Texas Family Law Podcast: Remedies for Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation Remedies

This week your hosts Jake and Brian discuss what to do if you suspect that your former partner is alienating your child from you. Listen as they discuss how to identify the signs of parental alienation and your options for fighting parental alienation both in the courtroom and at home.

The Texas Family Law podcast is available for download on Apple Podcasts, as well as on SoundCloud and Spotify. Don't feel like listening to it? The entire transcript is available below.

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Remedies for Parental Alienation

Brian: Alright, good morning everybody. Jake & Brian here again and today we're going to discuss some specifics about parental alienation. Because it's such a broad topic we thought we would break it into pieces. In particular we wanted to discuss the teeth of it. In other words, what can be done if it's going on, if you can prove that to a court and what to do if you're falsely accused. 

But today we wanted to talk about when it's actually occurring. There are a variety of options and remedies that you have in a courtroom to address that. I'll start with the most extreme and maybe we'll move towards some of the less extreme. The most extreme would be for the court to forbid the offending parent or “the alienating parent” from having either any contact with the child or having meaningful contact with them through supervision.

Jake, do you want to talk a little bit about a circumstance where a judge might think that extreme of a remedy was in the best interest of the child. 

Jake: Yeah it is extreme. I think a lot of the literature does talk about that in the extreme circumstances, that frankly that's the only way that works, but we'll go through the other remedies. 

As a reminder, parental alienation is when you have one parent who has a campaign against the other parent to try and do just what it says, alienate the child from that parent. The ultimate goal being to have that child reject the other parent. That way the alienated parent has a child a hundred percent of himself or herself. It can be  for a variety of reasons, anger about the relationship, just because sometimes we have psychological psychiatric disorder, or a combination of all those. 

You do see these situations where it's just this way and I think campaign is the best way to describe it, it’s just this relentless campaign with the child to try to damage the relationship with the other parent. Sometimes it's blatant. The best analogy that comes to mind is probably like racism. Sometimes it's absolutely blatant where it comes out of somebody's mouth, and they say it, and they say these awful words to the child. 

Then sometimes it's a little, and it's a little under the surface where I'm not going to say it, but I'm certainly not going to support their relationship with the other parent. I'm not going to support any type of therapeutic intervention. I'm going to use passive aggressive words to undermine the relationship. I think you see that a lot of times with oversharing with kids or what would the alienated parent thinks of as telling the kid the truth, because in his mind or her mind that is the truth, but saying awful things about the other parent like” your father abandoned us or your mother never supported us.” “So your mother had an affair.” Something like that. Yeah. 

So when you have those extreme circumstances it usually takes quite a bit for a judge to go to the extreme. You say you see a pattern, but a lot of times in these extreme circumstances, you see a parent who just can't help it.

I'm going to order them “don't do it”. You tell them to encourage their relationship. You tell them not to alienate and they just can't do it. 

I had a case where the mother produced a bunch of recordings of her and the child, and she thought the recordings were helpful for her because she said “ look, the child's agreeing with me” and all these awful things about his dad, if you listened to the recordings and it's just horrible. It's the mom completely leading this poor child who was about eight years old  “don't you not like going to see your dad? Doesn't he make you uncomfortable? don't you just miss me when you're over there with him?” Of course this poor eight year old agrees with his mom.

Being led through that, that's just one of many examples that can be happening. Like you were saying, Brian, when I think a judge gets to that point really the literature talks about that the parent that is being alienated for the child should have restricted access or no access or supervised access. Then the child actually needs to be placed with the alienated parents, the parent who's been rejected. The child needs to be placed with that parent and everybody of course needs to go into intensive therapy. You have alienated parents, the child, the parent who's been alienated. A lot of times you see a family therapist cut off from access to a child for 30 days, six months. It just depends on what the therapists are saying and what progress is being made. But, it's a tough pill for some judges to swallow, especially because you're dealing with a rejected parent usually.

They think “so I'm really going to take this child who's rejecting this parent and place it with that parent?” However, I think with the appropriate professionals and the law showing the literature and everything, that is an avenue that I know we've both been successful taking when appropriate in the court to make those orders. Has that been your experience, Brian?

Brian: Exactly. It's not what a judge wants to do when you walk into the courtroom. But if given no other alternative, they'll do it and it's been my experience. Just so everybody knows the difference between no visitation or no contact is that there would be visitation in a supervised setting so there would actually be contact between the parent and the child in person generally.

However, that contact is  with a neutral third party, a professional there to observe and report on it. The idea of being that it will stop the alienating parent from more alienating behavior. What actually happens a lot of times, it's that they continue to do it in a way that they think is more subtle.

Like you said, they just can't stop and then dig themselves into a deeper hole in that often is going to lead to a complete cutoff. That's often what occurs and I do think it's also age specific. You brought up a good point about the difficulty of how if the alienating parent has sufficiently brainwashed the child, especially a 16 or 17 year old, it gets real difficult for the alienated parent, the victim parent, to rebuild that relationship.

Then the second the kid turns 18 they're suddenly out of the court's control. What happens after that is really up to the child. It's a whole another variable that you can have. 

So then let's talk about some less dramatic remedies.

Although these are often the first step that then gets escalated for larger problems. But I've seen courts for example put some very strict injunctions in place, which are court orders saying you're not allowed to do certain things. For example, undermine the other parent. talk bad about the other parent.

I've seen the courts give additional time to the alienated parent, the victim parent, to try to repair that relationship. What other remedies have you seen that are short of the supervised route?

Jake: Yeah, you're almost always going to get a junction, whether or not people follow them or not. They could do a point of guardian or Amicus to investigate further. And sometimes judges have a strong suspicion that it's happening. They want a professional investigating some more, they'll do an alienation evaluation, custody evaluation, or guardian ad litem just to really see what's going on before escalating to that more extreme remedy. 

A lot of times family therapy is put in place. Family counseling can be successful in some situations and you see the alienating parent typically go to counseling. Then a lot of times this is a good time for the alienated parents to both go to counseling. Not that he or she's done anything wrong, but just being able to deal with the situation and understand how to deal with a child that's rejecting you for no justifiable reason.

A lot of times you see the child having an individual therapist, and then you have a family therapist with the whole unit. The child's therapist can't really act as a family therapist and really shouldn't be pulling in mom, dad, or both parents.

The adults have counseling. That child's therapist really shouldn’t be a role for a family therapist to work with their family unit. The child maintains his or her own individual therapist.I think in a judge's mind and a lot of times this is the case, the family therapist can be boots on the ground and try to work through it.

And then the family therapist comes back and says our kids' therapists are dealing with the parents. The therapist comes back and says “Alienation really is happening here. And it's continuing, it's not just that it's happened, but it's continuing.” 

So the next extreme like we were talking about is removing time, either somewhat or completely, so it's like a step in the progress. I've heard some mental health professionals describe it as alternative intervention. It's a step that you can take before going to the extreme with the hopes that everybody gets better. A lot of times you do want to see if the therapy can fix the situation with court monitoring everything. 

The consistent theme about all of this is having a judge involved in your life because I will always be skeptical of this one. I've never seen it. I've never seen it get fixed without there being a court intervention. Even if it's just on the light side with the injunctions and some really clear orders on time, all the way to the extreme. If it's happening, it's just not going to stop on its own.

Do you agree with that? 

Brian: I do. And I think you pointed out the main reason for it early on, which is the parent doing the alienating. I think they really believe they're doing the right thing. It's clear to everybody else they're not, but they believe it that for whatever reason they need to tell the truth to the child or need to protect the child from.

And therefore, how do you stop that? How do you stop a parent from doing what they think is right without real strong court intervention. I don't really see an option in that particular scenario. 

Jake: Yeah. And then, back to levels of intervention, I think therapy is a less extreme intervention and then it does need to be really clear and I encourage parents about this. “Have you gotta be for, particularly for noncustodial parents? Because you have to be protective of your time with the child. And if you go down this road of “The child's upset” or they reject them at this time.

So I'll just not do my weekends right now, or I'll just give in. His mom says that he doesn't want us to do it this weekend, so I won't do it. Or his dad says that he doesn't want to talk to me or she has not talked to me. So I'll just give it a week or two. That is a slippery slope, and I've definitely not seen that work. Frankly I've seen that backfire quite a bit cause it plays into the theme. What they get is your dad is wanting to go see your mom but doesn't want to see you. They don't like you. They're bad. And then contacts the other parents and says our child wants to see you.

The parent goes, okay, I'll do my time. And that plays into the thing. “See, look, your dad or your mom doesn't want to go see you. I told you.” It's huge. And I think the least extorting of the intervention is just being super stubborn about your time. And say, “I'm not giving up time with my child.”

It can be hard. It will be hard. It's really hard exercise, that possession time when you have a child that's rejecting you, but you can't give up that time. It just makes the problem worse. 

I think the least extreme remedy is just go in there on enforcement when necessary and just being really clear that the court order possession schedule needs to be enforced. That it needs to be followed. You're not going to deviate from it. 

Sometimes that's what people do and sometimes that works. Sometimes that's just a good first step, which is I'm enforcing my time. If this continues then go the therapy route, continuing to think of the more extreme route. I think it's, like you said, at the beginning, Brian, it's just a case by case basis.

Sometimes the case is good to us. It's just like having cancer. It's past where you can just do kind of half measures and you have to go full bore on it. But that's hard. It's really hard. The chemotherapy is really hard but sometimes that's the only option you have.

Brian: No, very true. All right last, but definitely not least are remedies related to finances. I think you and I would agree that this kind of fighting parental alienation is very expensive and I'm assuming it's not in a divorce setting, but in some kind of modification or post, post final order situation.

Your remedies are somewhat limited. There are parts of the family code that allow you if you're a victim of this to obtain attorney fees from the other side, either at the beginning of a case, called interim fees or anytime during the case, or at the end of it.

There's also the route of, if you go through an enforcement, which is a different legal proceeding, basically to punish somebody there's some stronger, stronger parts of this, but, in general, we could probably have a podcast just on this topic, but we'll make it short.

I’ve found that it's difficult to get fees upfront when you start off with a parental alienation case, for a couple of different reasons.

I'm going to call it easier, but it's more possible at the end of a case to get fees if you're successful with it to get a judgment, but actually collecting that money is another whole ordeal a lot of times. That's a broad overview of it. What are your thoughts or observations about that topic?

Jake: Yeah, I think that's right. They are expensive. And as far as going through, you can get attorney's fees. I think a lot of times judges order fees when they think that parental alienation has been going on, but a lot of times that's at the end of the case.

And like you said sometimes that's because the court is still investigating. There's some legal reasons for that. A simplistic explanation is that you have to show that the child would be in some type of danger and that the fees are necessary to protect. I think you can get there a lot of the time, but it is a heightened burden when we’re at the end. The burden's a lot lower for a judge at the end to do attorney's fees.

And so a lot of times you'll see at the end, frankly, sometimes it's hard to collect them. These are just, judgments about that would mean, it's not child support. So if you get attorney's fees awarded to you, you can't garnish someone's wages. You can't put them in jail for not paying 'em.

You can't take their vehicles, their household, or anything like that.  I tell people  this not to be gloom and doom, but just so their eyes are open. I don't want to make a false promise to the people that “don't worry, we're gonna, you're gonna get every single penny back from your ex for this.”

Which is a lot of times unfair. It's not fair to the alienated parent as far as what's going on and if they should get attorney's fees at the end. And a lot of times they do, but then there's collection issues. I think we always ask for the attorney's fees and I think we've both been really successful in getting them, but I do have the honest conversation with clients too, about “we're going to get this, but then you're going to have to go chase after it.”

And I've had people be successful with that. I've had people have a hard time with it and usually ultimately be successful, but it's just something that you need to be aware of when going down this path. I had that conversation. I know you have that conversation, Brian, at the very beginning.

You said that anytime you deal with alienation, the finances, the court intervention, all these remedies and everything, you just have to have a conversation with the client right off the bat that this is a hard bite. This is a big sacrifice that you're gonna have to make for your child or your children.

If you're willing to do it there is a path forward, but it's not an easy path. It starts on the path we've been through, with our clients, but it's hard. It's hard to go through the fight, but it's hard to live through the alienation. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

There are ways to address it. I think courts have gotten more and more sophisticated and addressing it. The mental health professionals have certainly have got more and more sophisticated about doing it, So I tell people it's a fight worth having. It's just, you gotta be, you gotta be ready for it.

Brian: Totally agree. Okay. thank you very much. Hopefully that's informative for everybody. And, we'll have more on this topic here shortly.

Jake: Yeah, I think next time, what we'll do is, we were talking about the reverse, which is you sometimes see people falsely accused of parental alienation. And those are hard cases because of the extremities of the remedies requested in the accusation.

So we'll do that next, but like you said, I think that's good for now, so I will talk to you soon. 

Brian: Sounds good. Bye. 

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