At their most basic level, contested custody cases occur when both parents genuinely believe that it is in their child's best interest to be with them the majority of the time instead of the other parent. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in these types of cases for one or both parents to engage in “win at all costs” behavior, which is rarely in their child's best interest. When this conduct is taken to the extreme, it can become parental alienation.
Dr. Richard Gardner first defined “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) in the 1980's as follows: (1) PAS is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes; (2) Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification; and (3) It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) of a parent's indoctrinations and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent.
Although cases involving parental alienation are extremely complex, difficult, and expensive, it is possible to obtain a positive outcome. The following tips and suggestions can help point you in the right direction when facing a child custody case with alienation dynamics:
- Hire the best family law attorney that you can afford, particularly one that has experience in handling cases involving parental alienation. Keep in mind that contested custody cases are expensive to begin with, and ones involving alienation are even more so. Typically, the most experienced and best qualified attorneys are Fellows in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and you can use their interactive directory to help locate a Fellow in your area.
- Work with your attorney to document and develop admissible evidence to be presented in your case. Keep a diary or journal of key events, with a description of what happened, when and where, and who witnessed it. Help your attorney develop an appropriate parenting plan to show the Court how the child would be well taken care of in your care.
- Consider having your attorney retain an expert witness early in the case to help address the many factors and develop the case as it progresses. Getting the best qualified expert in your area can make a difference in the outcome of your case, as the expert can help educate the Court on these issues and make recommendations in how to best address and resolve them.
- Having someone turn your own child against you can be extremely frustrating. However, you would be well-served to focus on the long-term objectives, approach the case logically, remain even-tempered, keep your emotions under control, and resist the temptation to retaliate.
- Educate yourself on the law, procedure, and psychological factors involved. Work with your attorney, expert witness, and other professionals in your case to make it clear to the Court that you are part of the solution, not part of the problem. You want the Court to see that you are thinking rationally, acting reasonably, and maintaining the best interest of your child.
- Make sure that you act appropriately when your child is with you. Do not discuss the case with the child, and never show the child any Court Orders or other case-related documents. Resist the temptation to make negative remarks about the other parent when the child is present, and take steps to prevent others from doing so as well.
- Comply with the Court's Orders, even when the other side fails or refuses to do so. Appear for visitation exchanges even if the other parent doesn't, and document that you were there at the designated place and time. Pay your child support, even if you are being denied visitation. Let the Court see that you intend to comply with its Orders, no matter what.
If you are facing a child custody case, you are welcome to contact our office by phone at (864) 598-9172 or online to request a consultation to discuss your case.