I generally wouldn’t recommend trying to get the assistance of the court to remedy this problem. The legal system is not designed to address this problem well, if at all. And even when it can do something worthwhile, the legal system does not generally address this problem well, if at all.
Let’s assume that if you were just given the opportunity to prove that your ex-spouse (and I’m going to approach this question as applying to a manipulative father OR mother) is manipulating your children, you could prove it in spades. With that in mind:
- If you ask the judge to interview the kids, odds are that the court will refuse to do so, coming up with all kinds of lame excuses as to why the judge “can’t” or “shouldn’t”. Most of these excuses stem from a belief that a judge interviewing the child will “traumatize” the children, yet these same judges seem to see nothing traumatizing about a guardian ad litem, custody evaluator, social worker, counselor, or therapist interviewing the children.
- But even if the judge were to agree to interview the children, by the time the court gets around to conducting the interviews, weeks—even months—may have passed from the day you made the request of the judge to interview the children. In that time in between, the manipulative parent could coach, bribe, and/or coerce the children into saying to the judge anything but the truth. And if the manipulative parent is the one requesting that the judge interview the children, the coaching, bribing, and/or coercion of the children could have been going on for weeks, months, even years before. These are often two of the excuses judges will cite as their basis for refusing to interview children. There is some merit to these excuses, but the solution is not refusing to interview the children, the solution lies in mitigating child manipulation.
- But even if you could somehow overcome the first two previously described obstacles and the judge eventually interviews the children, you may find the judge’s reception and analysis of the children’s testimony to be rather obtuse. Not always, but more often than you’d expect. Responses like, “The children tell me that Mom/Dad is regularly disparaging and telling the children lies about the other parent when the children are with Mom/Dad, but now that I’m aware of it, I trust that Mom/Dad will stop doing it, so I’m not going to make any changes” or “The children tell me that Mom/Dad is regularly disparaging and telling the children lies about the other parent when the children are with Mom/Dad, so I’m going to order Mom/Dad to stop doing it and take a parenting class. That ought to fix it.” I’m not sure judges who do this kind of thing believe it themselves but just do it to create the impression the matter has been addressed and “dealt with”.
If you are a parent with an ex-spouse who manipulates the children in an effort to alienate them from you, I have yet to find a quick, simple, easy, reliable way to combat and overcome parental alienation. If I did find it, I’d be a multimillionaire. There are many people out there who will tell you how to deal with and defeat alienation. A lot of this advice is appealing psychobabble. A lot of this advice is pandering to your fears, heartbreak, and anger. There must be some good advice out there as well. There are some common sense actions to be taken. There is value in meeting with a truly competent child psychologist to better understand the dynamics of parental alienation. But other than that, I’d be lying if I told you I could tell the difference between the wheat and the chaff.
What I can tell is that trying to beat parental alienation through the courts is, for the most part, a major waste of time, money, emotional energy, and effort. Sometimes the alienator’s behavior is so over the top that it can easily be identified and there are some remedies that the court can and should/must take in response. Otherwise, the best things you can do to mitigate and overcome parental alienation are those things within your legal, lawful, moral, and ethical control.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277