10. Even excellent assessments may be ignored.
You may be rewarded to find that your assessor has understood the situation clearly, has written an accurate and persuasive report, and has made recommendations that would really help. This is great, but it’s not enough. Your judge might not read it at all because of distractions such as other problems that arise in your case, or because of delays. Your judge might just skim through it or ask your lawyer to summarize it for him or her because of time pressures, or sadly, sometimes, because he or she doesn’t think it’s worth his/her time. So much time may pass in the management of your case that the assessment becomes irrelevant because the children have grown too old or because the situation has changed. Finally, it may be read and noted and still make no difference because your judge is unwilling to order the remedy that is needed.
11. Inadequate or destructive court orders
If the alienation in your case is mild or moderate, then continued contact with the alienator can and should continue, provided that your relationship with your children is supported and encouraged. This means that there must be no interference with your parenting time, no interference with your communications with and about your child, and no attempts to influence your child to dislike or reject you. Court orders can easily address the first two, and there are effective remedies for the third, although they can be more complicated and more expensive. What should be ordered is strict adherence to a schedule that provides the maximum time with you as is appropriate given the specifics of your situation, with a penalty or some kind of negative consequence built in if the order is not followed. For example, if you are supposed to have 50-50 custody and the alienator has routinely kept or taken your child away during your scheduled time, then time away from you must be made up by subtracting from the alienator’s access time, at your convenience, e.g. added to your summer vacation time if that works for you. This is not an extreme remedy. It’s logical, straightforward, and if enforced very likely to be effective.
Unfortunately it is common, and I suspect, usual that no penalty for flouting agreements is ordered. I have heard of many, many cases where alienators continue to ignore orders, so the alienated parent goes back to court for help, the alienator is reprimanded, and then the alienator simply continues to ignore the orders. This is ideal for the alienator. You are forced to exhaust your financial and emotional resources while your child gets older and more alienated, and then it becomes too late to do anything.
Generally the reason alienators give for not ensuring that your child spends scheduled time with you is that the child doesn’t want to be with you. Some alienators plead helplessness, others claim to support their child’s “right to choose not to see you”. Many judges respond to this by ordering counselling for you and your child, and ordering that visits or access with you resume or increase based on the child’s wishes. The sincere but incorrect belief is that counselling will fix the problems causing the child’s rejection of you. Of course it can’t, because the problem is the alienator. In fact counselling can most definitely make things worse, and I will dedicate a future post to this subject. Making access with you contingent on your alienated child’s wishes is a gift to the alienator and disaster for you and your child. It is imperative that your lawyer make access with you non-negotiable, just as medical or dental appointments and school and various other activities that children might not choose for themselves are non-negotiable. It is imperative that the alienator is given incentives to comply with orders that support your relationship with your child, and negative consequences for ignoring those orders. Exactly what those carrots and sticks would be will vary with each situation. As previously mentioned, paying a penalty by giving you compensatory time with your child is an obvious choice, and maybe financial incentives of some sort would apply. You and your lawyer will do well to spend time and attention coming up with effective incentives. At this point in time it seems unwise to expect that a judge would propose anything, so you and your lawyer must do it.
The next post will describe the very different responses needed if the alienation in your case is not mild or moderate, but severe.