Family Court & Best Interest of the Children
By Jeff J. Horn, Esquire
The judge ordered me to attend reunification therapy with the other parent – now what?
Reunification therapy / counseling is ordered to bring estranged parents and children back together. Sometimes, together for the first time.
Family Court Judges routinely order reunification therapy. Family reunification therapy can solve:
- Parents and children are separated by great distances
- The significant passage of time
- Conflict between parents
- Past traumatic events
- Reunification therapy to bridge time and space
Let’s take a common application.
Portia and Mariano have a baby in New Jersey. Portia stays and New Jersey to raise the child. Mariano leaves New Jersey or Tennessee. Mariano starts a new life and family in Tennessee.
The child is raised exclusively by Portia. Mariano has no role. Mariano is now ready to participate. Parents cannot work it out, so Mariano goes to court. The court orders reunification therapy. However, this causes the child a great deal of confusion and pain.
Who is this person that abandoned me?
Portia has tried to keep a lid on things but her family constantly bad mouths Mariano. He never supported the child. He never paid child support. Why should Mariano have any rights?
By and large, no one on Portia’s team wants to hear the answers. Portia’s family wants to keep Mariano away. Conversely, Portia wants her son to have the father. Mariano is the child’s biological father. Even though Mariano has been out of the child life for five years, New Jersey law always strives to bring parents and children together.
It is the policy of the state of New Jersey that the best interests of children include a relationship with both parents.
Best interests of the children?
Portia’s team cannot believe it. Instinctively, they want to get even with Mariano for taking off on Portia and the baby. The notion that reunification is good for the child is alien. Furthermore, compelling Portia and the child to participate in therapy seems downright punitive.
Who will pay for reunification of therapy?
Great question. Even more shocking than having to attend reunification therapy is the idea that Portia may have to contribute financially to the reunification process.
Check: the policy of the State of New Jersey is to bring children and parents together. Financial issues always follow the best interests of the children.
Reunification therapy because of a traumatic event?
Shockingly, even if parents abuse the child, the policy of the State of New Jersey is to bring children and parents back together. An abused child often wants a reconciliation with the non-abusing part of the parents. Not everyone that abuses is an abuser all the time. Protective measures that can bridge a between an estranged parent and child. Even where there has been abuse criminality. Humans are highly adaptable.
Reunification therapy because of family changes.
Obviously, parents break up and move on. A new boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse can significantly change the parent child dynamics. His, hers and ours families are very common. The odd man out can be the child disconnected from the noncustodial parent.
Changes in the family such as remarriage can cause enormous conflict for the noncustodial parent on the outside looking in. Overwhelm causes a retreat from their own children. They hope that when the children with shore they will see and understand. Unfortunately, not all personality conflicts can be resolved. However, judges, lawyers and courts will work diligently to reunify parents and children.
Not all mental health counselors participate in reunification therapy. Oftentimes, is it not covered by insurance. It is less therapeutic and more facilitative. The reunification therapist and a mental health professional. The mental health professional’s job is to begin to build a bridge. That bridge may start off with sending pictures. Communicating in writing may follow. The process needs to be too slow for some too fast for others.
Complying with reunification therapy may be critical in a journey to meet standards set by the Family Court Judge.
Reunification therapy does not always work.
Adding to the hardship of an absent parent can be the failure of reunification therapy. You spend a bunch of time. Contribute to the financial cost. Only to suffer failure.
Reunification therapy can work.
Ultimately, the key is the dynamic between the parents. If the caregiver parent sincerely wants the child to have a relationship with the absent parent, the chances of success are much higher.
Secondly, the absentee parent must approach the reunification therapy process with openness. Be prepared to answer hard questions. Where have you been? How have you changed? For some the past will haunt them forever. For others, a big future awaits.
Stubbornly, some people will simply not open up. Reunification therapy must be paid for. Fortunately, many reunification therapists are flexible on fees with your client. However, reunification therapists are professionals and work hard for their fees. They deserve to be paid. Do not expect success unless there is a willingness to go through the course of reunification therapy and fund each step.