Court Ordered Reunification Therapy

Reunification therapy is not a legal term, nor is it a psychological term, but it is becoming more widely used in divorce cases.  Reunification Therapy (RT) is a therapeutic intervention for separated families when the children find difficulty visiting with the noncustodial parent, but depending on the circumstances, the purpose and goals of reunification therapy vary.

The therapist identifies the factors contributing to the estrangement and by working on communication, trust and probing residual feelings contributing to the estrangement.  RT may include an intake assessment of parents and children to develop an appropriate treatment plan and in-office treatment for all family members affected by alienation or high conflict divorce.

Reunification therapy comes into play in high conflict divorce cases where one parent is not seeing the child. The first step is to go to mediation and work an agreement out with the other parent and request reunification therapy in order to make contact with the child.  The family court order appoints a qualified therapist who has knowledge and experience and can provide help for the child and the reunifying parent.

Reunification therapy requires a court order from the family court. The court order stipulates the expectations of cooperation by both parents, the court’s expectation of treatment goals and interventions, parameters for extended family involvement, provides discretion to the therapist to set arrangements for treatment, payment arrangements for the therapist, and other contingencies.

In the event of substance abuse and alcohol issues, allegations of abuse or past domestic violence, the reunification therapy begins the process of safe contact for the child and the estranged parent.  All pertinent records and contact with collateral professionals and governing agencies must be available to the reunification therapist.

Everyone involved should have clear understanding of the expectations and parameters of reunification therapy before it begins. The reunification therapist’s role is to work with the reunifying parent and child. The information is not confidential as he or she will be responsible to report back to the court any significant findings and/or obstacles encountered.

Reunification therapy is not client centered, that is, the child or parent does not determine the goals of treatment. Therefore, it is recommended that individual therapists for the child, the reunifying parent and the custodial parent be utilized.  Adjunct individual therapy is useful when the custodial parent feels left out of the process and when the child has significant concerns about seeing the reunifying parent.  The therapist spends time individually with the child and with the reunifying parent before meeting with both of them together.  Moreover, the therapist acts as a container for the reunifying parent and child to safely address their relationship and makes contact with the individual therapists as needed to coordinate treatment.

The therapy requires a minimum of eight to twelve weekly sessions with outside visitation depending on the circumstances of the case and at the discretion of the therapist.  The therapist keeps the court apprised of the therapy and writes a report at its conclusion.

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