Keith B. Schulefand, Esq.
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Do 'family reunification' camps really help fight alienation?

In almost all divorces and custody disputes, courts will try to ensure that children remain a part of both parent's lives. However, some parents, still bitter at their ex, will do everything possible to make their children hate their other parent too. This is known as parental alienation syndrome, and it can lead to one parent having no relationship with their children.

In high-conflict custody disputes where parental alienation exists, judges in the United States and Canada are relying more and more on "family reunification" camps in desperate attempts to find solutions. Many times, the children are sent against their will, and a judge will revoke the custody rights of one parent so the parent who is the victim of the alienation. Many times, the children have no contact with their other parent for months or even years.

Camps face heavy criticism

In several cases, children described being forcibly taken to the airport and flown to a camp in the western United States where they had to attend several days of workshops and bonding activities with the alienated parent. They also allege that they were threatened with the possibility of their favored parent going to jail if they tried to reach out to them.

In many cases, upon return, the children still cannot see their favored parent, because judges do not like to modify custody arrangements very often. Children described walking away from the alienated parent as soon as they turned 18 because the experience was so traumatic.

Some say alienation does not exist

Many psychologists say that there is no such thing as parental alienation syndrome, because there is no scientific way to prove what is behind a child's refusal to live with a certain parent. There is also little evidence to prove that these reunification camps actually work.

Many psychologists, however, argue that alienation does, in fact, exist. These parents may tell lies about the other parent, such as saying they do not want to see the children or they are abusive. Through early intervention, many argue, children can redevelop meaningful relationships with both parents.

While the camp listed above has been accused of being a sham and a way to get desperate parents to spend tens of thousands of dollars, there are real ways that parents can fight alienation. If a parent thinks they are the victim of alienation, they can work with experienced, licensed counselors and family law attorneys to make a case before a family court judge.

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