Robert G. Smith, PLLC

Controversial therapy used in some child custody disputes

New York residents may have heard about parental alienation syndrome when it was in the news several years ago after actor Alec Baldwin accused Kim Basinger of alienating their daughter from him. More recently, during the summer of 2015, it was again in the news after a Michigan judge ordered children to attend reunification therapy when they refused to see their father. The father also requested that the children not be allowed to contact their mother for 90 days.

However, reunification therapy is controversial, and not all family courts are supportive of its use. Several years before the Michigan case, a Canadian court refused to order it for a child, and the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence released a statement supporting the decision. Some psychologists argue that isolating the child away from the parent they are closest to can be harmful. Reunification therapy can also mean exposing children to an abusive parent.

Some psychologists say that alienating a child from a parent is a kind of abuse, but it can be difficult to tease out the truth. Sometimes, the alienating parent has a personality disorder. Psychologists often try to look for corroboration as well as examining the entirety of the relationship and whether it changed abruptly after the divorce.

With or without an alienating parent, negotiating custody can be difficult. In the best case scenario, parents can communicate with one another and work cooperatively to serve the individual needs of the child. However, this is not always possible. One parent may be abusive, or the parents may simply be unable to negotiate with one another. In such a situation, each parent may want to obtain the advice and counsel of separate family law attorneys.

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