Discernment Counseling - A Refuge for Family Law Toe Dippers

By Jennifer Winestone

A toe dipper is someone who is cautious to carry out an act. When it comes to relationships, we are all wise to dip a toe or two before jumping into the marital pool. Likewise, when circumstances permit in a marital relationship, care ought to be exercised before jumping out.   

Family law toe dippers often emerge by setting an initial consultation, returning several months or years later to start the process, or sometimes never returning at all. They come to attorneys and mediators for general information about legal rights and obligations and process options in case they decide to leave their spouse.  Some family law toe dippers emerge mid-process. These are clients who, whether consciously or subconsciously, test separation through the litigation or mediation process.  

A counseling referral may provide these clients or potential clients with a process in which to work out their feelings about the separation outside of the legal proceedings (thereby potentially saving them a lot of time, money, and uncertainty). Discernment counseling is a structured counseling process designed for couples “on the brink” - unsure of whether to work to preserve and repair the relationship or take the plunge, end it and move on.    

Discernment counseling is a short-term and structured couples-counseling protocol, led by a trained mental health professional. The method seeks to help parties determine whether relationship problems can be solved - as opposed to how to solve them. Through the process, the parties are focussed on three options: ending the relationship, committing to a “last ditch” intensive effort to fix it, or staying the course.  Discernment counseling usually concludes after 1 to 5 sessions of 1.5 to 2 hours in length each. The outcome of a successful discernment counseling process includes clarity sufficient to make a decision, confidence in the chosen option, and an understanding as to what has led the parties to that result.  

In the right circumstances, discernment counseling can be an invaluable resource for potential clients prior to initiating mediation or litigation proceedings. It can also be useful within a separation process, where emotional impasse may be causing delay or blocking resolution. 

See www.discernmentcounseling.com for more information about this new protocol.