Have you ever dealt with parental alienation?

Yes, but from the perspective of being the divorce lawyer for the alienated parent.

Let me tell you, unless the alienating parent is so ham-handed in his or her efforts that the alienation is manifestly undeniable, proving parental alienation is extraordinarily difficult. Why?

Because no parental alienate her worth his or her salt is going to come right out and say “I want our kids to hate and avoid the other parent.” Alienating parents know that if they want to get away with it, they need to convince their judge that the other parent is a monster. This is surprisingly easy to do.

And here is why: if I stand up in a restaurant where you were having dinner and shout out “Help! My grandma is choking!,” the good and decent people in the restaurant would come running to see what they could do to help. They would not sit there skeptically and ask themselves, “Is this claim true? I don’t see anyone choking. I wonder if this whole thing is a hoax.” No, they would come running to see if they could help because that’s what decent people do.

And this is why, unfortunately, it is so easy for a parental alienator to manipulate a judge, if he or she is a decent person (and most judges are).

It is contrary to the nature of decent people to believe people lie about harm to others. So judges do what most of us would do when there are allegations of parental unfitness and/or child abuse. They start with the question “What can I do to help?” instead of the question they should be asking, which is: “Where does the actual verifiable evidence, if any, point?”

Another error judges commit far too often is assuming:

  • that a divorcing parent would never falsely accuse the other parent of abuse unless it were true; and
  • a child would never falsely accuse a parent of abuse unless it were true.

Any judge who believes this is patently incompetent. The depths to which divorcing parents are capable of stooping in the child custody fight are infinite.

“What can I do to help?” is the worst question to ask in response to allegations of child abuse or neglect because the question ignorantly presumes that there is a problem or problems for which help is needed. That’s when confirmation bias creeps in, i.e., “There must be a problem because I’m trying to help,” followed by “better safe than sorry” justifications. Judges are seduced by the appeal of a child custody award designed not to protect the children not from any proven harm or risk of harm, but from the very possibility of them suffering harm.

The problem with an abundance of caution approach is that it totally disregards the court’s obligation to determine guilt. It dispenses with considering the parent’s innocence and decency in favor of imposing measures that would prevent this decent and innocent parent from doing his or her child any harm. Cutting a parent off from a child to prevent possible harm also prevents the parent from conferring any possible benefit on that same child.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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