Court Ordered Reunification Therapy in Divorce Proceedings

Reunification therapy is a relatively new form of therapeutic intervention employed by family courts, most commonly in divorce proceedings. One of the goals of reunification therapy is to reunite an estranged or alienated parent with their child. There are many potential factors that may contribute and sustain contact issues between a parent and child, including:

  • The child’s own vulnerability
  • Aligned professionals (teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, attorneys)
  • A desire to avoid conflict
  • The rejected parent’s reaction to the contact problem
  • The personality of the favored parent
  • The favored parent’s negative beliefs and behaviors
  • An enmeshment with an emotionally dependent or needy parent
  • A humiliating separation
  • Divorce conflict and litigation
  • Intense marital conflict before and after the separation
  • Lack of functional co-parenting
  • A pathological attachment to an abusive parent
  • Sibling relationships
  • Attitudes and behaviors of extended family members
  • A parent having said or done things that greatly upset the child
  • A shared delusional belief about one parent with a very disturbed, thought-disordered, and powerful parent
Risks Associated With a Disrupted Parent-Child Relationship

It comes as no surprise that disrupted parent-child relationship negatively affects children of all ages. Children who have experienced a disrupted relationship commonly suffer from stress related physical health problems, anxiety and depression, as well as substance abuse, and difficulty adjusting to change. They may also have difficulty addressing relationship problems, opting to avoid the issue instead. Due to the high risks associated with a disrupted parent-child relationship, it is recommended that an attempted repair of the parent-child relationship be made through reunification therapy.

Ascertaining the Nature of the Parent-Child Contact Issue

Frequently, it is difficult to determine the exact nature of the parent-child contact issue. This difficulty stems from the multitude of factors involved and the numerous forms of parent-child relationships that exist. For example, it is common for children to form a bond with one parent that is not shared with the other on account of gender, age, shared interest, etc., while still remaining close with the other parent. In addition, children of divorce commonly will form an alliance with one parent, exhibiting extreme loyalty, and still not reject the other parent. Also, the parent whom the child formed an alliance with will often encourage the child to maintain a healthy and loving relationship with the other parent. However, in the case of a child witnessing or being subjected to abuse by one of the parents, the child is likely to reject the abusive parent. This is commonly referred to as justified rejection.

Psychological and psychiatric professionals find that the philosophy behind reunification therapy is dependent upon the recognition of all family members that they each contributed to where the family is, and therefore must all work to move the family to a better place.

The Increase in Court Ordered Reunification Therapy

In more and more cases, judges are ordering reunification therapy for children in divorce cases where there has been difficulty with the children visiting with the noncustodial parent for various reasons. Usually before the court orders reunification therapy, the parties will go through mediation, where the estranged parent makes a request for reunification therapy as a way to rebuild a relationship with the affected child. However, a court order is still required from a family court judge if the parties cannot agree. Even in situations where the parties agree to reunification therapy it is best to have a court order outlining the responsibilities of each party and the payment terms. The court order outlines the level of cooperation required from both parents, a general overview of treatment goals, appoints a qualified therapist, and sets arrangements for payment of the therapist.

In reunification therapy, the therapist identifies the factors contributing to the estrangement and wades through the child’s feelings about the separation. Reunification therapy will typically begin with an intake assessment of both the parents and the children involved to get a wider look at the situation to then create an appropriate treatment plan for those affected. The information discussed in therapy is not strictly confidential as the therapist is expected to report back to the court any major issues or findings from the sessions, if the therapist was court appointed. Reunification therapy is typically a minimum of eight to twelve weekly sessions with separate visitation between the parent and child if ordered by the therapist. The therapist presents a report to the court when reunification therapy is finished, if the therapy was court ordered.

Judges are continuing to order reunification therapy because they have witnessed its success and believe that a child is more likely to be successful if they have a relationship with both parents as opposed to just one. Parents have their own personal issues with each other, and allowing a third-party representative to mediate those, gives a child the chance to form an unbiased view of both parents.

Contact and Experienced Attorney Today

Families in this situation should be prepared for a judge to order reunification therapy and if so, familiarize themselves with the process, its purpose, and its legal ramifications. Reunification therapy can later affect child custody and visitation time, so it is important to understand what an order for reunification therapy legally means. If you are undergoing a divorce proceeding and have been ordered to participate in reunification therapy, contact an experienced family law attorney today to discuss the therapeutic process and the possible legal ramifications it could have on your divorce.

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC our skilled family law attorneys have experience in dealing with reunification therapy court orders in divorce proceedings. Call our office at 704.370.2828 or fill out our contact form online to schedule an initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys to discuss your legal options. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Union County.