When it comes to custody cases, especially those that are complex, parents are often faced with the problem of parental alienation. Parental alienation has evolved over the years, but it essentially is when one parent tries to alienate the child from the other parent. The alienation can be active or more subtle. Nevertheless, the whole idea of parental alieantion is one that rears its head in most complex custody cases. Even recently the mental health community debated whether parental alienation should be considered as a recognizable diagnosable syndrome. While the mental health community elected not to include parental alienation in the DSM (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual), the debate is far from over. Check out this link to see just how hot this debate rages: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/parental-alienation-is-no_n_1904310.html
The real question is how do you fight against parental alienation. The fight, and I do mean a fight, against parental alienation will be a long and intense battle. Be certain that if you are fighting parental alienation that you must be committed to the fight. Based on our years of battling these type of cases here are some pointers on how to fight against parental alienation.
1. Have a plan: The degree of parental alienation varies from case to case. Some cases involve extreme alienation while others are just at the beginning stages. Either way you can only attack this problem with a well laid plan. What is it you plan? You must plan who you need to help you, how you will fight against it and what your final objective is. I will address each of these three points in this blog. The plan should be in writing. You should also know that the plan can and will change as evidence is created, witnesses are uncovered and progress is made. The plan, however, must be realistic. If you are in a serious alienation case you cannot expect to go from having no time with your child to getting primary custody right off the bat. You have to be realistic in your expectations of how you will get there. Understand that your plan can and should be implemented in steps. I like to use the analogy that you cannot chop down a tree with one swing. As such, it will take more than one effort to stop alienation. Often times you have to first convince the judge that alienation is even occuring. This is exactly why you must be diligent and consistent with your plan. Let’s talk about what this plan should look like. Below are the elements of what we do for our clients who are involved in a parental alienation case.
Who you Need to Help you
The bottom line is that you cannot win an alienation case on your own. You will need a team to help you. Who should be on this team? Obviously you need an attorney who is familiar with the courtroom and the whole idea of alienation. Not every “family law” attorney can handle the complexities of an alienation case. Make sure that the attorney you choose has litigated alienation cases. If the attorney talks only about what they will do for you in court then run. An attorney who has a true understanding of alienation will help you with this plan and will realize that there are a bunch of things you must do outside of court. In addition to an attorney you will need a mental health professional. This is where things get complicated. There are different mental health professionals you will need. One will be the court appointed expert. That person will be tasked with evaluating the parenting plan, the parents and the child and recommend to the court a proper parenting plan. Another mental health professional you will need is your own therapist or counselor. This person becomes an advocate for you with the court appointed expert. Most court appointed experts will not speak to attorneys about the case. There are ethical reasons for this but one of the main reasons is that attorneys are advocates and are not part of their profession. However, if you get your own therapist, then you have a person will advocate for you in the mental health side. A court appointed expert is obligated to talk with your therapist. Your therapist will talk to the court appointed expert about your ability to parent and such. Thus, your mental health therapist or counselor becomes one key to advocacy for your position in an alienation case. The other mental health professional you want on your case is the child’s therapist or counselor. Again, that person is more willing to talk to your therapist or the court appointed expert than to your attorney or maybe even you. It gets expensive, but strategically utilizing these people will help you develop the evidence you need to win your alienation case.
How you will fight
This is a very important aspect of your plan. Will your fight consist of filing multiple motions in court or will it be more stealth by developing evidence outside of court? For example, most alienation cases have constant and frequent violations of court orders. Are you commiting to filing a motion when there are such violations or only sometimes or never? How much do you need to be bringing the matter to the court’s attention before you have a trial will really govern how frequently you file motions for violations. Moreover, your fight will consist of experts and other professionals. Make sure that your plan will address how, when and in what capacity you will interact with these professionals and experts. What other witnesses or evidence do you need to develop.
Here is an example of how this works from a real life situation. The mother was alienating the child from the father by making the child afraid of the father and claiming that the father was abusive. The child was truly afraid of the father even though the father never did anything to the child. It was the mother who was telling horror stories about the father, which were all fabricated. As such, we had to make a plan to combat this. We had the father see multiple professionals for assessments for anger and domestic violence issues. Even though father never had convictions or restraining orders, father still removed the obstacle of anger and domestic violence issues simply by developing evidence to remove mother’s fabrications. Ultimately father gained custody of his child because not one of these experts or professionals could say that father had anger or domestic violence issues. To the contrary, they all indicated father was loving, caring and in appropriate control of his emotions. Thus, early on we had to decide how we were going to fight the alienation.
Decide your Final Objective
This is a vital piece of your plan. What are you after? Do you want to gain custody of your child? Do you want to increase your time? Do you want to just establish visits? I represented an individual who was clearly being alienated. He started out with a plan for gaining custody. Unfortunately, his children were so far gone that his final objective was not the best for him. Instead he should have just worked on just getting visits or increasing his time. Ultimately, he got frustrated by the lack of progress and the passing of time and just gave up, thereby allowing the mother to accomplish exactly what she wanted to accomplish. The point I am making is that your final objective needs to be considered when making a plan. Know that wha your final objective is in this year may not remain the final objective in 2 years. You must crawl before you walk and then walk before you run. Thus, assessing where you are at and what you can accomplish for a final objective are related.
In conclusion, there are many aspects to fighting parental alienation. The first aspect is that you must develop a plan for fighting. Most people make the mistake of going to see a lawyer and then think that is the end of the matter. Family law issues and custody issues are complex and require more thought and action than just turning it over to a lawyer . . . if you want to prevail.
Our firm has dealt with multiple cases involving alienation with much success. If you have any questions about parental alienation or need ideas on how to approach your case send us an email at info@JusticeLegalGroup.com or call us at 505-880-8737. We provide information, training and coaching to people to help them gain the justice they deserve.
David A. Standridge