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Parental alienation occurs when one parent, the alienating parent, attempts to create a relationship with the children that excludes the other parent from their lives. Often this exclusion arises from that parent’s personal feelings about the other parent and their desire to punish them, and it is not related to any real deficiencies in their parenting. In alienation cases, one parent makes negative comments about the other capable and loving parent and strives to destroy any relationship the children may have with him or her. These alienating parents not only fail to encourage and support a positive relationship between their children and the other parent, but they essentially brainwash the children into disproportionately and unjustifiably rejecting the other parent.

The problem with parental alienation is it can work. Often, children will get to the point in which they refuse visitation or any contact at all with the target parent and express only negative feelings about that parent. Sometimes this is because the children believe the negative things they hear about the other parent, they’re unable to act against the alienating parent, or they enjoy the attention they receive for complying with the alienating parent. Parental alienation is a very separate issue from not wanting contact with a parent who is physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive.

If you believe you are being alienated from your children or your relationship with your children is being negatively impacted by the other parent, there are resources available to help identify alienation and repair the parent-child relationship. Our attorneys are experienced in parental-alienation cases and have the tools necessary to reunite you with your children.

Measuring and Identifying Parental Alienation

When we feel unwell, we go to the doctor so that a professional can tell us what’s wrong with us and what we need to do to feel better. Similarly, an essential step in recovering from parental alienation (and preventing it) is getting professional help. Parental alienation is very difficult to prove, so if you suspect that your child is a victim of parental alienation, you should obtain and organize as many facts the support your situation as you can. Inexperienced lawyers can easily let a vital piece of evidence fall through the cracks. With our top-rated attorneys, you can rest assured you’ll be in good hands. Call our office today to get started.

The 'Cloud of Conflict'

The ‘cloud of conflict’ is similar to the idea of the ‘fog of war.’ When bullets are flying back and forth, it can be challenging to differentiate the defender from the aggressor. In trial, parents are usually antagonistic toward each other, blaming each other for the conflict at hand as well as the child’s behaviors. The child may have observable characteristics of anger (e.g., acting out in school, poor grades, rejecting one of the parents, or anxiety). As the case progresses, the alienated parent may not appear to act significantly different from the alienating parent.

Forensic Psychological and Custodial Evaluations

When the documented or observable effects of parental alienation first emerge, a court-ordered psychological evaluation of the parents or a custody evaluation of the family may be appropriate. In Texas, a family law court is empowered to order a qualified psychologist to conduct a forensic psychological evaluation and child custody evaluation to determine why the children are rejecting one parent, and to look at the cognitive functioning of the parents and how that functioning impacts their parenting.

The evaluator will conduct interviews of caregivers, the child, and the parents, as well as collateral witnesses. Additionally, the review will include a thorough and detailed analysis of the child’s medical history, mental health, and education records. Supplementary tasks and interviews will be performed by the evaluator to isolate the negative impacts of the alienation on the child and, ultimately, to make recommendations to the court.

The court may order that the alienating parent, the child, or the rejected parent submit to a forensic custody evaluation to determine the causes of the rejection of the parent. This examination includes a psychological evaluation of the parents to determine if either have a mood or thought disorder (such as narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder) or if a different significant mental health diagnosis exists.

Counseling and Therapeutic Intervention

In some cases, the court may order the alienating parent into mandatory therapeutic interventions designed explicitly for parental alienation, or it may make similar orders as a condition of continued possession. The court may also order the rejected parent and children to participate in reunification therapy.

Intensive, court-directed, therapeutic intervention starts by removing the causes of the parental alienation and layering in therapists for the alienating parent, the children, and the rejected parent. This approach usually requires regular, follow-up, status hearings, and in severe cases, a court-appointed caseworker, an amicus attorney, or a guardian ad litem to monitor progress (or lack thereof) and report back to the court.

Therapeutic Intervention

Effective advocacy for the rejected parent requires that the advocating lawyer has experience in the nuanced and subtle ways that parental alienation is exhibited in the parent-child relationship. The lawyer must also appreciate that parental alienation is a form of emotional abuse toward the child, and it requires immediate, judicial and mental health intervention.

Goals of parental reunification include:

  • The ability for the child to relate freely with both parents;
  • Eliminated parent-child alliances;
  • Restored parent-child relationships;
  • Reduced use of avoidance as a way to resolve problems;
  • Improved coping skills;
  • Corrected cognitive understanding and an understanding of the “shades of gray” as opposed to “black and white” thinking;
  • The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives;
  • Improved moderating behaviors;
  • Enhanced parenting skills; and
  • Established co-parenting skills.

Individual Counseling

In Texas, a court may require an individual who engages in parental alienation to attend individualized counseling designed to increase awareness and reduce destructive behaviors.

If parental alienation is mild and a removal or change of custody is not appropriate, the court may compel a parent to attend mandatory individual therapy. The goal of these therapeutic sessions is for the alienating parent to identify and replace behaviors that contribute to the negative impact on the parent-child relationship.

Custodial Removal

A request for a change in custody of an alienated child is a dramatic option for the court, but it can be appropriate when the risk of suffering long-term damage is too great to act less aggressively.

According to the Texas Family Code, the public policy of the state is to “provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child.” In the face of abuse, a court may limit parent-child contact ass well as the parent’s right to make decisions on behalf of the children.

When is Custodial Removal Appropriate?

If prior therapeutic interventions have failed, temporary or permanent removal and transfer of the alienated child to the disfavored parent is often an effective option to reunify the child and rejected parent. Moving the child and introducing caregivers and mental health experts into the child’s life may allow the alienated child to reestablish a relationship with the rejected parent.

Alternatively, the court may also place the child with a neutral third party, such as a family member or a therapeutic boarding school. This placement is an interim step used in anticipation of the child transitioning to the primary care of the rejected parent.

Guardian Ad Litems

In Texas, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the best interest of the child. A guardian ad litem may be appropriate for a case involving parental alienation as the guardian (as specified in the Texas Family Code) may “perform any task directed by the court.” These tasks may include interfacing with court-ordered custody or forensic evaluators, acting as a spokesperson for the treatment team, aiding the child, or managing other narrow tasks.

Role of the Guardian Ad Litem

When the court believes parental alienation is present in a case, the appointment of a guardian ad litem to make a full report to the court may be appropriate, or the court may instead require the parents or families to submit to a forensic evaluation.

In alienation cases, the primary role of the guardian ad litem is to communicate and coordinate—not to evaluate. Great care must be taken to make sure that the guardian ad litem does not stray from their position’s initial, limited scope. Taking on additional responsibilities may impede on the roles of the evaluators and therapists for the parties and child, so it is important to hire a lawyer that understands the differences and the associated implications of each party’s role.

Court Orders and Violations

On the application of the alienated parent, a request can be made to the court to make an emergency order to stop abusive contact between the alienating parent and child. This request can include specific injunctions against abusive behaviors pending a full hearing. When adhered to, these orders can be beneficial. However, those who engage in parental alienation don’t tend to play by the rules. It is, therefore, imperative that parents know what their options are for protection and enforcement of their parental rights.

Temporary Restraining Orders

Temporary Restraining Orders can be issued to prohibit the alienating parent from contacting or exercising possession of the child. The benefit of a Temporary Restraining Order is that it can be obtained rather quickly and provide a brief measure of safety to the alienated child and rejected parent while more information about the severity of the situation is obtained. The court may later implement additional orders and restrictions at a temporary orders hearing or final trial.

Violations of Court Orders

In Texas, a court may find someone in contempt if it discovers that a parent violated orders (e.g., orders to submit an evaluation, refrain from engaging in certain negative behaviors, or turn a child over to the other parent). The range of punishments available to the court include fines, orders for attorney fees, the posting of a bond to secure compliance with the order of the court.

Clear, specific, and enforceable custody orders that prevent parental alienation from continuing are required because the alienating parent is often manipulative, fails to follow court orders, or is simply unwilling or unable to refrain from their alienating behaviors. Vigilant and consistent enforcement of custody orders is a critical element of legal representation for a parent who is the victim of parental alienation.

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