WANTED FOR UNETHICAL "WALL OF SHAME"
WANTED FOR THE UNETHICAL "WALL OF SHAME"
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Friday, January 21, 2011
Some Ethical Attorneys Do Exist!
Filed Under (Family Law, Divorce) by admin on 05-02-2008
This month I will focus on Parental Alienation, which is keeping the non-custodial parent, typically the father, out of the child’s life. Parental Alienation is a very sensitive and highly complex topic. In fact, Parental Alienation Syndrome (“PAS”) is a somewhat recent phenomenon that is often disputed but very real concept, usually resulting in very dire consequences. I have been holding off on approaching the topic of parental alienation because I wanted to aptly “time” this very heated discussion. However, recently I was representing a non-custodial father in a child visitation case in Family Court, where we had every reason to have the court rightfully grant my client at least supervised visitation. However, the court acquiesced in the custodial parent’s deliberate interference with child visitation, essentially co-signing and perpetuating the alienation. After not having any contact with his son for six years, the court refused to order even telephone contact for my client, reasoning that she “would not put the child through that”. “The child” had a relationship with his father, he in fact lived with both parents for a period of his life.
Parental alienation is very different from estrangement. The former is when the custodial parent unjustifiably interferes with the relationship between the non-custodial parent and his child(ren), while the latter is when the child(ren)’s contact with the non-custodial parent ceases for justifiable reasons, usually direct issues between the child and that parent. And although some experts use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference in the way the courts treat them, the depth and breadth of intervention and the impact on the child, to name a few.
In estrangement cases, more often than not the child was either born out of wedlock, never lived with the non-custodial parent, was abandoned by the non-custodial parent after a bitter divorce or experienced domestic violence in the household (including child abuse/neglect), which prevented or stifled the opportunity for a meaningful relationship to have ever developed between that parent and child. For example, some of the more volatile environments that can lead to estrangement include the child:
1. being the victim of abuse from that parent;
2. witnessing that parent as the abuser;
3. witnessing that parent’s immature and irresponsible behavior;
4. being subjected to that parent’s unduly rigid and restrictive parenting; and/or,
5. witnessing that parent’s own psychological, psychiatric issues or drug/alcohol abuse.
Consequently, in many of these cases child visitation was never really an issue because either there was never really a nurturing relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child, the parent continues to behave in a way that perpetuates the estrangement or the non-custodial parent’s whereabouts are or become unknown (especially where there is an issue of child support). Furthermore, more often than not, getting court-ordered child visitation with the non-custodial parent in these instances undoubtedly requires that the non-custodial parent proves him or herself to the court. And although that may sound like a hurdle, oftentimes it is just a matter of being consistent and persistent, showing the court that the pattern of behavior that lead to the estrangement no longer exists. In essence, establishing or re-establishing a healthy relationship with the child(ren) is very important. Once a relationship has been established, typically starting off with telephone contact and/or supervised visitation, the focus then becomes one of stability. The courts must always keep the “in the best interests of the child” standard at its helm. In that, the path to reconciliation consists of establishing and implementing a very practical and gradual child visitation schedule. The range and degree of the child visitation schedule will depend on several relevant factors, i.e. the age of the child, the child’s knowledge of or previous relationship with the parent, the child’s emotional, psychological well-being, etc.
However, what is one of the most important factors is the emotional impact the estrangement has on the child(ren). Experts state that even in cases where there were issues of volatility within the family, children sometimes exhibit feelings of anger at not being able to establish a bond with the non-custodial parent. For this reason, it is much more important to address the emotional and psychological impact of the estrangement, in a great number of cases, than it is to highlight the need for establishing or re-establishing a bond between parent and child. The court process, as well as the parties, can aggravate this situation if either minimizes the significance of the child’s emotional predicament. Anger, resentment, guilt, sadness are all typical of a child who has experienced or endured estrangement with a parent. And since children rarely understand their emotions or know how to effectively channel their feelings, approaching the case from that standpoint only facilitates the rehabilitative process for both parents and child. Developing and maintaining a relationship with both parents is tantamount to the child being able to better manage conflict and to establishing healthy intimate relationships in adulthood.
When I represent clients in these sort of cases, I always try to prepare them for the varying phases of the proceeding. I always explain to them that their own behavior, both then and now, plays a very significant role in the court process and the length of time it takes to reach the ultimate goal.