Occasionally, a family court judge will order a family into reunification therapy in the course of a divorce or child custody case. There can be multiple reasons reunification therapy is considered, including a non-custodial parent’s history of abuse, the absence of a non-custodial parent, or allegations of parental alienation. Let’s examine this often helpful – and controversial – therapeutic technique in some more detail.
What is reunification therapy?
Reunification therapy is not a legal or psychological term; it is one created to give a name to a practice that has grown in popularity and necessity. Reunification therapy typically takes two forms: intensive and long-term. 
Intensive Reunification Therapy
Intensive therapies last from a few days to a few months, and often require the child or children to be isolated from the parent accused of alienation for the duration of the therapy. These therapies are expensive and can cause further trauma to the child and the family, and this extended trauma is the source of much of the controversy. 
Long-Term Reunification Therapy
Long-term reunification therapy, however, is rarely conducted in a vacuum. It is court-ordered, and often takes no fewer than 12 weeks. In addition to the joint sessions for the parent seeking reunification and the child or children, there can be individual sessions for each parent and the child, as well as a session for all family members. This battery of therapies has as its end goal the reuniting of all parents with the child and a successful co-parenting relationship going forward. 
When can reunification therapy be ordered?
When a parent has been absent
If one, or both, parents have been absent from a child’s life, a judge may order reunification therapy to help the parties become accustomed to one another again. This can happen in cases of a parent who has been incarcerated or in long-term addiction recovery treatment, for a parent that has previously been ordered only limited supervised visits, a parent with a history of abuse, or if a parent has been away – voluntarily or not – from the child for a long period of time. Reunification therapy also is employed in cases where children have been removed from a home by the authorities and the parents are working toward reestablishing custody.
In cases of alleged parental alienation
Occasionally, one parent attempts to turn the children against the other parent by speaking ill of him or her. This can create intense negative feelings for the child and a great amount of stress if the child must spend time with the alienated parent. The goal of this type of reunification therapy is to help heal the rift caused by the alienation and work toward a cooperative relationship for all parties.
Why is reunification therapy controversial?
In some cases, reunification practitioners recommend separating the child from the primary parent or the parent reportedly causing the alienation. In other cases, the therapy focuses only on the parent needing reunification and the child, leaving out the other parent. Because of this focus on only one half of the equation, many believe the reunification will be ineffective once therapy ends. Additionally, removing the child from the primary parent can be viewed as a reverse alienation, with the potential to cause further psychological trauma to the child and further damaging any possibility of a cooperative co-parenting relationship. 
Is reunification therapy beneficial?
Despite the criticisms of the practice, reunification therapy can be an extremely beneficial tool for many families. As long as all parties are cooperative and engaged in the therapy, and keep the best interests of the children in mind, reunification therapy can help heal any damaged bonds and move everyone on the path toward a successful future.
Experienced Family Law Attorney in Maryland
Do you have questions about reunification therapy, parental alienation, or other matters relating to divorce and child custody? Contact the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado for experienced, compassionate family law advice.
 Greenfield, Beth, “The Controversial Therapy That’s Shaping Custody Battles,” Yahoo, 10 Sept. 2015.
 Kruk, Edward, “Parent-Child Reunification After Alienation,” Psychology Today.