Our guest contributor this week is Judianne Cochran a nationally recognized expert/consultant in the following disciplines: sex offender profiling; interstate and international parental abduction; interstate custody and parental alienation. She has testified in numerous Courts throughout Ohio and the country. Judi presently resides in Columbus, Ohio.
It is important that family law attorneys remain aware of the patterns of behavior found in cases involving possible parental alienation and pay heed to ongoing complaints by clients experiencing even the early stages of alienating behavior. Early in a custody case it can be very apparent that one parent is extremely angry, bitter or feels betrayed, by both the other parent and by expectations of the “system”. Having to share custody may only intensify the anger due to having to continue the relationship with a person they despise. Then a campaign begins to align the children to his or her side and together with the children work to destroy any viable relationship with the target parent.
Often the alienating parent will file false domestic violence charges, seeking the easy route to obtaining sole custody by obtaining a civil protection order which includes the children. During this stage, the alienating parent, most often the mother, will seek support from family members and more often than not the local domestic violence shelter. These supporters often crowd the courtroom during hearings even though they aren’t called as witnesses. This phalange of people appear to operate in a quasi-bodyguard capacity, presenting the appearance of “protection” from the target parent.
One must understand some of the characteristics of the alienator to be able to correctly read the pattern as it develops.
- The alienating parent is obsessed with destroying the child’s relationship with the target parent. Children, especially younger children, will begin parroting the alienating parent and start to express anger or fear about the target parent. The child often cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings beyond what they are told by the alienating parent.
- A pattern of interference with parenting time begins very quickly after a custody order is in place. Telephone contact is either cut off or sharply curtailed. Visitation is often denied, often by claims that the child is ill or was ill during the night, or citing vague excuses.
- Their anger sometimes becomes irrational and no one, especially the court, can convince them they are wrong and anyone who tries becomes the enemy. At this stage, often the alienator will begin firing and retaining new attorneys in an effort to find someone who will “side” with them and file “smoke and mirror” motions in an effort to get the court to intercede and block the target parent from seeing the child. If met with any success in modifying the order, the alienating parent then has a powerful tool to use in their effort to convince the child there is danger in a relationship with the target parent.
- The court does not intimidate or deter them, and they will openly defy any orders. What may appear as a series of minor incidents actually foretell a fully developed case of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).
- In some cases, when thwarted in getting their way with the court, a parent may actually abduct and conceal the child. In their minds, they are doing “whatever is necessary” to “protect” the child, and they wholeheartedly believe the action is justified. It should be noted that in almost every instance of criminal custodial interference, once caught and arrested, the abducting parent claims they were simply protecting the child. Even a cursory look at the history of a case will often show the developing pattern of behavior and the fact that absolutely no evidence of abuse, domestic violence or inappropriate behavior has ever occurred.
It is important to document the escalating pattern of behavior of interference and defiance of court orders and make certain that this is presented appropriately to the court. It should not be allowed to continue for a long period of time because there is the danger that the alienation becomes so entrenched in the child that any hope of the target parent having any meaningful relationship with the child is destroyed. It is interesting to note that more often in the last several years a target parent with good representation in a CPO hearing may end up with a stay-away order between the parents, but the children are not included and the parenting time is not disrupted. This, of course, will engender more anger in the alienating parent, and it should be expected that the interference may escalate. It does appear that courts are beginning to recognize the behavior and the need for modification of the custody order.
It should be noted that while we are able to see the appellate decisions and reported cases, it should be kept in mind that most of these decisions at the trial level are not reported so careful attention should be paid to the current “climate of the court” in any jurisdiction. A well documented history, or log, of the patterns presented in supporting memorandum to a motion to modify is becoming more successful in Ohio courts today.
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