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Basics of Court-Ordered Marriage Counseling

Are you wondering why you have to go to court-ordered marriage counseling before you can get a divorce? Or maybe your spouse has filed for a divorce you don't want and you'd like to make him or her go to counseling with you?

It's rare, but courts can and do order couples into marriage counseling before they'll finalize a divorce. In many states, a judge can order it if he or she sees the possibility of reconciliation. Some states require it if one spouse asks. Others leave it to a judge's discretion whether to grant the request.

Courts are more likely to order other forms of counseling or education classes. What kind you may need to attend varies depending on the state where you're divorcing and your specific situation.

What Exactly Is Court-Ordered Marriage Counseling

Just like it sounds, it is marriage counseling that you must attend, by court order, before the court will grant a divorce. The sessions are typically similar to any marriage counseling, and focus on trying to save your marriage.

Although a judge can order it independently, most often the respondent (spouse who didn't file) asks the court for it in an attempt to save the marriage.

State law might require the court to do its own assessment of your marriage to decide if there's any possibility it can be saved.

Kentucky requires this if you cite irretrievable breakdown as your grounds for divorce. If the court finds a possibility of reconciliation, it can order counseling.

In general the court will require counseling for either a specific number of sessions or a certain amount of time. For example, Florida statutes allow the court, under certain circumstances, to “Order either or both parties to consult with a marriage counselor … or any other person deemed qualified” and to “Continue the proceedings for a reasonable length of time not to exceed 3 months.”

You must attend and usually the counselor reports your attendance back to the court.

The judge can decide who pays for the counseling sessions.

How Common is Court-Ordered Marriage Counseling

It's relatively rare for the court to order this kind of counseling.

For one thing, many states don't require it even if one spouse asks for it. Under no-fault laws, courts can grant a divorce without the respondent's consent, so it's not needed to ensure both spouses cooperate.

Many states also exempt domestic abuse victims from being required to attend marriage counseling, even if it would otherwise be required.

And counseling rarely works unless both people want it to. The court can order you to go to counseling sessions, but it can't force you to make any real effort at those sessions. So they're likely to cost both parties time and money without accomplishing much if anything.

Other Types of Court-Ordered Counseling During Divorce

Court-ordered marriage therapy may be rare, but counseling or education classes to help couples and their children get through the divorce with the fewest possible emotional scars are more common.

Courts may order a number of different types of counseling:

Parenting Education: These sessions help parents understand how divorce can affect children and how to keep their children's best interests in mind when negotiating custody agreements and other issues.

Family Counseling: These sessions help entire families to learn to manage conflicts that arise during a divorce. Everyone affected, from the couple to their children and extended family members, may attend.

Divorce Counseling: Instead of trying to fix the marriage, this kind of counseling gives the spouses a safe place to discuss their feelings about the divorce and avoid placing blame. They can also learn how to communicate and resolve conflicts to help the divorce proceed more smoothly.

Mediation: This isn't counseling, but it is a way to come to an out-of-court settlement that avoids the stress and costs of a trial. Couples who want an amicable divorce often choose mediation on their own, but courts can also order it.

Because state laws vary widely, if you have any questions about court-ordered counseling, including how to ask for it, it's a good idea to talk with a lawyer who can help you understand the specifics of your state's laws.

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