Is there any way to establish Parental Alienation without going to court?
The establishing of the presence of alienating behavior in a parent can be intervened on by the influence of others. For example, if a parent is actively doing things to keep a child away from the other parent for no valid reason, and is trying to vilify them, confidantes, loved ones and family members of the alienating parent can sometimes influence this parent to cease this behavior. When these attempts fail however, there is little one can do other than go to court.
How can abuse be ruled out when it is impossible to prove a negative?
While one cannot logically prove that abuse did not occur, one can show that it would have been very unlikely. The scientific literature on behavioral patterns associated with perpetrators of domestic violence is quite extensive and reliable. We know from this literature that these behavioral patterns have a high degree of predictability. Therefore, it is often very helpful to have the parent accused of having been abusive to undergo an evaluation to determine the presence or absence of these behavior patterns. This is also very much the case with false allegations of sexual abuse. While the personality characteristics of pedophiles vary, it is fairly well established that one does not just become a pedophile in mid-life. Pedophilia is a major psychiatric illness that does not just appear at the moment of separation or divorce. A similar evaluation to rule in or rule out these characteristics can be very helpful.
Is pro se representation a good idea?
Pro se representation can be effective, but can also be quite perilous. My impression is that one of the best predictors to determine if this is a good idea or not is the particular judge. Some judges are known to be open to pro se litigants, and some are known to be hostile to them. From a judges point of view, the court is put into the position to have to guide the pro se litigant as they are not lawyers. Some judges are supportive of this, and some are not. If this is the perspective of your particular judge, pre se representation may be a very good idea. If however your judge has a reputation of growing impatient with pro se litigants, it is probably a bad idea. It is important to understand that Family Law Judges have more judicial discretion than probably any other judge within the system. Since they must balance the Rules of Evidence with the Best Interest of the Child, they can rule more widely than other judges. Therefore the best thing to do regarding pro se representation is to find out how your judge tends to rule. You can learn this by speaking with lawyers who practice in front of the judge or you may simply want to sit in their courtroom and observe.
What is the impact of having a Court Appointed Attorney for an alienated child?
As with all questions regarding strategy in Family Court, the answer has to do with the particular attorney who is being appointed. For example, if the Court appoints a lawyer to represent an alienated child, a lawyer who understands alienation, is more likely to represent what might be considered the Best Interest of that Child, realizing that the child may actually disagree with their representation. If the appointed lawyer is however ignorant of alienation, they are very likely to represent the alienated child’s wishes, which would not be in that child’s best interest. In my experience, Court appointed lawyers for alienated children tend to belong more to this second group. In so being, they can wittingly or unwittingly contribute to the alienation.
Is it worthwhile to sue the false accuser for damages?
While this is more of a legal question than a alienation related one, it comes up quite a bit. My understanding of the viability of such actions is that they are very difficult and very expensive. I hear from time to time that such actions have been successfully done, but these are few and far between. My best response to such a question is to pose it to a Civil Litigator.
How is the best way to respond to multiple false accusations of abuse, filed by multiple sources including the child?
While this is clearly overwhelming, I believe that the most successful response is to use these clearly false accusation as examples of how the alienating parent is purposefully targeting yourself as a strategy to win the custodial dispute. Once an accusation has been made, investigated and determined to be without merit, it is often forgotten and minimized. I believe that this however is naïve, since even false allegations of abuse never really go away. They tend to leave an atmosphere of suspicion or at least doubt, about the Target Parent. Since court files become very thick, and judges rotate, such allegations, false as they may be, tend to still color the feeling of the case. I believe that this is best handled by assembling all of these false claims into a clear pattern, and representing it to the court as the alienating parent’s attempt to vilify, set up and eventually eliminate the targeted parent. When the Judge begins to realize that such actions are basically attempts to defraud the court, they begin to see such allegations, and the entire case, very differently.
How about the use of GAL’s in alienation cases?
Again, it depends on the particular GAL. If you have one that truly understands parental alienation, it can be a huge advantage. However, it has been my experience that the vast majority of GAL’s do not fall into this camp. Most tend to take at face value the views of the alienated child, and organize their understandings about the case, around that. When asked about how helpful or unhelpful GAL’s were in alienation cases, Richard Gardner, M.D. responded that he felt that they were more unhelpful in 95% of the cases when parental alienation is present.
What can one do after the legal action is completed, even if the Alienating Parent has been identified as an Alienating Parent?
Even in “successful” legal cases involving parental alienation, it is quite accurate that the alienating parent typically continues to have alienating behavior. One strategic response is to have the court appoint a Parenting Coordinator to the case. This is a fairly new role in Family Courts in this country, but one that can be quite effective, again, if you have the right one. By that, I mean one who understands parental alienation. The main role of the Parenting Coordinator is to protect the “Parenting Plan.” In cases where alienation has been identified the Parenting Coordinator should be alert to the vilifying strategies of the alienating parent, and would be less likely to fall for them. An effective Parenting Coordinator can be a very good stop gap measure. That said, one who does not understand Parental Alienation, can be a disastrous addition to a case.
How is the best way to deal with the passive-aggressive alienation tactic of simply ignoring the other parent’s request/input?
The dismissive strategy of simply ignoring the other parent is especially difficult to expose because it does not involve dramatic acting out behavior. I believe the best way to expose this is to stress the dismissive nature of it. That is, it results in the gradual elimination of the other and targeted parent within the child’s life. I would be inclined to advise one in this situation to make this the theme of any argument in court. Just as with the Clinton strategy of focusing only on the economy, I would create a singular drumbeat that carried the theme of quietly suffocating your voice into your child’s life. A good bit of successful litigation in Family court is presentation or “Performance Art” and I believe that this issue can be most effectively handled by having the simple theme of quiet elimination form your child’s life, be repeated, and repeated, and repeated.
What if an Evaluator does not look at prior reports or speak with outside sources germane to the case?
While Court Appointed Evaluators are appointed by the court, they must also still conform to the ethical and Administrative Guidelines of the Statutory language that their state has legislated to be of minimal standard. A Custody evaluator who does not review prior reports and does not get input from collateral sources is operating below such minimal standards. If this is the case, this may be exposed in the form of a complaint to the particular licensing board, motions filed to have the report set aside on grounds of incompetence, and aggressive cross examination that is carefully researched.
If children are being interviewed to determine if that have been abused and the interviewer repeats questions, and does other things that taint the child’s responses, how can this be revealed?
Most of these types of interviews are videotaped. That said, some are not. If they have been videotaped, an expert can be hired to critique it for bias and contamination. There is a substantial amount of literature on this subject that can be very useful. If the interview is not recorded, the same strategy can be applied, however probably less effectively. In both cases, a aggressive cross examination that has been carefully researched is most effective. It is typically the case that those individuals who are performing these interviews are under trained. This can be exposed effectively. Again, there is a good deal of literature on this subject.
How is the best way to handle the situation where the parent who has just received custody truly has been abusive, and the parent who was falsely accused of being abusive looses custody?
Sadly, this happens with some frequency. When we recall that Parental Alienation is a form of child abuse, perhaps it becomes less surprising. I believe that the best way to handle this is to have the realities of the other abusive parents past abuses be known by the court. This is a relatively unpopular strategy, but the only one that I have seen be successful. Again, in order for this to be successful, one must have others involved in the case who understand Parental Alienation.
When it has been established that Parental Alienation is the problem, how should it be handled?
The question is a very simple one, but the answer is very complex. First, the degree of alienation of the child must be taken into account, as must the history of the relationship between the Targeted parent and the child. If the child is severely alienated, but there is a very close relationship historically, the recommendation would be different than if the relationship was historically more remote. The role and behavior of the Alienating Parent would also have to be taken into account. The range of possibilities for intervention would range from outpatient to very specifically designed inpatient. There really is no “one size fits all” protocol. That said, there are certain principles of effective treatment that may be applied in various ways and contexts. Finally, I believe that in the process of presenting the case in court, that it is important to begin to present a treatment strategy that must be teased out by someone with expertise in this area. The rubber stamp recommendation of “therapy” is not specific enough and will often become counterproductive.
In the case of alienated teenagers, is a custodial change a good idea?
It depends. If the alienation is rapid, but there is a very strong pre-separation relationship, it could work well, if the Alienating Parent can be kept at bay. There are however risk factors that must be taken into account and weighed. These might include false allegations of abuse, violent acting out, etc. On the other end of the spectrum would be removing the teens from the home and placing them into one of a few programs that have been designed to treat this problem. Again, the specifics of this must be know and weighed out to come up with the best plan.
How is the best way to expose the flaws of the custody evaluator’s evaluation to the court, when one is representing oneself?
This type of cross examination must be carefully prepared since it will be a rather technical process. The best way to do this is to hire someone with this expertise to help in the preparation, possibly another evaluator. The evaluation process is enormously complex and is difficult to decode from simply trying to figure it out yourself. The evaluation process is supposed to follow certain guidelines, and they very often do not. These missteps can have a devastating impact on the outcome and the consequent recommendations. These are the things that must be revealed and then presented in very succinct form.
If there is so much evidence in support of PA and PAS, why is there still such criticism, especially from the lawyers?
Much of the criticism regarding PA and PAS is simply based on misinformation. I would suggest that you have a look at my blog regarding this. Persistent criticism from attorneys is most likely to do with their habituated adversarial stance. Their job is not to be unbiased, but to be biased. They can be sued for not “zealously representing” the interest of their client. Therefore, if the PA or PAS argument is raised against their client, in whatever form, they must present that part of the argument that serves their position, and remain silent about those parts that do not. In terms of their job of representation, objective reality is not the goal. Rather the goal is that of persuasion, and the tool for that is cherry picking the information to do so. I know of some lawyers who refuse to represent alienating parents, and I believe that these attorneys are to be commended for remaining in touch with their moral compass.
How do I get my alienated teenager to just talk to me?
When children refuse to talk to a parent, even when they are doing so due to alienation, it is not advisable to try to talk to them about the alienation. This will cause them to push back. The best approach is to talk to them about their feeling, such as “you really seem angry with me” without any reference to it legitimacy or cause. If your interactions remain focused on their feelings and not on the context, the outcome will be the most favorable. When they do start talking, refrain from defending yourself, and remain only in the feeling level. Talk about how you feel, how they are missed, etc. This may be a very slow process and one of intermittent success, but it does fly in the face of what they have been told about you, that you are self centered and do not care about them.
If the alienating parent has a mental illness that is clearly established, is it advisable to share this with the child?
The answer to this would be in most all cases that I can imagine, no. This sort of information, valid as it may be, would have a disconnecting impact on the child. It would further put the child in the middle. As the child grows older, they will discover these things for themselves, and you will not be “charged” with this, so to speak. Your job is to be unconditionally loving. This may cause you to feel abused at time, perhaps much of the time, but your refusal to strike back is inconsistent with what they have been told about you. This is perhaps the most difficult part of this for the Targeted Parent.
When it has been established that the targeted parent has done nothing they have been accused of, yet the therapist is unsuccessful in getting the children to see me, is it good advice to just go away, and that they will come around?
While this is understandable advice, it is not good. If you just go away, in an effort not to seem controlling to the child, this is most likely to be interpreted as abandonment by the child. This is the classic “no win” situation that is so common in these cases. I believe that the best position is to refuse to go away but to exercise the patience of a saint. Also, if the children refuse to see you in the therapeutic setting, it sounds as if the children are running the therapy. While this is not uncommon, because therapists do not like to challenge a child’s wishes, the therapist might be helped by the notion that the children’s refusal to see you is a kind of oppositional behavior. The therapist may need to take back the reins.
Can representing oneself Pro Se, reinforce the perception that one is controlling to the court?
While it can work this way, it does not have to. One of the most effective aspects of pro se representation is that the Judge has a much clearer picture of who you actually are. When one is represented by a lawyer, the lawyer acts a buffer between you and the Judge. If one can present oneself and conduct oneself in court in such a way that the Judge has to almost help you, the interaction can be very helpful. I have seen pro se litigants ask the judge legal and procedural questions in ways that in some way connect the judge to the pro se litigant. It is subtle, but can be very effective. Keep in mind, that what you are trying to develop in the courtroom is a relationship with the judge. When a lawyer is not there to speak for you, your relationship with the judge can be more quickly formed.
When children are interviewed regarding alleged abuse, and the interviews are biased or tainted, yet no recording exists for them, can anything be done about this?
This is a challenging situation, but one not without some recourse. I believe that the best way to handle this is to present expert testimony about the voluminous research available about interviewing and bias. A good place to start would be Steven Cici’s Jeopardy in the Courtroom. While is much more effective to dissect a video or a transcript, effective argument can be made that has a significantly weakening effect. Again, the family court environment is about persuasion and emotional impact. The goal here would be to make the judge identify with the parent being wrongly accused, and that the child is being used as a tool to do so.
Are affidavits admissible, or are they hearsay?
I have heard both answers to this, depending on the lawyer, judge, etc. I believe that the most important thing to understand that the rules of evidence and the evidence code in general is used with great discretion. Family law Judges have more judicial discretion than any other judge because they must to accommodate the Best Interest of the Child. I have seen affidavits used hundreds of times with varying degrees of effectiveness. Remember that they must be read to be effective. Any lawyer will tell you that many of these things do not get read.
Is in coincidental that the Target Parent is often represented as having qualities that the Alienating Parent has?
No, this is not only coincidence. Very often, what this represents is the primitive Psychological Defense of “Projection.” Projection is the largely unconscious assignment or Projection, of one’s own qualities onto the other, in this case the Target Parent. In effect, when this is going on, the Alienating Parent frequently provides a laundry list of what they are all about, in their accusations about the Target Parent. In other words, a very controlling alienating parent will accuse the targeted parent of being controlling when they are not at all. This process is actually very common in these cases.
When a GAL is appointed on a case, aren’t they supposed to have a certain level of due diligence in their investigation?
The short answer is Yes. However, human nature being what it sometimes is, we find that some GAL’s do not perform adequate investigations. One reason that this does happen may be related to the fact that GAL’s are typically protected by being given immunity from actions against them. This immunity is often “qualified” which means that they have immunity if they did their job properly. Even with this however, I have personally never seen one who has not done their job properly be taken to task. In the cases where I have seen this attempted, the first challenge is find an attorney who is willing to take such a case. Most will not. In cases involving Parental Alienation, where the children are moderately to severely alienated, it is the rare GAL who will not be swayed by the complaints of the children. In a conversation I had with Richard Gardner, MD, years ago, he told me that it was his opinion that GAL’s were a problem about 95% of the time. Indeed the inadequate training about alienation that they have, coupled with the immense power of the GAL appointment, the GAL can be a serious problem.