Alienating and targeted parents often return to court. They are frustrated and angry because they feel helpless, and now they are looking to the court for help. At this point, the parents usually can no longer speak with each other without shouts of bitterness, accusations, or silence. Judges realize it does no good to order parents to cooperate with each other, because the orders usually fall on deaf ears. Therefore, the court may have to take a different approach.
Courts that understand alienation will recognize the importance of identifying and hearing high-risk cases quickly. The longer the court takes, the more damage will occur to these families and children. Signals of high-risk cases likely to reappear in court and require quick intervention often involve: complaints about visits being withheld; children frequently not returned on time (later than a half-hour); threats to abduct the children; allegations of sexual, physical, and/or mental abuse; alcohol or drug abuse; a severe mental disorder interfering with visits or the children’s adjustment; and children refusing to visit. Judges need a mechanism to identify these cases and schedule a hearing as soon as possible. The court should not allow any unfounded delay tactics or continuances to prevent the case from proceeding as scheduled.
In my years of experience with the court, I am frequently surprised at how often cases get resolved after I have given parents the opportunity to vent their frustrations and feelings. Many times, parents just want to feel like they are respected and heard. They are often very receptive to a little education about parenting and the issues I have described in my book. About a quarter of the cases that I see no longer contest the custody recommendations because they understand the reasons for the recommendations and have had an opportunity to ask questions to someone they perceived as impartial.
Courts may be wise to find a mechanism by which parents can be heard, ask questions and receive helpful education. This mechanism must be fair and monitored by the court for compliance. Some courts use a guardian ad litem or an employee of the court to offer parental education. Parents involved with mild cases of alienation can benefit from education and improved awareness about what they are doing and how it effects the children. Sometimes having the parents complete a psychological evaluation helps the court gain better insight into the dynamics of the case.
In cases of more severe alienation, both parents should be ordered to a therapist. The court should compile a list of qualified therapists willing to work with these families and the court, including qualifications for working with high-conflict parents and an understanding of parental alienation. Whether the children need to participate in the therapy should be left up to the therapist. The therapist needs to send monthly compliance reports to the court while maintaining the parent’s confidentiality. This process can be very helpful for high-conflict parents before they introduce a shared parenting plan to the court. While this process is going on, it is important that the court not withhold visits unless there is a question about the children’s safety. Withholding visits adds to the risk of reinforcing alienation because the children could believe there is really something wrong with the targeted parent.
In cases of severe alienation involving an obsessed alienator, the court must act quickly. Both parents need an immediate psychological evaluation, and the child or children need therapy because they will be very confused and may be expressing hatred towards the targeted parent. While the children are in therapy, they may be better off staying with a relative while having visits with both parents. Admittedly, there is no research supporting the recommendation that the children should be separated from the obsessed alienator while the parents are being evaluated and counseled. Logically, however, if the child stays with the obsessed alienator, he or she can sabotage the counseling and efforts of the court to resolve these issues. However, if the child is placed against his wishes with the targeted parent, the child could be frightened and rebellious. Thus, neither option is perfect. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the children continue to visit with both parents unless there is a concern about the children’s safety, in which case, supervised visits may be necessary. Finally, any investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect should be conducted while the therapy is occurring.
Although the claims were dismissed, the jurisdiction obstacles were overcome. Unlike countless other challenges around the country, this court took jurisdiction over the state court issues, giving others a precedent for accessing federal court to raise constitutional questions. The adverse components of this ruling are now being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City. A expedited motion for exigent relief will be filed there at the Foley Square courthouse on Friday, June 17, 2011. We will keep you informed as you remain cognizant of the uphill battle we face. To put this in perspective, father’s rights cases feature a 100% failure rate in our nation’s history. Then, in the usual manner, our politicians wonder why we face so much father absence and moral decline in Father’s Day speeches.