First and foremost, if you were searching for information about Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome, it is likely that you may be personally concerned about these issues in your own life and family. If so, it is vitally important that you realize that the specific issues that appear in alienation cases are very different than those arising in even a contentious divorce when alienation is not an issue. A few examples may be illustrative.
It is well understood that visitation interference is a central theme is alienation cases, as are false allegations of abuse. If one’s attorney is not familiar with this, it is very likely that improper advice will be given, such as “not making waves,” that the “kids will come around” and “not to make an issue of a little bit of visitation being missed.” If alienation was not present in an ongoing divorce, this advice would be very likely appropriate. However, if alienation is afoot, such advice could likely begin an avalanche of loss in a parent’s relationship with their children during and after divorce. Many otherwise competent and experienced attorneys who are unfamiliar with PAS will make this error in advice and unwittingly trigger such an avalanche of loss.
In the context of high conflict divorce where alienation is present, it is well understood that false allegations of abuse against the Targeted Parent abound as a strategy to gain advantage in the custody dispute. If an otherwise competent attorney however not intimately familiar with alienation, is representing a client who has been wrongly accused of being abusive to their child, they might very well recommend that that client agree to say, an Anger Management Course, so as to placate the other side and to convey to the Court that their client is being responsible. Such advice is commonly given even though the client in question does not have an anger problem. Such advice might also be given as a means for that client to have visitation, perhaps supervised, rather than have the visitation completely cut off. Again, if alienation was not present in a case, such advice could be sound under certain circumstances. However, if alienation is present, such advice would very likely stigmatize that parent in the perception of the Court as being an angry and difficult parent, when this is not the case, causing further injury to the relationship with the child. Further, such advice, perhaps resulting in unnecessary supervised visitation, would likely send a message to the child that this parent is perhaps “scary” or somehow inferior. Why else would they need a supervisor? In other words, such advice would ironically act in the service of the alienation.
As further example, imagine that the Court has ordered a Custody Evaluation or therapy for an alienated child. If an otherwise competent therapist, who is however unfamiliar with alienation, was appointed, it is likely that they would take a position of supporting the child’s resistance to seeing the Target Parent, essentially treating that child as if they had been the victim of domestic violence when such was never the case. Likewise, an otherwise competent Evaluator who is however unfamiliar with alienation and PAS, would very likely take the child’s complaints about the Target Parent at face value without ruling out bona fide abuse and otherwise negative parental action. Such an evaluation would then yield recommendations that likewise would support and even encourage the alienation.
Finally, it is important to understand that dealing with alienation and PAS in divorce are very specialized areas, in both the legal and the mental health arenas. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand that these competencies should not be assumed in the selection an attorney or in the selection of a mental health professional. Having been directly involved in the training of both attorneys and mental health professionals regarding PAS, Ludmer Law has developed an acute sensitivity to these issues of professional awareness and professional performance concerning alienation in the context of divorce. If anything, one should assume that most attorneys and most mental health professionals are not familiar with parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). This is a much safer operating assumption that the reverse.
As a consequence of this state of affairs, consulting services to parents, their attorneys, and to mental health professionals has become the primary focus of Ludmer Law’s work regarding Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Selection of Professionals
Over the years, Ludmer Law has developed networks of other professionals who are experienced in the problem of alienation. Through these networks, as well as through other means, both attorneys and mental health professionals can be interviewed and screened by Ludmer Law regarding their familiarity with alienation and PAS. This “initial filtering” process helps a parent who may be dealing with alienation to avoid falling into the “blind spots” of both attorneys and mental health professionals that may be simply unfamiliar with the peculiarities of parental alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Consultation with the Attorney
Competent attorneys welcome and are not threatened by consultative input. When one considers that a busy family lawyer becomes involved in PAS cases in only a relatively small percentage of their cases, it is easy to understand how it would be impossible for even the most competent family lawyer to keep up with the latest developments involving the litigation of PAS. In addition to this purely “informational” purpose, the consultant can also help the lawyer with the development of case strategy, with knowledge of what has actually been successful in other cases.
Most experienced attorneys will be the first to recognize the level of complexity and specificity that is involved in successfully litigating one of these cases. In the capacity of consultant, Ludmer Law typically reviews documents, pleadings and reports, and makes specific recommendations regarding expert testimony, review of expert work product and consultation with experts perhaps already appointed on your case. Through this strategy, the legal system becomes educated about PAS one case at a time, leaving in its wake, newly educated professionals and parents.
Litigating a complex family law case has been described in the following terms. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces, and the attorney is only allowed to use ten of the pieces, yet must still accurately convey the picture of the puzzle to the court, using only these ten pieces. The process of selecting which ten pieces is enormously complex and vexing. The skill of “breaking the code” of which pieces to select, and which not to become distracted by, is a skill that is based on a level of experience that can only be developed by being “in the trenches” in the Courtroom for many years. Ludmer Law has served in all of the capacities for which he now consults. After all, even the most seasoned and experienced family lawyer has only litigated cases involving PAS in a fraction of his or her cases. Virtually all of Ludmer Law’s experience is born of dealing only with these cases in multiple states.
Review of and Trial Preparation for Extant Expert Witness Work
In most ongoing litigation there are already existing mental health professionals involved with the case. The experienced consultant can help the attorney with critique of adverse witnesses as expressed in the analysis of expert reports, analysis of past testimony, and the development of cross examination questioning, as reflected by the current standard of care. Additionally, the consultant can work with mental health professionals also involved in the case, but who may not be knowledgeable of the latest research and related matters regarding PAS.
Consultation for the Litigation Process
One of the most valuable functions served by the consultant has to do with the development of general case strategy, which points are most important to emphasize and which are not. One of the biggest challenges that the Family Attorney faces is in reducing huge amounts of information and presenting it in a way that tells the story of the case in its most compelling terms. If PAS is not involved in a case, this challenge is still present. However, if it is involved, the challenge is even greater and the likelihood increases that the case presentation and focus become distracted and that the fragmentation increases dramatically. The reason for this is that alienation cases typically have huge amounts of information to be organized and somehow presented in a concise manner.
In addition to these overall litigation strategy services, the experienced consultant can also become deeply involved in the “nuts and bolts” of the case in the form of witness coaching, development of cross examination questions for adverse witnesses and related activities.
Cases involving Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) typically have mental health professionals already involved in the case, who may be otherwise competent, but naïve to PAS. Such therapists may find themselves treating a child who has become alienated from the one parent due to the actions of the other parent. These therapists, otherwise competent but naïve regarding PAS, often side with the alienated child’s resistance to seeing the unwanted parent, believing that they are “protecting” the child from the other parent, when in fact there is no danger. In PAS cases, these witnesses become “adverse witnesses,” unwittingly supporting the alienation. In the context of litigation, the attorney for the alienating parent is often able to persuade these therapists to offer an opinion that supports the child’s not seeing that parent, even though they have never even spoken to that parent. Once a therapist has done this, he or she has committed significant ethical errors that should diminish their credibility. However if the attorney for the alienated parent is not aware of the ethical intricacies of this process, this therapist’s opinion would go unchallenged, and potentially do great damage to the case. Exposing these ethical gaffs are extremely important to the truth of the case as it is understood by the Judge, however these types of ethical errors often go unchallenged. The consultant seasoned in PAS would not allow this process to go forward unchallenged.
Consultation With and Training of Mental Health Professionals Involved in the Case
In the process of having becoming involved in many PAS cases in multiple states, it is striking how many potentially good clinicians are available, except for the fact that they have not had the experience and guidance to know how to handle these difficult cases. Many years of experience has taught that well-intentioned, otherwise competent (yet untrained in the area of alienation) professionals have sometimes even unwittingly done harm, and have inadvertently worked in support of the alienation.
Again, very competent therapists, however not experienced in dealing with alienated children, will often ironically support the alienation. Likewise, evaluator’s naïve to PAS will assume most, if not all, allegations of abuse to be valid and accurate, and will not have the tools to effectively evaluate this and to rule it in or rule it out. Therefore, finding a PAS savvy evaluator is critical.
There once was a time when, if faced with the process of divorce, one could just pick up the phone, call an attorney and they would “handle it.” In today’s environment of an over 50% rate of divorce, both parents vying for the custodial rights over their children, and record levels of abuse reports of all types, such a strategy to just let the attorney handle it, is perilous. In today’s current environment, it is wise to have an experienced consultant, familiar with both the legal arena as well as the mental health arena, to serve as a consultant or perhaps a case manager to advise all on the team. As noted above, when alienation is involved, failure to have PAS savvy professional advice can be disastrous.