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counselorMarriage counseling often proceeds the initiation of divorce litigation for patently obvious reasons.

Even when the divorce complaint is filed, separating couples often continue to utilize various types of mental health professionals — including social workers and counselors — for helping with the family’s transition and navigating custody and parenting time impasses.

A2938, a bill which will be considered a committee of the New Jersey legislature this week, could dramatically impact the willingness of some couples to attend marriage or custody counseling.

The amendment to current state law would read as follows:

If a licensed practitioner of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing, clinical social work, or marriage counseling who  currently is providing treatment services  determines, in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment, that the patient is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others, the licensee shall report, as soon as practicable to the Attorney General the patient’s name and other non-clinical identifying information which the Attorney General shall only use to determine whether the patient has been issued a firearms purchaser identification card, permit to purchase a handgun, or any other permit or license authorizing possession of a firearm.  If the patient has been issued a card or permit, the Attorney General shall arrange for any firearm possessed by the patient to be seized pending a hearing.  The Attorney General shall issue guidelines governing the seizure of firearms pursuant to this subsection.

A licensed practitioner who, in complying with this subsection, discloses a privileged communication is immune from civil liability in regard to that disclosure.”

The bottom line?

Mental health professionals including marriage counselors could mandate the seizure of their clients’ firearms without due process (e.g. a court hearing prior to the seizure) if a “mental health professional determines [his or her] patient poses threat of harm to self or others.”

Legislators will need to consider a wide array of potential problems, including but definitely not limited to….

guns(1) Is the State of New Jersey going too far by asking professionals to violate ethical obligations to their clients?

(2) Is the public interest sufficiently important to justify seizure without due process?

(3) Is a marriage counselor or social worker qualified to decide if someone’s Second Amendment rights should be effectively suspended?

Governor Chris Christie is likely to veto the measures even if they clear the committee stage. Still, each measure could kick-off a spirit debate about the intersection between gun violence and domestic turmoil.

New Jersey presently authorizes its courts to bar defendants from purchasing or possessing firearms when the defendant is charged with domestic violence crime or certain offenses. The prohibition precedes conviction and, even after the charges are dropped or dismissed, the defendant’s ability to recover his or her weapons is an arduous and uncertain process.

As always, we’ll keep you in the loop regarding any developments in the law.

We’re here to help you in the interim.

If you or a loved one has questions regarding the New Jersey divorce process, specifically related to domestic violence and the seizure of weapons, please contact the Divorce and Family Law attorneys at DeMichele and DeMichele today.

For a confidential consultation to discuss your situation with one of our New Jersey custody attorneys, you can also call (856) 546-1350 to schedule your appointment.

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Post Author: Matt Rooney

is a New Jersey attorney, former Superior Court law clerk, and noted commentator who focuses his practice on family law, municipal court defense, and personal injury matters. He was recognized by SJ Magazine as a 2018 “Top Divorce & Family Attorney."