Litigating Parental Alienation Cases

CKV - Plum LovelyI’ve worked on a wide — you could say wild — variety of cases in my 30+ year legal career, but occasionally a field or topic emerges that’s outside my experience. Continuing Legal Ed — or CLE, said Cee Ell Ee in some states, Klee in others — courses are some of the best “new topic” alerts.

One showed up in my mailbox earlier this week that I think has, sadly, enormous story potential: a seven-hour class sponsored by the CLE Institute of the State Bar of Montana on Litigating Parental Alienation Cases.” Micro version: One parent claims the other has deliberately interfered with his or her relationship with their child, and asks a court to intervene.

From the brochure: “This workshop will help attorneys recognize PA. Participants will learn to identify specific behaviors of the favored, or alienating, parent, and those of the rejected parent and the affected child that are commonly observed in these cases. Presenters will cover what PA is and provide suggestions about case management, litigation strategy, and options for families where PA is at issue.”

Speakers include a psychologist, licensed professional counselors, and an attorney who has worked extensively as a guardian ad litem (meaning she’s been appointed to advocate for the children, for the limited purposes of the litigation), parenting evaluator, and family law mediator.

Some of the topics on the schedule:

“Essence of Parenting—Attachment Theory and Failures of Compassion”

“Introduction to Parental Alienation”

“Primary Manifestations of PA — Levels of PA”

“Specific PA Behaviors—Introduction to Bayes’ Theorem”

“DSM-5” (a discussion of applicable topics from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition)

Others: gathering evidence, examining experts, controversies, a discussion of case law, the role of guardians ad litem, parenting evaluations and parenting coordinators, family reunification options, and alternative placement options for severely alienated children.

It’s easy to roll our eyes or shake our heads at some of the terminology, which can border on psycho babble. Or to shake our heads over the terrible things people do to children—although frankly, I’m not so sure that the world is any worse than it always was; we just have new terms and ways of understanding human problems. And that’s the key, I think, to using this kind of information in your stories: use it to uncover the heart of the conflict between your characters, to understand how they respond and react, how they externalize or demonstrate their emotions. How does a bystander—a grandparent, a teacher, a family friend, a parent’s new partner, an older sibling—respond? And yes, how do law enforcement and judicial systems become involved? Because, ultimately, story is part of how we understand and cope with the world around us.

(Painting: Plum Lovely, acrylic on canvas, by my friend Christine Vandeberg)