Is this the Final Straw in a Parental Alienation Case?
Recently, I read a Facebook post of a mom whose child was alienated from her, and she was ready to give up. Dad had been alienating her daughter from her for years. The alienation had reached the point that her daughter had refused to visit her for nearly two years, and texting had been a one-way street with mom reaching out and daughter ignoring the texts or only responding with hatred.
Mom had been convinced that love conquers all, and if mom would continue to be loving and patient, her daughter would eventually see the light and come around. Then mom learned from a friend that her daughter had received the main part at her school’s performance. Of course, neither her daughter nor her ex-husband notified her even though they shared joint legal custody!
Mom decided that she wanted to attend the school event. She bought flowers, sat in the back row, and with tears in her eyes watched the performance. Afterwards, she wanted to quickly give her daughter the flowers and leave to avoid a scene. Her daughter stormed off stage, screamed at her mother (and for all to hear): “I hate you; you ruined my life and my performance. I never ever want to see you again!”. Dad just stood there watching it, letting this awful scene unfold, and finally jumped in only to agree with their daughter that mom was not invited and had no right to be there. Mom announced in her post that she was going to give up contact with her daughter.
Should mom give up on a relationship with her daughter or could an attorney fix this situation? This is a common question that clients ask me quite often and it’s an important consideration before litigating a situation involving parental alienation.
As painful as these discussions are, our attorneys start the conversation with determining the client’s goals and the feasibility of those goals. Some of the considerations that our attorneys discuss with the client are:
Duration of the conflict: If a parent has not been in contact with his or her child for many years, the reunification process will take longer, become more arduous and provides additional opportunities for the alienator to thwart the process of reunification. This usually translates into an increased cost of litigation.
Cost of experts: To properly litigate a parental alienation case and to successfully reunite with an alienated child, you will likely need the assistance of one or more experts. Clients are often ready to pay for the attorney fees, but do not realize the additional cost of expert fees.
Age of the child: When a child is 17 years old, the court will have jurisdiction, the ability to order what parents must do, for one more year. One of the questions that we will discuss with our client is what we can accomplish in twelve months. Of course, our client wants to have a relationship with his or her child throughout adulthood, but our approach to litigation will be different than if the child is in elementary school.
Client’s ability to finance the cost of litigation: the cost of a custody trial after an extended period of no contact versus a simple motion to order counseling is significantly different. One subject that we always discuss is our client’s end goal and ability to financially reach that goal. Don’t start a battle unless you can win the war.
When and how to give up: Sometimes a client wants to give up and we understand. If the client has other children, a parent must weigh the emotional and financial toll this litigation causes to the remaining family members. Will the damage to the family outweigh the benefit? Sometimes it no longer will. After consulting with the reunification expert, your attorney, and family members, a parent may decide to stop the litigation. Some parents write a letter telling their child that they always welcome a relationship; some parents write their ex a letter to eliminate an argument that they “didn’t care to see their child”. Talk to your attorney about the consequences of giving up. Lastly, notifying the child that you will stop the litigation is best accomplished with the support of a counselor and in the presence of a counselor, allowing the child to properly understand that the alienator isn’t winning; rather, this is an act of love by the targeted parent.
When and how to change custody: When the alienator will not cooperate with reunification, counseling and normalization of contact, the targeted parent may be left with no choice but to seek a change of custody. There are still important considerations before starting this process. Parenting the alienated child will be difficult for some time; it will take a significant amount of time to prepare for trial, attend trial, and to attend counseling following the change of custody. Life will likely be difficult for an extended period. We’ve seen parents winning a custody case, and then giving up after the change of custody.
Each of these considerations is painful, in addition to an already very heartbreaking situation. However, the first step in this process is not that difficult. Call our office at 616-285-0808 for a free consultation and let’s explore together what your options are.