When a divorce turns nasty, parents fighting over the custody of their children will sometimes let their anger and frustration turn into spousal vilification. It’s easy enough to imagine; you have just gone through a life-changing series of events leading to divorce, and now your former spouse is trying to assert a legal authority over your children. You start to view them as hateful, spiteful, and an enemy to be resisted at every opportunity.
This level of animosity can lead to a situation where one parent tries to influence their children to turn against the former spouse. These children can develop what is known as “parental alienation syndrome,” essentially feeding off of the denigration of one parent by another.1 The children become resistant to visitation with the vilified parent, and this can create serious problems when a court is trying to decide custody issues.
Recently, a court in Michigan tried to combat the problem of parental alienation.2 Following a divorce in 2009, Omer Tsimhoni alleged that his ex-wife had turned their three children against him.3 The children eventually refused to abide by court orders to visit the father. The judge, after first ordering the children into juvenile detention for refusing to meet with the father, ordered the three children and the father to go through “reunification therapy.”4
What is Reunification Therapy?
This somewhat controversial therapy, often mandated through court order, is meant to repair strained child-parent relationships. The therapy spans several days, and includes therapists and social workers trained to encourage the development of trust and communication.5
The formerly estranged child and parent spend the time engaging in activities and exercises meant to reverse the negative image of the parent. This can sometimes be followed with court orders for the non-reunified parent to refrain from contacting the child for a short period.
While courts are experimenting with the use of reunification therapy in heated custody fights, some skeptics worry that issues of actual neglect by the vilified parent will be overlooked.6 These skeptics are also weary of diagnosing children with a disorder which may stem from actual abuse rather than a perceived abuse. They point out that “parental alienation syndrome” is not recognized as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.7
The High Cost of Treatment
Reunification therapy comes with a large price tag. In Tsimhoni’s case, the cost was upwards of $30,000.8 Extensive training for the therapists running the treatment and the long hours needed to effectively complete it are the primary reasons why the price is so high. Unless the court orders otherwise, this cost is typically split between the two parents.
The high cost of such treatment and the emotional strain that comes with family legal battles makes it very important that you hire an experienced attorney to fight for you if you are going through divorce or custody proceedings.
Contact a Wallin & Klarich Family Law Attorney Today
At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled family law attorneys have been successfully representing our clients in family law and divorce matters for over 30 years.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, an experienced Wallin & Klarich child custody attorney can help you no matter your location.
Call us at (888) 749-7428 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. Gardner, Richard A. “Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation.” Academy forum. Vol. 29. No. 2. 1985.↩