It is an unfortunate part of divorce and separation that sometimes one parent can, intentionally or unintentionally, behave in such ways that creates division between a child and the other parent. This division can rise to the level of parental alienation—when a child becomes enmeshed with one parent, strongly allying himself or herself with that parent, and rejects the other parent without legitimate justification. A very serious issue, parental alienation can have long-lasting implications on the relationship between a parent and child. Parental alienation generally occurs when one parent does not fully engage in co-parenting with the alienated parent, usually including such actions as leaving the alienated parent out of the decision-making process, talking negatively about the alienated parent, or even denying access and contact between the child and the alienated parent.
Not surprisingly, as a result, a physical, emotional, and many times, psychological divide is created between the alienated parent and their child. Once this occurs, it not unusual for a child to not want to communicate with, see, or spend time with that parent. When this starts to happen, in many cases, the use of a child psychologist or counselor would be necessary and beneficial to assist in redeveloping that parent-child relationship, something known as reunification therapy.
Reunification therapy can be used as an intervention for divorcing or separated families, particularly where children are finding difficulty, for whatever reason, with visiting with the alienated parent. In the initial assessment and follow-up sessions, the counselor or therapist will identity the issues that are contributing to the estrangement between the alienated parent and the child, and then work to develop an appropriate regimen for all affected family members. Through counseling, the child and parent will attempt to repair their relationship, usually by working on effective communication techniques and rebuilding the trust between parent and child that has been fractured by the divorce or separation.
Many times, due to pre-existing conflicts between the parents, a Court order may be required to initiate this type of counseling. If the parents cannot agree on the counseling itself or working with a specific counselor, then either party may motion the Court to appoint an appropriate therapist with the underlying goal being to reunify the child and the alienated parent. Any such court order would detail the expectation that each parent cooperate with the therapy and also set parameters for extended family involvement, while providing discretion to the therapist to set the specifics for treatment, payment arrangements, and all other related issues.
In some cases, depending on the severity of the issues and the levels of distrust between the parents and/or the child, it can be beneficial for each parent to have their own individual therapist, including one for the child. In these cases, the therapists would work together to ensure the family reunification issues are being addressed. In cases where the parents and the child share the same therapist, however, the reunification therapist would likely spend time meeting individually with the children and then with the parents separately before meeting with both the child and the reunifying parent together.
In almost all cases, reunification counseling can be beneficial to help restore the relationship between a parent and their child, so if you are having difficulties in communicating with or exercising timesharing with your child, it’s important to know what options may be available to you. If you have additional questions about parental alienation or reunification therapy, it’s important to speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your specific case and circumstances. Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.