In custody litigation sometimes the Court, attorneys, or parents discuss the term “reunification.” To most people, this is a foreign concept. However, it has been around a long time and anyone participating or recommending the reunification process should understand the purpose of reunification as well as how to navigate the process.
Reunification is the service that is recommended when a parent-child relationship is fractured. In most cases, reunification is ordered if a minor is refusing or resisting visits with a parent. A responsible reunification therapist should be able to provide documents that show that they have participated in specialized training in order to be considered qualified to provide reunification services. In the therapeutic community, working with high conflict custody cases and family court cases is considered a specialty that requires specialized training.
The purpose of reunification is to allow a therapeutic professional to have the opportunity to help repair the parent/child relationship in order to allow the regular timeshare or custodial arrangement to resume. Typically, the reunification plan involves at least one initial meeting with each parent individually in order for the therapist to gather information from each parent’s perspective. An experienced therapist will also review court documents, forensic evaluations, and other evidence to accurately assess the challenges in the parent/child dynamic. A reunification therapist may also meet with the minor while the minor is in each parent’s care in order to gather information to assess the parent/child relationship with both parents.
Once the reunification therapist has gathered a sufficient amount of information to make a determination as to what the specific challenges are, they will then be able to develop recommendations for solutions to problems that are affecting the minor’s ability to have a healthy relationship with both parents. When both parents are involved in the process it allows the reunification therapist to attend to challenges that may be influenced by one parent or the other.
As the therapist attends to each challenge they will want to monitor the progress of the reunification process. This involves frequently meeting with the minor and one or both parents depending on what strategies have been recommended. Should progress be delayed, the reunification therapist may involve the court and/or attorneys to help motivate compliance with the reunification strategies.
Although some mental health providers claim to provide reunification services, as an attorney, I have found that unless the reunification expert has familiarity with the Family Court, as well as training regarding working with high conflict custody cases, that the services they provide do not result in reunification and sometimes the therapist has even contributed to delays in reunification. Most of the time, it appears that reunification services are necessary in high conflict parenting situations, but not every mental health provider is equipped to provide services for this section of the community as they are uneducated and inexperienced in the area of high conflict custody.
Again, the goal of reunification is to repair the fracture in the parent-child relationship and to restore the custodial arrangement. The process requires both parents to be cooperative of the reunification process and both parents are urged to encourage the child’s bond/relationship with the other parent. The failure of a parent to cooperate in the reunification process may impact arguments on modification of physical custody as it relates to the best interest of the minor child.