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How Courts Fail in Cases of Parental Alienation

by Susan Heitler, PhD

Therapists, parents, lawyers, and judges all clearly need to do better.

Posted Aug 23, 2022

 4774344sean/Fotosearch
Too many court systems and judges fail to recognize alienation.
Source: 4774344sean/Fotosearch

Research has clarified that appropriate responses from the judicial system can end alienation, and subsequent treatment can ameliorate the harm from this form of child abuse. Yet, in too many cases of parental alienation, the court system fails.

The case described below typifies what happens in these instances. How could this wrongful outcome have happened? And what can prevent these sad mistrials?

What W.S. wrote about how the courts failed his alienated child. And himself.

In August of 2018, my ex-wife filed contempt charges against me because I didn’t pay a $16 medical bill. I had been saving up to pay for my bankruptcy. Not only did she file the contempt charges, she also filed a motion to take away my rights and parenting time and to increase my child support.

I thought it would be helpful for my child to have a guardian ad litem. A month before the trial, I filed that along with a continuance. I did not hear anything back from the courthouse. The morning that we met the judge, the first thing she brought up was my motion. She informed me she was going to dismiss it because enough time had been wasted. I did not have an opportunity to defend it.

During the trial, my goal was to prove parental alienation. I could not believe the lies she had going on.

My ex had a spreadsheet on the days I missed and what the reason was. At the time, I was remarried and living pretty far away. I had to live somewhere that I could afford to live. My ex had told the court that I missed a lot of time with my child for uncalled-for reasons.

She also told them I was not communicating when, in fact, I was.

One day in the notes she had written that I told her I was not going to be able to because “I stubbed my toe.” I provided an emergency room visit summary from that exact same day. The doctor’s notes stated the patient fell approximately 7 feet off a ladder and severely twisted his right ankle.

Also in the spreadsheet were two spots that were completely black. You could not tell what was written in those cells. I am a service copier tech, and I know that the background and text are two different shades of black. Making changes, I was able to uncover both. The first one stated that my ex was talking about me in front of the child in a negative way. The child heard and spoke up, telling her mother to stop talking about him like that.

The second one was a note about a trip with Grandma, who was the primary care provider. The child stated, “I don’t think I love my daddy. Is that OK?” And the grandmother stated that it’s OK not to love your daddy. I asked the grandmother on the stand in front of the judge if she told the child it was OK not to love her daddy.

The last thing was the notes from the social worker. I know that parental alienation can cause stress and anxiety for the child. In her notes, she stated that the child’s anxiety and stress are coming from the mother.

A week went by, and I was waiting for a decision from the judge. What I got was not what I expected. In the new order, the standard parenting order was gone. Which means I lost time with my child. I also lost my parental rights. When you look at this order, you can clearly see how one-sided it is. For example, the first sentence states that both parties filed motions in the court; it then goes on to show all the motions filled. None of my motions were on that paperwork. It did state my defense was parental alienation, and that is as far as it went.

I spent months trying to figure out why. It made no sense to me.

When I started researching the judge, I found out a few clarifying things. Apparently, this was not her first time with parental alienation. I found an article showing that she recused herself from an earlier case because of her beliefs on Parental Alienation Syndrome. If you only knew how upset I was at finding this out. I then filed a grievance to the disciplinary board. Three months later, I got a letter in the mail. They were not going to do anything about it. They simply told me I was just unhappy with her decision.

Judges apparently can’t be sued. I am hoping my story can not only help me but others who are or may go through what I am going through.

What went wrong? How can these wrongs be rectified?

1. Judges in family courts need further training in the recognition and appropriate responses to parental alienation. They also need to be screened for their beliefs on this subject.

2. Judges need to be informed about narcissism (inability to consider the child’s needs as well as their own desires), borderline personality disorder, and sociopathy (splitting and lying). These syndromes typify alienating parents.

3. The courts need to supervise and remove judges who favor alienating parents. Wrongful judgments must be referred to a different judge and retried.

5. The court’s timeframe must be radically shortened. Childhood does not last forever. Every day with an alienating parent deepens the level of harm.

6. Too many advisors to the court also fail to recognize the abuse syndrome. Ignorance must be met with consequences.

7. Parents considering divorce need to inform themselves about alienation. Information is power.

Learn more about parental alienation and what can be done about it. For self-help for the emotional distress which alienated parents often experience, see my website and book Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief From Depression, Anger, Anxiety, and More.

References

Templer, K, Matthewson, M,, Haines, J., Cox, G. 2017. Recommendations for best practice in response to parental alienation: findings from a systematic review.  J. Family Therapy, Volume39, Issue 1, Pages 103-122. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6427.12137

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