Attorneys may fill several roles in cases that involve Parental Alienation. The most common is serving as the lawyer for one of the parents. Attorneys may also be appointed by the court to serve as a GAL (Guardian ad Litem) for the child or as a “best interest” attorney representing the child. Attorneys involved in Parental Alienation cases, must have skill sets and knowledge of legal procedures that go beyond those used in most other family law circumstances.
When the attorney represents the target parent, it is essential to ask the client to carefully document past events. Every moment in the child’s life prior to the onset of Parental Alienation must be documented and potential exhibits and witnesses identified. Lorandos Joshi firm attorneys recommend a method by which a master chronology file and a master document file are created. Ultimately this new master file includes every file, document, photograph, video, and witness statement or transcript. This database includes a complete list of all witnesses with contact information and citations to relevant places in the master document and chronology file. Organization of this material is critical to help the judge understand what has happened both before the onset of Parental Alienation and after.
The attorney for the target parent must demonstrate how the behavior of the alienating parent contributed to the development of Parental Alienation, and whether it is in the mild stage of Parental Alienation or in the more advanced stage of moderate or severe Parental Alienation. The attorney must carefully document and prove to the court the campaign of denigration, emotional poisoning, and brainwashing that has occurred. It is the attorney’s challenge to carefully explain to the judge how this came about, assign appropriate responsibility, and to offer expert recommendations to ameliorate the condition. Attorneys in this difficult circumstance must advise the client with regard to appropriate behavior and management of his or her emotions. The attorney must aid the client to be steady, truthful, and direct in testimony about being a target and help the client present detailed descriptions of the alienating behaviors that are victimizing the child. The attorney for the target parent also has the responsibility of carefully selecting an expert either by mutual agreement with opposing counsel or without it. The expert must be thoroughly familiar with the research or they will not qualify under the Frye, Daubert, or the Canadian Mohan standards.
An attorney in these circumstances should consider retaining a mental health consultant as a member of the litigation team. Dr. Michael Bone and Dr. Richard Sauber (2012) recommend that a mental health consultant should assist the attorney and the target parent in organizing files such as emails between the parties, proof that false allegations are fabricated, preparing questions for the direct and cross-examination of various witnesses; pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the case findings and opinions of the therapist and evaluators; screening collateral contacts; and other ways of helping the attorney represent the “unpopular” position of the target parent.
An attorney may represent the preferred parent in a case in which the child has refused contact with the rejected parent. In this role, the attorney must understand the possible causes of contact refusal including alienation, estrangement, and other mental conditions. In addition to conducting her own assessment, the attorney may want to arrange for a comprehensive evaluation of the family. That could be accomplished through an agreed order with opposing counsel or a motion to the court. If the attorney determines that her client is actively indoctrinating the child against the target parent, she will be confronted by an ethical dilemma – – – whether to zealously advocate for a parent who is perpetrating psychological child abuse or to withdraw from that task.
Lorandos, Bernet and Sauber (2013) recommend that the attorney for the alienating parent avoid contributing to child abuse by adopting the following strategies: (1) The attorney should advise the parent to cease his or her alienating activities and find a way to encourage the child to have a good relationship with the other parent. The attorney should point out that a collaborative approach to child rearing is likely to benefit both the parent and the child in the long run. Unfortunately, this approach may work with naïve and some active alienators, but not with obsessed alienators. (2) The attorney should advise the parent to accept a parenting plan and a parenting time schedule that allows both parents to be involved in raising the child. Unfortunately, an obsessed alienator is unlikely to accept that advice. (3) If the alienating parent is unable to understand or follow the attorney’s advice, the attorney should resign from the case.
When an attorney is appointed by the court to serve as the child’s GAL, the attorney has the duty to identify and serve the best interests of the child. Any competent GAL must educate herself regarding the various causes of contact refusal. In alienation cases this representing the child’s best interests will probably not be what the child consciously wants or explicitly demands. When the child is experiencing Parental Alienation the child will express an adamant desire is never to see the target parent again. The attorney GAL should not support the child’s demands because they are usually driven by a false belief that the target parent is evil or dangerous. The GAL may request to have the child and the parents evaluated by a competent mental health professional who could help the parents, the GAL, and the other legal personnel understand the basis for the child’s contact refusal, whether it is Parental Alienation or some other explanation.
Some courts may appoint a “best interests” attorney to represent the child and to make legal decisions for the child, such as whether or not to testify in court, whether or not to submit to a psychological evaluation, and whether or not to agree to the release of medical records. These considerations are often based on the child’s maturity, credibility and the harmfulness to the child of participating in court proceedings.
Everyone involved in a case should keep in mind that alienated children offer compelling testimony that is convincing to the child’s attorney and to the judge, even though it is based on fabricated statements that these indoctrinated children come to believe are true. A GAL or an attorney representing the child must be familiar with the research into Parental Alienation so to avoid the traps and land mines that are created for them by the alienating parent. We believe severely alienated children should be restricted from testifying because they are alienated and unable to express their true feelings or unbiased.