I should say straight away that I am not legally qualified, I don’t pretend to be and I don’t give legal advice as a result. Legal issues are for legal people and I am a mental health professional. That said, we regularly get requests (as we did yesterday), for advice on how to manage a case of parental alienation in court and I regularly work as a coach with parents who are going through the court process (when I am not working in any other capacity in their case – the two things have to be separate at all times). When I work as a coach I assist parents to manage their legal team and their understanding of parental alienation and how it presents in children and in parents. I also assist them to plan and follow a strategy to utilise court intervention to liberate the child. None of this is legal advice but is management of the case from a mental health perspective and an understanding of how the legal system operates in this country. Learning the law of the land in which you live is a pre-requisite for anyone entering into the family courts to seek assistance with a case of parental alienation. So with all that in mind, here is your legal lesson for lay people.
Parental alienation cannot be resolved by mental health professionals alone. End of story. Whilst we can offer interventions, it is the use of the court system to compel a parent to change which creates the dynamic required to properly deploy the support we can give. That said, the relationship between mental health professionals and the courts are interdependent in cases of parental alienation, one cannot work independently of the other. Without the intervention the court cannot act and without the court the intervention does not have teeth. Thus it is absolutely essential for all parents trying to manage a case of parental alienation in court to understand that interface.
It is also critical to understand that going into court to fight your case is not about any kind of ‘natural justice’ holding sway. There is no such thing as ‘natural justice’ in the court process, which is adversarial and which depends upon one or the other of the parties proving that their case is more compelling than the other side. It is therefore pointless to go into court expecting that the Judge will somehow see the truth of what is happening or expecting that the court will provide the answer to the problem that you face. The Judge won’t and the court can’t. If there is a truth, you must demonstrate it. If there is an answer, you must provide it and fight to get the court to adopt your proposal.
The court arena
The court is an arena which is not designed for lay people to work in, it is designed for legal people. The language, the structures of the law and the manner in which all of this operates is set up so that those who are trained legally can operate the system. Thus, going into court as a litigant in person as so many are forced to do these days, puts one at an immediate disadvantage unless one understands that the arena you are operating in has etiquette, rules and expectations. Follow these and you will find your way through. Go in expecting to be able to do as you please and you will soon find yourself outside of the system with little hope of navigating it.
Managing your own case
If you are in the UK it is worth taking a look at this book which you can download free of charge, or at this website and our new site which will give you strategies for managing your case throughout. If you are in the US it is worth looking at this website which tells you all about how each state views the best interest of the child, which in turn allows you to begin to build your case. Building your case, which is key in parental alienation situations, begins with the argument that a child’s best interests are served by a healthy relationship with both parents, not just one and that a child who suddenly or inexplicably rejects a parent, is likely to be doing so because of pressure placed upon them from someone, somewhere. Evidencing who is placing the pressure is the next step in your case strategy.
Evidencing your case
In a case of parental alienation there is a very big risk that alienation unaware professionals will become involved and will read the case as a he said/she said situation. In order to avoid this, you must prevent yourself from spending your whole time telling people that the other parent is alienating you – even if you know this to be true. Instead what you must do is provide the evidence that the other parent is causing harm to the relationship between you and your child. Evidence such as – arranging events on the days you should have your children with you, constantly changing or interfering with your parenting time, consistently causing children to feel afraid of you, reducing a child’s respect and love for you by undermining your parenting skills, seeking to influence a child by competing with you (buying presents that are bigger and better or conversely, buying the same presents), refusing to share information about your child with you, telling schools and nurseries and other places where children go that your children do not wish to see you. There are many more situations which can be evidenced, in order to do so you must gather the information and present it with a cool head. You must be able to show the people who are working with your family that you are a reasonable and rational person. Not easy when you know that the other parent is doing all possible to damage your relationship with your child, but necessary to ensure that they look in the right direction instead of at you.
Avoiding the other parent’s hooks
And you can be sure that family court people will be looking at you (at least in the UK) in the early stages of your case. This is because, without indepth training in cases of alienation and without knowledge of how psychological profiles of parents contribute to such cases, most of these people will come at your case with the assumption that this is a he said/she said situation. Worse than that there will be, amongst those family court people, some who analyse your case from a political ideological perspective of women’s rights, in which they will assume things to be true based upon a belief system which teaches that women are inherently disadvantaged. (Yes, we know the damage that does but the family court people are governed by a system which does not yet realise this and so you as a parent have to watch out). This is relevant whether you are a mother or a father because the women’s rights activists are often doubly judgemental when children reject their mother, on the basis that mothers are good people and therefore children who do not want to see their mothers must have very very bad mothers.
The alienating parent’s dysfunctional behaviours will cause them to seek to blame you for the problem of the children refusing to see you. This is often aided and abetted by alienation unaware people working with your family. Therefore it is very important that you are not, at any point, seen to be the person they tell other people that you are. As the process unfolds and you feel as if you are going insane because you can see what is happening but no-one else can, you have to ensure that you stay focused and do not succuumb to frustration. Understand that the system you are working in will collude with the alienating parent’s negative behaviours because the alienating parent is very very skilled at manipulation. Do not be manipulated. Use the evidence based you have built. Use the research evidence which is available and use the case law in the country you live in to support your strategy.
Asking the court for what you want to happen
Part of your strategy is about knowing how to manage the court process. For example, it is pointless going into court asking that the court make your children see you if your children are absolutely refusing to do so. What you have to do instead is show the court what can be done to assist the current situation to change. First of all you must convince the court that it is not because of something that you have done which causes the outright rejection, secondly, that something has to happen and that the children cannot be left in this situation, thirdly that there are things that can help children in this situation and lastly (and outrageously in the UK at least) that you can and will pay for the intervention that can help your child. When you have reached that point then the mental health intervention which you have located can be put to the court and you have reached the next stage.
(I will write more about the next stage shortly, for now this is a brief introduction on how to manage your case in court, it is generic because we are not legal people but it gives you the beginnings of those things you must think about to get your strategy up and running. On our new site we have barristers from the UK and the US writing for us on how to manage your case as well as more detailed information on how to get help and where to get it from. We are still working hard to get the site ready for launch and I will be letting you know more about that and all of our new services shortly).
This is very helpful. Thanks!
Thank you for posting this Karen, I know this will help a lot of people.
Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..
Good advice Karen. We came too late into all this.
A couple of thoughts – firstly, reading this, it feels, 5+ years after the first court appearance for my husband, that we did everything against the very good advice you’ve put here. For the very sad simple reason that we thought people would see what was going on, and would actually read all the texts and emails that asked (begged) for contact not to be disrupted, and so on and so on, and actually care about protecting the father/son relationship.
Moving on, my second thought, and question to you Karen, is what advice or thought do you have about telling people at this earliest stage, that, to date, in this country there are only two pieces of ‘guidance’ that any Cafcass practitioners who are assigned to your case will be directed towards, should there be any suggestion that parental alienation, or implacable hostility, is thought to be playing a part in any child’s extreme behaviours.
Those two documents (links here) are ‘The Coached Children Knowledge Bite, https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/208165/response/536230/attach/5/Coached%20Children%20Knowledge%20Bite.pdf
and the ‘Impact of Parental Conflict Tool’ https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/215246/impact_of_parental_conflict_tool.docx
Of course I appreciate that if you bring these documents to the attention of any practitioner you are working with you run the risk of falling into the ‘being the person they say you are’ and/or the ‘he said/she said’ black hole, but the alternative is to stay silent and run the risk of them not considering, at least, the ‘Impact of Parental Conflict Tool’.
My husband and I used to talk about finding the one sentence that would somehow miraculously help everyone who was blind to what was happening to ‘get it’.
Now increasingly we think the one sentence is, if you do nothing else then just at least use these two pieces of information when you look at the child to see what’s going on.
What’s your view Karen?
Thanks Karen, very pertinent to case I’m helping with.
If it is harmful to a child, why is the family court involved surely is it not a case of domestic violence and is it not a child wefare/protection issue NOT a child access/custody/relationship issue
well one would hope so but do you know anyone in a parental alienation case who hasn’t had to use the court? K
For what it’s worth the type of “alienation” tendencies that are familiar to me can be resolved out of court. As an individual the interventions that you pursue, aided by professionals or not, can have dramatic effects on the other parent……..that’s the one you have labelled the alienator.
Because alienation is a “behaviour” (and by definition a conscious choice) it is possible to counter these behaviours by using strategic empathic methods. Child focussed strategies and the use of third party influences are just two of the ways you can counter alienation.
Yet another way is the use of what can be termed strong arm trial by media. There is an ITV show that confronts the alienator and alienated in front of an audience. The compere badgers and belittles parents forcing them to focus on their children. If you follow this show you will recognise some of the quotes that the alienator comes up with which are classic “alienator” phrases that you may very well be familiar with, for example, “the children don’t want to see you”…..”The children have a new father who cares much more about the children than you have”……”you are not coming near my children”…….e.t.c.
It may be that legal intervention coupled with expert help brings effective results, but if the end result is to co-parent your children then in some cases the efforts you make to improve the family dynamic and return children focussed stability will bring the results you desire.
I think we should be very clear someone that the severe cases, those which involve personality disorder, transgenerational patterns and what Dr Childress regards as being defined by three pathological signs of attachment disorder, no extension of empathy, attendance on TV shows or otherwise is going to make a jot of difference. You are talking about mild cases which may be managed (though often not resolved). In all the years I have done this work not one case of severe alienation has ever been resolved out of court (bar one) which involved legal pressure outside of court. K
I totally agree with Karen Woodall’s reply to you below, you are talking nonsense, Karen is correct and I am witness to it, you can only be talking about very mild cases, not some of the severely affected personality disordered parents, they do not care about the children, they just want to WIN at all costs….Well Done Karen Woodall your information is always exactly as is in my experience of these people.
The following points have actually been implied in Karen’s article, but I would like to emphasise in different words and from my experience.
* do NOT be a mr. nice-guy/gal. Don’t. Just don’t. Alienators are ruthless – so therefore you have to be robust. (I wasn’t – not enough anyway)
* never EVER speak with their solicitor if you are representing yourself. Don’t. Just Don’t. I’m embarassed to admit to this one!
* be very well prepared from the outset. It’s hard because that’s the beginning of the time you have lost contact with your children. But be well prepared and explain to CAFCASS properly. Get assistance from a sherpa or good McKenzie Friend or whoever is available from the upcoming website but present your case effectively to those that need explaining in the way outlined on this article here. These really are gold nuggets that Karen has given. The skeleton has been given to you – get on with it and be confident, strong and determined. And make sure you are polite to all and sundry (including the other side legal team) because that will go a long way. I actually was polite and it did make a positive difference.
* try to get an expert involved as early as possible. Be prepared to pay for it and that’s ok.
* if you are in London, then get up early and submit your application at the Principal Registry of the Family Division. Avoid the courts in the suburbs even if it’s in the next street. The judges in the PRFD are bit more clued up about alienation and, if you’re reading this blog, then you probably want Karen involved and more and more of them know of Karen’s good work and succesful reunification results. If nothing else, then the PRFD is relatively less faulty when it comes to alienation issues.
* Make sure you get good support. Whilst I was lucky in having the amazing friends I did have, I wish I’d undergone professional counselling and propped myself up better. Friends are friends but they aren’t professional. Look after yourself and be strong. The upcoming website will give the best advice – take it.
* Believe it or not, it is easy to get taken in and consumed by the legal process so much so that the children become less important. Be aware! and be careful. Stay grounded.
Just my 2 cents, but thought I’d put it out there in case it helps a parent and child….
Thank you PMK – I wasn’t even aware of the Central Family Unit, as it is now known. Anyone had any experience of the related ‘Personal Support Unit’?
My experience with mental health professionals and the police community safety unit is that they present either a completely naive (the former) or else completely deceptive (the latter) perception of the Family Court as a place to sort things out. Anything to avoid responsible interventions that they COULD make.
Maybe you are bang on that it is the suburban courts, overall, which are the most dangerous – that would chime entirely with my experience so far.
Thank you, Karen, for doing your best to wise us up.
And thank YOU Woodman59 – as I wasn’t aware of the name change to CFU! Am out of touch with the legal side as it made it harder to cope for me if I kept following it up.
Yes, they all are naive (very polite of you well done) because they just don’t get it ..
I’d just like to clarify that PA is one of the worst types of abuse there is and shouldn’t have to be paid for to rectify, but until and unless that changes, it’s worth paying to get the right expert involved st the earliest
I am an alienated mother from the Netherlands with a narcissistic co-parent. He is constantly dragging me to court about custody. Beause I had a post-partum depression when we got divorced, my daughter lives with him and I have only seen my child intermittently on and off for 11 years now. Visitation rights have been annulled by Child Protection in June, but I haven;t seen or spoken to her for more than two years. I have a court-case coming up in December about visitation. She will only see me because she doesn’t want to make me sad, she says she doesnt need me and is 100% happy with her father alone. While I did have visitation, we formed a safe and trusting relationship. Child Projection has ruled no visitation based on half an hour “investigation” by phone. Their conclusion was that I was badmouthing my ex, who is a diagosed narcissist who as sure as hell will traumatise her for the rest of her life. As we all know. They also said they weree not intrested in facts, but only in the best interest of the child. So can I can prove everything I like, it won’t be taken into account. Father drags me to court every two years saying I am psychotic, delusional, disintererested, I smoke to much (!) . and I cannot handle responsibilities. Apparently, that is not badmouthing me. I did suffer from psychosis once twenty years ago, he didn’t even know me then, I’m on meds now and doing fine after surviving my marriage to him, which was highly abusive. Any thoughts?
Lottie, you have never gave up you wonderful Mother. Yes I know all too well how these narcissistic parents can Fool everyone even the so called ‘experts’, your daughter has been brainwashed and knows no better, Do not give up hope as time will move on and your daughter may see the ‘real’ father when his mask slips, life will be clearer then, these monsters cannot keep up the act. You keep well, he is obviously using your previous mental health care problems as a weapon to destroy you. Take care and you are wonderful that you have never given up, what a cruel man, you are well rid of him-when you have survived his years of abuse you are strong-keep going-things can change in the most unexpected ways. xx
Thank you very much for responding in such a caring manner. I am waiting untill his mask drops, as you say. She is an intelligent girl, she will start asking questions. In the meantime, I have picked up myself and am focusing on my career. No use just sitting around feeling powerless and miserable. I am working on a project to make NPD and its damaging influence more of an issue in this country, I started ia Foundation in February and have over a thousand members already. It’s time for ACTION. Meanwhile and at the same time I do research on the topic of narcissism as a phorensic problem and not a mental health issue. I want to write my Phd on this subject. Thank you again, i will keep following you and sharing your knowledge an wisdom with others here in the Netherlands. X Lotte
Lotte you are wonderful and well deserved of praise for not giving up. Keep up your good works on NPD-devious people, what goes around will come around……it is looking that way in our case as they do trip themselves up and I hope it does in your case. Best Wishes.