A new trend is shaping up in custody battles across the country, involving court-ordered “reunification therapy” designed to treat children who are the victims of parental alienation. Parental Alienation Syndrome, long recognized by the courts, involves the harmful effects of one parent turning the children against the other parent during a hostile divorce and psychologically poisoning them against that parent. Since the courts generally hold the view that it is the best interest of children to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, parental alienation is widely considered to be psychological abuse of a child and a form of parental neglect.
Reunification therapy is designed to help children heal from the parental alienation by deprogramming them. The treatment usually involves removing the children from the home and preventing them from having any contact with the alienating parent for a period of time, while simultaneously encouraging the children to re-accept the rejected parent. For the treatment to be successful, the children need to be completely removed from the other parent so that the parent cannot interfere with the treatment.
This form of therapy is often controversial since it is not always known whether there is true parental alienation versus a justifiable hatred toward a rejected parent. In trying to determine whether parental alienation has occurred, the courts will look to a variety factors, such as whether the children had a good relationship with the rejected parent up until the divorce and then suddenly developed an extreme hatred for that parent, whether a parent is obsessed with destroying the relationship between the children and the other parent while simultaneously rationalizing their own behavior, and whether a parent accused of alienation suffers from a personality disorder or mental health problems.
One thing is clear from this new trend, however. In their role of protecting the best interests of children, the courts are finally starting to treat the damaging effects of parental alienation more seriously.