Should I talk to a therapist in the Virginia divorce process?

Posted on Aug 1, 2016 by Katie Carter

Most people don’t get divorced all that often. It’s not exactly a run of the mill experience, like washing your hair, shopping for groceries, or visiting the doctor. At no point will you really feel like it’s a sort of ho-hum type thing; in fact, for most women, it’s a pretty profound experience. I don’t necessarily mean profound in a bad way. It can be bad, but it can also be profoundly good.
No matter what, though, it’s profound. You’re dealing with a lot of emotions and a lot of transitions. There’s a lot of change. Good, bad, or otherwise, it’s difficult to deal with everything you’re feeling and experiencing all on your own.
During the divorce process, many women turn to friends and relatives for guidance and sympathy. Probably you’ve talked a lot to the people close to you about what you’re going through. If you’re like most people, a good portion of those people will have been through a divorce before, too, and they can sometimes offer a valuable insight into what you may be thinking or feeling and what you can expect later on down the road. It can be healing and cathartic to talk to other people about your shared experiences.
It can be misleading, too. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve had to talk to who insist that their case will go a particular way (or won’t go a particular way) based on how a friend or family member’s divorce case went. Divorce cases are highly specific, based on the unique facts relating to each case. Not only that, but the laws are constantly changing, and it definitely matters what state you’re in. So, often, we see cases that seem fairly similar on the outside, but with vastly different outcomes because of small nuances in fact patterns, laws that have changed or updated as time has gone on, or that are from a different geographic area. You can’t rely entirely on what a friend said happened in her case, but there are definitely situations where it’s appropriate and helpful to seek advice or counsel from a friend who has been down this road before.
Still, there are also times where a friend’s help becomes unproductive or possibly harmful. There are also situations (and maybe this is more common) where the friends or family members get sick and tired of hearing about what you’re going through. It’s difficult to stop talking about something that is causing you so much angst, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve got friends who are lining up to hear about how hard it is for you. Or maybe it started out that way, but over time they’ve gotten less and less interested. If you’re feeling like when you start talking about your divorce, your friends or family members start to get a glazed over look in their eyes, you may want to consider looking for support somewhere else.
A lot of women tell me that they are afraid to talk to a therapist about what they’re going through.  One of the most common objections I hear is that they don’t want it used against them in court later on. I hear this objection most often in cases where custody is an issue, because so much of that type of litigation can become so personal. It often feels like it’s less a matter of just dividing up assets and becomes more about who is the better parent. Moms don’t want to seek help for their problems if that becomes something that dad will be able to use against them in court later on. Essentially, what they’re worried about is that their child’s father will get up on the stand and say something horrible, like “She’s crazy, and can’t take care of the kids. Look at her! She’s on antidepressants!”
These days, though, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite: most judges appreciate parents who seek help when they’re going through a divorce. (Didn’t get that?  I’ll say it again.  Judges appreciate people who seek the help of a therapist in the Virginia divorce process.) Though judges don’t always seem like they are the most understanding people in the universe, they do know that a divorce or custody case can be difficult to go through emotionally, and certainly won’t punish a parent for seeking to deal with their feelings in as productive a way as possible, putting the kid’s needs first (after all, remember that custody cases are determined based on the best interests of the child factors).
Not going through a custody case? That’s fine, too. You won’t be penalized for looking for professional help, either. In fact, in a divorce case, whether you’re seeking help probably isn’t relevant at all. Judges consider divorces to be more like business transactions than anything, so as long as you’re not certifiably insane (like, in an institution), it won’t affect your divorce. After all, divorces are based on the length of marriage and your entitlements to specific marital assets, not whether or not you’re nuts. Think about it: even if you were nuts (and you’re not), you’d still be entitled to your fair share of whatever assets (and liabilities) are marital. So—he can say what he likes, but if you need help you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.
If you’re thinking about seeking the help of a professional, don’t let your excuse be that you don’t want your husband to use it against you later. Whether you just need to talk through some of the issues that you’re facing or whether you need a little pharmaceutical boost, you have to take care of yourself and do what you feel is best.
I’ll give you an example, though, to help ease your mind a little. We had a custody case awhile back where this exact situation came up. It was a custody case, and dad raised the issue of mom’s mental health. He even testified to the judge that she was on antidepressants, implying smoothly that she was somehow unfit to take care of their two children under the age of ten. He did it really well, and he painted a very sympathetic picture. When he started talking about her antidepressants, though, the judge cut across him and said (and I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t remember the EXACT quote), “Antidepressants? Who cares? I’m on antidepressants! Do you think I’m unfit to do my job?”
Let’s just say that shut husband up real quick. He and his lawyer changed tactics pretty quick after that, but our client was vindicated—and she ended up winning her case.
Still don’t believe me? Want another example? We had another custody case, several years ago now. Mom had custody of the couple’s young daughter originally, but she gave the child to dad one day, saying that she didn’t feel like she was in a good place to have custody. She then went on a really terrible bender—drugs and alcohol—for three weeks. After that, she put herself in rehab, and started to recover. Later, dad petitioned for custody formally. By that time, mom was doing better. She had made it through rehab, and had been completely sober for several months. Of course, at trial, dad make her drug and alcohol use a big issue. Most of his evidence and testimony related to mom being a druggie and an alcoholic. We, of course, presented our case. In the end, the judge said that he sympathized with mom. He said he was impressed with her for giving up the child when she knew she couldn’t take care of her, and he was also impressed that she had voluntarily gone to rehab to get back on track. We used a pie chart to show how much time the child has spent with mom during the course of her life versus how much time she had spent with dad, which was great, too, because the judge could see what a small chunk of time the child was actually in dad’s care. In the end, we won custody—and mom’s drug and alcohol use and subsequent treatment didn’t hurt her case at all (in fact, it sort of helped).
Those are just two examples, but we’ve had many other cases like that one. Long story short—judges aren’t going to punish you for getting help if you need it. You definitely shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.  Consider talking to a therapist in the Virginia divorce process; I think you’ll find that it helps a lot.
If you need a particular recommendation or are looking for a therapist to help you coparent, reunify, or help with marriage counseling, give us a call. We’re happy to point you in the right direction. For more information, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.