A finding of family violence or neglect by a Texas family law judge unlocks the full power of the Texas court to make significant and in some, cases extraordinary remedies to protect the victimized child from ongoing abuse. Unfortunately, it is not an effective strategy for a Texas family lawyer to simply lodge accusations of Parental Alienation Syndrome with a long list of transgressions by the alienating parent.
Blaming the alienating parent alone as a legal strategy is the classic trap that results in the family law court and the victim of alienation from achieving reasonable or effective remedies to stop and roll back the harmful effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome, here the client and their family lawyer must be careful to not “put the cart in front of the horse” and confuse a family law judge about the way out of the Parental Alienation Syndrome minefield.
The “horse” in this metaphor is the child abuse and signs of abuse that exist in the alienated child such as:
Dramatic reductions in academic or extracurricular performance are often the hallmarks of emotional turmoil in a child that are observable and communicate specific damages to the family law judge if the alienation is permitted to continue. Marshaling these examples of abuse including detailing specific and concrete examples of the manifestations of abuse in the child’s life is the ‘horse’ that it is the starting point for ending Parental Alienation Syndrome and the destructive effects on children and their parents.
It is simply human nature for a judge to listen more carefully to admissions of responsibility or even guilt by the estranged parents as well as their attempts to resolve and move past their own mistakes. This permits the Court to view more sympathetic light and the well-intended, rational and positive efforts of the alienated parent being scuttled sabotaged by the alienating parent.
Clinicians have noted that “in some moderate and all severe [parental] alienation cases, the parental alienating behaviors are emotionally abusive.” Where the Court observes the dogged efforts of the alienating parent to sabotage and destroy the parent-child relationship to the point of emotional abuse, the most critical question then turns on what remedies does the victimized parent seek from the Court on behalf of the child?
The answer to this question need not be overly complex. What naturally follows for a family law court, presented with clear examples of child abuse in the form of moderate to severe parental alienation that are documented, observable, and with clear impact on the child, is for the court to remove the child or strictly limit those forces that cause the emotional abuse, with the same urgency as if the abuse of the child were physical or neglect.
Once the Court identifies that moderate to severe Parental Alienation Syndrome is likely to be occurring and that the emotional abuse is ongoing, a progressively harsh list of remedies is available to protect the child from further abuse. In this article, you will learn what to do about parental alienation using judicial remedies. The list of remedies is clear:
On the application of the alienated parent, a request can be made of the Court to make an emergency order to stop abusive contact between the alienating parent and child, either into or with specific injunctions against abusive behaviors pending a full hearing. The goal of a temporary restraining order is to immediately stop the alienating parent from either contacting the child, where the parental alienation is moderate to severe or implement a set of clear, direct and unambiguous court orders that direct and limit behaviors that the alienating parent can engage in with the child, until such additional new orders may be considered by the family law court at a temporary hearing or final trial.
The benefit of the temporary restraining order is that it can be obtained rather quickly and provide a temporary measure of safety to the alienated child and disfavored parent until such time as the Court may consider more in depth evidence or the outcome of court ordered studies or interventions.
Where the documented or observable effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome are first emerging or difficult obtain, a court ordered Parental Alienation Syndrome Psychological and Custody Examination is appropriate.
In Texas, a family law court is empowered to make an order for a qualified psychologist to conduct a forensic psychological evaluation and child custody evaluation to diagnose the presence of Parental Alienation through a custody evaluation. The result of the evaluation is answer specific questions such as the presence of Parental Alienation Syndrome and the degree to which the alienating parent is contributing to emotional abuse to the child through their alienation. The evaluator will conduct interviews with child caregivers, the child and, parents. In addition, the review will encompass a through and detailed review of the child’s medical, mental health and education records. Additional tasks and interviews will be performed by the custody evaluator to isolate the negative impacts on the child and ultimately, to make recommendations to the Court.
In addition, the Court may order that the alienating parent, child, or disfavored parent may be ordered to submit to a forensic psychological evaluation to determine the causes of the Parental Alienation Syndrome, including mood or thought disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder or other significant mental defects.
Where there is a divorce pending, the Court may order the Alienating parent into mandatory therapeutic interventions especially designed for parental alienation or make similar orders in a custody case as a condition of continued possession and access time between the child and the parental alienating parent. A note of caution as to the scope and referral question for the therapy is warranted, because the focus, or ‘referral question’ to the therapist for treatment and the configuration of those receiving therapy is paramount.
Where the Court is to order counseling only with the child and rejected parent or for the child alone, leading experts in resolving parental alienation have warned that “neither option is likely to be sufficient in most cases of parent-child contact problems: limiting treatment to one part of the family system to the exclusion of the order is unlikely to remedy the problem and may even exacerbate it.” The correct approach is an intensive, court directed therapeutic intervention that starts with removing the causes of the parental alienation and layers in therapists for the alienating parent, the children and the rejected parent. Often this approach requires regular Court status hearings and in severe cases court appointed caseworks or Guardian ad Litems, to monitor progress or lack of progress and report the same to the Court.
In Texas the public policy of the state is to provide for the “provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child,” a family law judge Under Texas family code is empowered to limit parent child contact in the face of abuse to custody decisions, making decisions regarding the child’s education medical and mental health decisions together with a parental alienator is impossible. If prior therapeutic interventions have occurred and failed, clinicians have documented that temporary or permanent removal and transfer of the alienated child to the disfavored parent is an effective outcome. The goal of the removal is to permit the alienated child to reestablish the parent-child relationship and permit the child’s psychological needs to be addressed by caregivers and mental health experts who are attuned and capable to providing constructive psychological care.
Additionally, the Court may also be presented with removing the child from the custody of the alienating parent and placing the child with a neutral third party such as a disinterred family member or a therapeutic boarding school as an interim step before the child can be safely transitioned to the primary care of the disfavored parent. id. at 37. A request for removal of an alienated child, where there is clear emotional abuse is a dramatic option for the family law judge. However, the risks of permitting the child to suffer long term negative abuses of emotional abuse, due to parental alienation is rightly counter-balanced with assurances that the disfavored parent, who is awarded primary custody of the alienated child, will remain committed to working towards the normalization of the parent-child relationship with both parents, with the assistance of the court, and any court ordered care team.
In Texas, a Family law court is empowered to require an individual, who engages in Parental Alienation to attend individualized therapy designed to increase awareness and change destructive behaviors.Where the Parental Alienation is mild and a removal or change of custody is not indicated the Court may compel a parent to attend mandatory individual therapy directed at assisting the alienating parent to identify individual behaviors that contribute to the negative impact on the parent-child relationship. Again, great care is required in this area, because where the Parental Alienation Syndrome is significant, leading mental health experts cautioned against the effectiveness of therapy for the child alone.
In Texas, the family law Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to advocate for the best interest of the child or to perform a task as directed by the Court may be appropriate for a case involving Parental Alienation Syndrome Under the code the Guardian ad Litem may “Perform any task directed by the Court,” such as interfacing with the Court ordered Parental Alienation Custody or Forensic Evaluator, acting as a spokesperson for the Parental Alienation Intervention Care Team, the child or other narrow tasks.
When the presence of moderate to severe Parental Alienation Syndrome is confirmed the appointment of Guardian ad Litem to make a full report to the Court, which would overlap with the Parental Alienation Custody Evaluation would not be appropriate. The key value of the Guardian ad Litem in parental alienation syndrome cases is to communicate and coordinate, not to evaluation, which is the normal task assigned to a Guardian ad Litem. Great care must be taken to make sure that the ad Litem does not stray from their initial, limited scope appointment, so as to not impede the well documented rolls of the evaluator and therapists for the parties and child.
In Texas, a Court may enforce the orders of the Court with Contempt. After notice and a hearing the Court may find that a parent violated orders of the Court including orders to submit to a Parental Alienation Evaluation, an order for the alienating to not engage in certain negative behaviors such as bad mouthing a parent, refusing to turn over a child for a Parental Alienation Removal or other orders fashioned by the court to protect the child. 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 and in extreme or repeat offense cases, jail.
Clear, specific and enforceable custody orders, that prevent Parental Alienation Syndrome from occurring 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 sometimes aggressive enforcement of custody orders fashioned to prevent parental alienation is a key element of legal representation for a parent who is the victim of parental alienation.
During the past ten years, one therapeutic intervention program named “Overcoming Barriers Approach,” has been introduced into Texas Family courts. Overcoming Barriers Approach interventions are designed to address the needs of alienated children and provide the Texas Court with a comprehensive therapeutic program, with predefined referral question(s), treatment plans, and experienced mental health care teams, trained in parental alienation.
The goal of this Parental Alienation intervention is to provide a whole family approach and intervention that will improve family functioning that has devolved into Parental Alienation. Special emphasis is given to re-establishing positive contact between the alienated child and disfavored parent and assisting the alienating parent in recognizing their participation in alienating the child and correcting alignments.
Additional goals of Parental Alienation Syndrome interventions include:
Parental Alienation Syndrome is one of the most complex custody issues confronting parents and courts. We bring together decades of experience effectively addressing the most complex family law matters, including advocating for parents who are victims of Parental Alienation or those wrongly accused of being a Parental Alienator. Contact us today to discuss the specifics of your case.
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