Sometimes, during the divorce process, a split can develop between a parent and child. This rift can be caused by many different issues and impedes the court’s ability to properly determine custody or parental access.
One of the mechanisms the court can use to heal this split is Reunification Therapy. At Westside Family Law, we’ve encountered some confusion from clients about when Reunification Therapy is appropriate, and how it works. In this week’s blog, we’re going to clear up some of the common questions.
What is Reunification Therapy?
Reunification Therapy is a sometimes-misunderstood part of family law. It consists of court-ordered counselling conducted by a counsellor of the court’s choosing. It exists to heal damage in the relationship between parent and child. Divorce/separation is only one of the potential causes for this damage. Here are some other common scenarios in which Reunification Therapy may be used:
- Words or actions by a parent have alienated the child
- Pathological attachment to an abusive parent
- Lack of functional co-parenting
- Humiliating separation
- Sibling relationships
- Attitudes and behaviour of extended family members
When is Reunification Therapy Appropriate?
Reunification Therapy tends to be used sparingly by the courts. Every effort is given to families to sort their own issues without the need for legal intervention. Here are the guiding principles that govern decisions surrounding Reunification Therapy:
- Compelling evidence exists the therapy will be beneficial
- The request must be accompanied by a detailed proposal identifying the proposed counsellor and what the expected outcome is
- Resistance, from either a child or parent, to therapy will be an important decision factor but not a determining factor
- Where practical, the court should give appropriate direction to the counsellor/therapist and should receive a report upon the conclusion
- Therapy will not exist alongside clinical investigations or assessments and should wait until those steps are completed.
What if Reunification Therapy Fails? What Next?
Sometimes, despite the best efforts of a counsellor/therapist, Reunification Therapy doesn’t have the desired effect. In these instances, the rejected parent can submit a “parting message” to the child. This message typically explains the parent will abandon efforts to reconnect, while also re-stating their love and commitment to the child. In effect, it leaves an open door for future communication. In some instances, it can take a child months, or even years, to feel comfortable communicating once again. If this is the case, it’s vital to abide by the child’s wishes.
Here to Help
If you have any questions about the Reunification Therapy process, get in touch with us today. Our qualified team of family lawyers are ready to help you.