Recently I’ve dealt with several cases in which the objective, outward behavior of an alienating parent comes across as anything but harmful to the relationship between the parent and child.
For example, Mom “delivers” the children to the hallway outside her apartment at the time Dad comes to pick them up for parenting time. The children, all boys, 15, 13 and 11, all refuse to go. Mom says, “I’m sorry, they just don’t want to go with you.” Then she ushers them back into her apartment.
What’s wrong with this scene? The mother’s attorney argues, “What else is she supposed to do?”
The reality is that the children couldn’t get to this point without Mom playing a significant role in the outcome. But undoing the harm can be very challenging. What if the children won’t go with Dad even if he picks them up after school?
The bottom line is that once parental alienation has been engaged, reversing the problem means that the alienating parent has to feel the other parents’ pain. If her attorney says “what can Mom do?”, the first thing I have to suggest is that she pay Dad’s attorney fees for having to bring this to her attention, in a way that actually gets her attention.
The core of the truth is that what this mother has had to do that brings the children to a point where they won’t even go with their father is something very brutal – though none of it may be visible on the surface. She has subtly, or much more aggressively, given the children reasons to feel that time with their father, or even any relationship at all, is unnecessary or serving their own interests.
Alienation of parental affection is drastic and extremely harmful to a child. Typically the alienating parent will cite a laundry list of defects in the other parent – anger, alcohol, laziness, lack of concern and involvement, dishonesty, infidelity, sometimes even violence – as reasons for allowing their children’s relationship with the other parent to die.
But when you take children who’ve grown up and lived with parents with any or all of these factors – and stayed in their lives – they continue to love and cherish that parent, even seek their affections. In reality, an alienating parent doesn’t need to alienate a bad parent – that parent will drift to the sidelines without any help. The involved parent is a good parent.
When a parent is removed from his or her role by the other parent, it takes a very strong message to change the dynamic that set the backdrop for alienation.
So to answer the other attorney’s question about “what can she do?”, the first answer to that is, well, she could pay my client’s attorney fees for having to bring this to the court’s attention. Absent that minimal step, it’s doubtful she gets any message other than a subtle form of reinforcement, i.e. this is harder on him than it is on her.
But you or may not be able to persuade the court to take that step on a first try. If not, you have to have secondary remedies to offer. Realistically, only three things ultimately work:
(1) financial sanctions: awarding attorney fees and/or offsets against child support;
(2) incarceration: drastic as it seems, it becomes a necessary remedy in many, if not most cases of parental alienation, because even financial sanctions tend to fail; and
(3) change of custody: ultimately this is quite often the only change that enable the children to restore their relationship with an alienated parent. Anything short of it, means the alienating parent remains in control, and the kids do not have the chance to get what they need from the parent who has been boxed out of their lives.
Yet in many cases, a court will not take any of these measures until it has seen that really nothing else works. Often, courts craft remedies that only serve to reinforce the existing alienation tot he point the alienated parent cannot afford counsel and is unable to make the arguments on his own to get the court to do what truly needs done. When that happens, parent and child(ren) both lose. The parent is ultimately wiped off the slate from the children’s lives.
A great deal of education must be conducted by attorneys for alienated parents – and those attorneys need to understand what they are dealing with in order to accomplish that.
The wise custody attorney will explain to the court what is really going on, and explain that “band aid” types of remedies won’t stop the “internal bleeding” that is occurring in the relationship between the parent and children. To save what it is the court intends to save, strong and meaningful remedies need to be put in place and as early as possible.
If you’re a parent, grandparent or friend facing a situation involving parental alienation, or an attorney with a difficult case needing help presenting your case to the court, please contact the Thompson Law Office today at (317) 564-4976 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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