are the highlights of all the important tips I teach in my four hour recorded CE training called Play Therapy with High Conflict Divorce & Custody Cases. 

1. Be prepared from the initial phone call.

During this call, it is your time to screen and assess.  Listen to what the parent is saying and not saying. Continue to assess during the intake session.  I recommend a 90-minute parent-only intake session.

2. Have very thorough policies and informed consent.

Have a section in your informed consent that specifically addresses divorce and custody cases.  Although it doesn’t provide an air-tight guarantee you’ll be left out of court, be sure to include a clause that has clients agree to NOT subpoena you. You can access my practice forms templates  which includes my very thorough informed consent. It is important to review your policies with parents during the intake session.

3. Know Your Role and Stay in Your Lane.

Remember, the role of a therapist is different than the role of a custody evaluator. It is not our job (in fact- it is often against our code of ethics) to give custody recommendations. Be very clear about your role in your informed consent and be prepared to explain  your role again and again to parents, attorneys, guardians ad litem and sometimes even judges. You’ll be able to read more about my own stories involving this issue in my book coming out in the near future.

4. Know your research to back up your work as a Play Therapist.

It is very important to be able to talk about what play therapy is and why it’s important and effective with working with children. I practice play therapy with a prescriptive approach using facilitative interventions when needed on the foundation of Child-Centered Play Therapy.  Keep the Evidence-Based Practice Statement from the Association for Play Therapy in your back pocket!

5. When possible, do all you can to avoid going to court.

If your policies are dismissed and you are subpoenaed to court,

  • Contact your liability insurance immediately and report the subpoena immediately. They should assign you legal representation.;
  • Alternatively you may want to pay for a consultation with a healthcare attorney in the case you feel unsatisfied with the response you get from your liability insurance
6. Seek consultation or supervision with a therapist seasoned and experiences with these cases. 

It is important to have a good mentor or supervisor, especially when involved in court cases.  If you are looking to consult about custody or high conflict divorce cases, I would be more than happy to schedule a 30 or 60 minute consultation with you. Contact me here to inquire for more information or schedule a consultation.

7. Learn all you can BEFORE you are subpoenaed. Get trained in advance. Be prepared!

Seek training. I have three recorded training workshops on this subject that all count for NBCC approved CE hours and APT approved play therapy non-contact training hours:

Play Therapy with High Conflict Divorce & Custody Cases is an intensive, thorough training all about working with these tough cases and includes proprietary documents/forms and research articles you will want to have on hand addressing parental alienation behavior and how to treat children in therapy who are being alienated.