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Services & References: Consulting Letter

The following "Dear Counsel" letter summarizes important considerations of hiring a non-testifying consultant to family law attornies and their clients:

Dear Counsel:

Recently, as a result of some discussions I have been having with colleagues in other parts of the country, I have been considering ways of providing mental health services to family law attorneys and their clients in a consulting capacity that I believe would potentially be helpful to you and your client and less stressful for me (when compared to the typical court-appointed roles in high-conflict custody cases in which I am often involved), and, fundamentally, reduce/prevent long-term, chronic conflict that consumes everyone—especially the children.

The features and parameters of the consulting role are as follows:

  1. It is a confidential professional service provided to one parent and his/her attorney, if the parent is represented, in a divorce or custody dispute.
  2. The consultant is retained by the attorney and the work provided is privileged, attorney work-product.
  3. The consultant’s client is the attorney. Your client is not the client or the patient of the consultant.
  4. The service is not “coaching,” e.g., child custody evaluation preparation
  5. It is a non-testifying role.
  6. Ideally, the consultant is retained at the outset of the case, before legal processes begin.
  7. The pre-litigation/pre-dispute use of a consultant may help manage client expectations, discuss likely results, anticipate arguments from the other side, assess the reasonableness of the client’s expectations, and assess likely outcomes under the current fact pattern.
  8. After filing, the consultant can help the client and attorney “reframe” relevant issues, define “fairness,” provide child developmental education, help generate alternative solutions, and maximize child-centered problem solving.
  9. A consultant can be most helpful when the case is complex, highly conflicted, and/or protracted.
  10. The consultant can provide support to the parent and/or attorney in obtaining the most recent social sciences information and expertise. This is particularly helpful given the explosion of information (often erroneous or biased) parents often obtain via the Internet.
  11. The consultant can teach the parent new skills to move towards resolution of custody disputes. Again, this is not the same thing as preparing a client for a custody evaluation. The consultant can provide psycho-educational information, practical skill building, and help difficult clients get feedback about court filings and communications from the other parent.
  12. The consultant can collaborate with the attorney and the parent as a team throughout the court processes.
  13. The consultant can help deal with the attorney-client relationship. This might be particularly useful with high-maintenance clients.
  14. The consultant and the attorney together can provide different perspectives that may be more powerful for and to the client.
  15. The consultant can help the attorney and client anticipate consequences, and develop appropriate, child-centered solutions.
  16. In pre-settlement situations, the consultant can help the client identify priorities, integrate psychological and developmental information, predict outcomes and consequences, be creative in problem-solving, and engage in long-term thinking.

An attorney might want to consider retaining a consultant when:

  1. The client is engaging in self-defeating behaviors.
  2. The client has the potential to support a more positive outcome.
  3. A child custody evaluation might be avoidable or unnecessary.
  4. A parent has difficulty presenting well.
  5. The risk of not intervening early with a client probably will create more damage control down the road.
  6. Prolonged conflict might leave fewer positive choices.

My own experience as a consultant with family law attorneys is most often I am retained well-after the law suit is filed, or after the child custody evaluation report comes back. Sometimes, this type of service is helpful to assess the quality of the evaluation, determine if the evaluation might be successfully challenged, keep a “successful” client from turning “victory” into “defeat,” help the attorney explain an adverse recommendation to the client, and strategize for settlement or trial.

Sometimes, post evaluation, it’s too little too late because it may be too late to challenge effectively the evaluator’s conclusions and/or change the outcome.

Please find enclosed my consulting services contract that provides more detail about fees. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this consulting service more fully or if you have questions or comments. I am

Yours sincerely,

H.D. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D., ABPP