Written on behalf of Long Shariff & Associates
Reconciliation therapy, or reunification therapy, is a type of family therapy that may be ordered by the court in situations in which there are problems between a child and a parent. It is commonly involved in cases where a child refuses to reunite or re-establish their relationship with a parent following their parents’ separation or divorce.
This week, we review a recent Ontario case in which the court was asked by the mother to enforce a previous order compelling the daughter to attend family reconciliation therapy. The court ultimately dismissed the mother’s motion, noting the daughter was not likely to comply with such an order.
Mother obtained order for family reconciliation therapy to mend relationship with estranged daughter
The parents separated in March 2017. They have two daughters, aged 24 and 17. The youngest daughter lived with her father and adult sister following the parents’ separation and had not spent any time with her mother since late 2017.
The mother had previously obtained three court orders in relation to her minor daughter. The orders addressed her parenting time, counselling for the daughter and detailed provision for family reconciliation therapy.
She subsequently brought four motions to enforce the earlier orders. She claimed that the father had failed to comply with the orders relating to her parenting time and that he was responsible for alienating the daughter from the mother. She also stated the father had failed to comply with the court order relating to reconciliation therapy between the mother and the daughter. The reconciliation therapy order had been made on consent and was intended to give the daughter and mother a fresh start and establish a positive relationship between them.
In response, the father admitted that he had not complied with the parenting time orders but denied that he was to blame for the daughter’s alienation from her mother. In addition, he submitted that he had in fact complied with the court’s family therapy reconciliation order made in January 2020 up until the daughter herself refused to continue her participation in therapy.
At the hearing, the daughter was independently represented by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”).
Family reconciliation therapist felt continued involvement unhelpful given family dynamic
The court noted that the prior court orders made with respect to the minor daughter were presumptively made in her best interests. The evidence provided by the OCL described the daughter as “mature, thoughtful and well spoken”.
The court went on to find the daughter had been consistent in her desire not to re-establish her relationship with her mother. The daughter continued to refuse forced contact with her mother and would only initiate contact when and if she chose to do so.
The family reconciliation therapist assigned to the daughter’s file noted that the therapist’s continued involvement with the family wouldn’t be helpful. This was especially so given the father’s lack of support for the daughter’s reconciliation with the mother.
The mother had asked the father to persuade the adult daughter to support the reconciliation therapy process. The court acknowledged the mother’s pain and frustration but found these “impractical and unworkable solutions” to be unhelpful.
With reference to the daughter’s desire not to be in contact with the mother, the court stated:
“[The daughter] does cite specific examples, from personal experiences and interactions with her mother, that have left her feeling angry, afraid, embarrassed, anxious, insecure and unsafe. That said, I am prepared to assume for the purposes of this motion that [the daughter]’s extreme antipathy towards her mother is unreasonable and at least in part a reflection of the attitude and opinions of her father and her older sister. I am also prepared to assume for the purposes of this motion that not only [the father] but [the daughter] herself have failed to comply with the prior orders.”
Court refused to grant order compelling daughter to reconciliation therapy
The court then turned to how to resolve the issues raised by the mother. The court observed that there did not appear to be any likelihood the daughter would make any real effort in reconciliation therapy, nor was there any prospect that the daughter would comply with an order compelling her to spend time with the mother.
Observing that the daughter’s views and preferences should not be confused with what was in her best interests, the court nonetheless stated:
“However, her adamant position, her age, and the four-year hiatus in any semblance of a relationship with her mother lead me to believe it would be futile, even counterproductive, to make any of the remedial orders sought.”
As such, the court dismissed the mother’s motions as they related to enforcing the family reconciliation therapy orders and the other relief sought.
The court found, however, that the father was at least partially responsible for the failure of the family reconciliation therapy. As such, it ordered him to reimburse the mother for half the cost of the therapy, which the mother had paid for entirely by herself.
Contact Long Shariff & Associates for Advice on Access Issues
The compassionate lawyers at Long Shariff & Associates work with clients throughout York Region, Durham Region, Vaughan, and Markham on parenting matters of all types. We understand this can be one of the most contentious and important issues for a couple following a separation or divorce. Our firm’s focus on collaborative family law places an emphasis on maintaining productive and healthy family relationships rather than encouraging conflict. We will review your specific circumstances with you and work to resolve your parenting matter quickly and with as little stress as possible. To arrange a consultation with a member of our team, please reach out to us online, or call us at 905-591-4545.