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Can a family court judge order you and your spouse to marriage counseling prior to your divorce? It depends. Each state has its own laws governing divorce, so what the court can and cannot do varies by jurisdiction. Generally speaking, the court cannot make the final divorce decree contingent on marriage counseling. However, a judge may be able to order you to marriage counseling prior to your divorce under certain circumstances.

How often do family court judges order couples to marriage counseling?

It actually happens very rarely. Judges know that the counseling process is most likely to be more successful if both parties are invested in it. Otherwise, it is a waste of time and money, and the court does not want to impose that unnecessarily.

Under what circumstances can a judge order marriage counseling?

It depends on the laws of the jurisdiction. Judges most often order marriage counseling when one of the divorcing parties asks them to. This is usually the spouse who did not file for divorce, i.e., the respondent. This party may believe that it is still possible to save the marriage. If the other spouse is unwilling to go to therapy, the court may choose to order it.

Sometimes a judge may also decide to order the couple to see a counselor without a request by one of the spouses. The circumstances in which the judge can do this varies by state. It may depend on the grounds under which divorce was filed or the judge’s belief that the marriage can be saved.

How is the order enforced?

If there is a court order for you and your spouse to attend counseling, the judge may require the counselor to report back to the court on whether you go. If you do not, the court may find you to be in contempt, which can incur penalties. However, the court order does not require the counselor to report on what you have talked about in your sessions. In fact, the counselor has a legal obligation to maintain confidentiality except in cases in which a failure to disclose could put you or someone else in danger.

Bear in mind that while the court can order you and your spouse to therapy, it has no control over what happens there. In other words, the court can only order your spouse’s physical attendance; it cannot order his or her willing participation.

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