An unfortunate result of many divorces or child custody disputes is that children develop negative feelings toward one, or in extreme cases, both parents. These negative feelings can arise for a variety of reasons, which may or may not be the result of any intentional action by the estranged parent, but nonetheless can damage the relationship between a parent and their child. Often these negative feelings can be dealt with by simply making an effort to sit down with the child and discussing their feelings or making sure that they get a little extra TLC. However, in more serious cases, the parent-child relationship is completely broken and the child may not want to have anything to do with the estranged parent.
The New Mexico courts have long held that, generally, is in a child's best interest to have a relationship with both parents. Accordingly, in situations where a child's relationship with a parent has broken down, the courts will often look for opportunities for the parent to repair that relationship. Reunification therapy is one such opportunity and the courts may order one or both parents to participate in such therapy with their children. The goal of reunification therapy is to mend the relationship between a child and parent by identifying the stressors that caused the relationship to break down in the first place. Reunification therapy identifies the factors that led to the estrangement, and helps the child and parent work on communication, trust, and resentment issues.
Either parent can petition the court to order reunification therapy or the court may do so on its own. The court order mandating reunification therapy should discuss: the court's goals in ordering treatment; expectations of cooperation by both parents; the discretion given to the therapist to set treatment; and, who will pay the therapist's fee and expenses. The court order should also ensure that any pertinent records, medical or other, be released to the reunification therapist.
Before reunification therapy begins, it is important that all parties understand the process and implications of the treatment. For one thing, parents and children need to understand that their treatment is not confidential. The reunification therapist is often expected to report any findings, progress, or obstacles to the court.
A reunification therapist will typically meet with the parent and child individually before meeting with them together. In some cases, the estranged parent may be ordered to undergo individual therapy for any drug, anger or other issues that may be hindering their relationship with the child.
Once the parent has completed treatment and safe contact with the child is a possibility, the joint sessions may begin. Or, if it is deemed safe for the child, the estranged parent may be engaged in individual therapy while also having joint sessions with the child and the reunification therapist.
Child-parent relationships are difficult, especially when there has been an estrangement due to a divorce or abandonment. While reunification therapy may be helpful to some, it may not help others. And in some cases, such as extreme abuse or a long history of a parent refusing to comply with court orders, the court may not find that reunification is in a child's best interests.
Parents who want to repair their relationship with their child may face a long and arduous journey where they will be expected to work hard towards reconciliation; all while being supervised by the court. Working with an experienced family law attorney can help parents understand and navigate the legal system and how it intersects with world of mental health professionals and their numerous therapeutic techniques, including reunification therapy.