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).