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Parental alienation may lead to court-ordered therapy

Some Virginia parents may be familiar with a phenomenon called parental alienation that was coined by a psychiatrist in the 1980s. It refers to what happens when one parent turns a child against the other parent, often as a result of a bitter divorce, and now there is a controversial treatment called reunification therapy that is sometimes mandated by a judge in child custody cases.

A case in Michigan made the news in July 2015 when three children who refused to visit their father were put into juvenile detention by a judge. The children were required to participate in intensive five-day therapy with their father, and the father also requested that they not communicate with their mother for 90 days. The mother in this case accuses the father of abusing one of the children while the father alleges that the mother has issues with mental health.

Reunification therapy is controversial. Some psychologists say that parental alienation is psychologically abusive and the therapy helps to repair the bonds it has broken. Others say that the therapy is potentially damaging and may force children to spend more time with a parent who is truly abusive. The therapies themselves differ as well. Some are intensive and expensive while others are more gradual and seek to involve both parents.

Parents who feel they have been alienated from their children or who think the other parent has been abusive in some way may seek custody of their children. They might even want sole physical custody. An attorney may be of help in building a case if a parent feels that the other may be a danger to their children or is violating their rights to see their children. In less fraught cases, attorneys may also be helpful in working with parents to negotiate a schedule of child custody, visitation and support.

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