What Are Some Methods Of Proving Parental Alienation?

Proving parental alienation is difficult. It can be done, but oftentimes attorneys and parents will give up too soon. In Attorney Kelly Peterson’s opinion and experience, one of the most powerful tools to help prove parental alienation is to depose the other party. For those that are unfamiliar, a deposition is an opportunity that an attorney has to question the other party, outside of the presence of the judge, for up to seven hours. There is a court reporter or a stenographer in attendance who puts the deponent, the person being deposed, under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The deponent’s attorney is there and can raise objections to any question that is asked, but the deponent still has to answer the question.

For example, if the attorney asks a question that opposing counsel determines or believes to be hearsay, he can state his objection, but the person being deposed has to answer the question regardless.

In deposing someone in an alienation case, here are some examples of how such a deposition might go and how it can be useful:

The first step for a deposition is to set the deponent up. The questioning attorney should ask the person if he or she has had their deposition taken before or testified at trial. The next step is to advise the deponent to answer all questions audibly and ask if he or she has any drugs, alcohol or memory conditions or impulse control problems that might negatively impact his or her testimony.

Next, Attorney Peterson sometimes asks the deponent about how to be honest. For example, he asks them if they understand what exaggeration is and how that’s a form of deception. He asks if the person knows what minimization is and how that is a form of deception or how omitting important facts is a form of deception. Attorney Peterson gets the definition crystal clear from the very beginning that if someone is exaggerating, or is leaving important truths out, he or she is essentially lying.

Additionally Attorney Peterson introduces the concept of lack of insight at the beginning of a deposition. He asks if the individual has ever been deceptive through minimization, exaggeration, omitting important truths and those kinds of things. That sets the stage for when he catches the person in those types of behaviors later on.

Often Attorney Peterson will then go into parenting ability or co-parenting ability. He asks how they feel about the other parent and what do they think the other parent’s strengths and weaknesses are. He also asks the deponent what he or she thinks his or her own strengths and weaknesses are and if he or she thinks there is anything wrong with either parent.

Attorney Peterson gets the deponent to explain all of the things about his or her parenting that he or she believes to be good or bad about the other side and he wants the person to commit to that. Once the person has committed himself or herself to those answers he then begins presenting more specific facts. He might ask if the deponent has ever engaged in a certain kind of behavior and he gets more and more specific in the questioning.

When deposing someone on parental alienation, the case has to be structured very carefully. One of the ways that Attorney Peterson begins is by asking about structure or boundaries. He is looking for what kind of structures or boundaries the alienating parent imposes on the child. Quite often that parent doesn’t have any. They do not provide enough discipline for the child. They do not provide enough structure and boundaries. The reason that they do that is to gain the child’s preference over the other parent.

Very often in alienation cases the alienated parent is actually the better parent. He or she ends up being the parent who institutes rules, structure, discipline and chores. The alienating parent often doesn’t implement that kind of structure.

Attorney Peterson may ask questions like, “She doesn’t really like rules, restrictions and chores. Does she?” or “This child is very attached to presents, isn’t she? You love your daughter, right? You don’t want to be overly harsh with her, do you?”

He also asks things like, “Are you on the side of being overly indulgent rather than being overly harsh? Do you think that you’re too indulgent? Do you think you impose enough rules? What are the rules and restrictions in your household?”

In doing so, Attorney Peterson gets the person to commit themselves in those kinds of areas, he then begins going through the chronological specific events. He then starts asking things like, “What about this incident on this day?” or “Let’s turn to exhibit seven. Do you see this record? Doesn’t this show X, Y, or Z?”

All of a sudden the individual is now backpedaling from what they said earlier.

Another area that Attorney Peterson addresses during a deposition and that is he will ask the deponent whether they allow disrespect of other people including the other parent.

For example, “You would say that it’s pretty important to teach a child to be respectful and polite and obedient to adults, right? How do you teach the child to do that generally? List all the steps you do to teach the child to be respectful of others and yourself. Do you think you’re good at teaching the child to respect others?”

Attorney Peterson then will go through all of the incidents in which the other parent appears to have enabled the child to be disrespectful of others. He will then often go through how allowing or reinforcing practiced rejection of his client, or the alienating parent, affects the child.

“Do you think that the child’s been alienated, and what percentage of the blame do you think you bear?

“Who is responsible for the quality of the relationship between the child and the other parent?”

Often time parties will get tripped up on that question. What they don’t realize is both parents have a responsibility to maintain a high quality of a relationship between the child and the other parent. However, alienating parents don’t believe that. They think that the relationship between the other parent and the child is the other parent’s business and not their own. When you expose that and ask the alienating parent whose job it is to help maintain the relationship very often the alienating parent will say it’s the other parent’s responsibility and that speaks volumes.

Additionally Attorney Peterson will sometimes then introduce concepts that perhaps the other parent has never thought about before such as research on alienation.

For example, one concept is that research demonstrates that children who have been enlisted into alienating postures most often do so between the ages of 8 and 15. Then, there is a hardening of the rejection because children are able to maintain a consistent stance of anger and rigid refusal over a long period of time.

Attorney Peterson will take the person through a lot of the psychological principles underpinning alienation and he will ask questions like, “Do you believe that that principle is true? Do you think that it applies in your case at all?”

A lot of times the individual has never thought about a particular concept like this before and now are being asked to consider the concept right there in the deposition. This requires the person to be really honest and often he or she doesn’t know what else to say.

 

Another area of parental alienation Attorney Peterson brings up during a deposition is passively allowing a child to persist in negative thoughts about the other parent as another form of alienating.

He asks how the alienating parent handles the situation when the child comes and complains about the target parent.

“Do you ever force the child to go?”

Often the answer is no. Instead they allow the child to persist in negative beliefs, and when the child makes a negative statement about the alienated parent, instead of trying to get the target parent’s perspective to find out what happened they immediately bite that hook line and sinker and begin validating and reinforcing that belief.

One quote from a psychologist is that alienated children can appear in charge when everyone is marching to their beat, but the favored parent almost never insists that the child’s drum beating changes no matter how extreme. That’s often the case where alienated children seem to be in charge, and an alienating parent passively allows it.

Attorney Peterson introduces these psychological principles and then asks the alienating parent if those principles ever apply to them.

“Have you ever done this? Has this ever happened in your case?”

Again, he gets the person to commit to the answers. After he or she has committed, he once again takes the chronology his client has done and go through it incident by incident by incident and reinforce that the other parent may have been passively allowing the child to persist in negative beliefs against the target parent.

Another thing that Attorney Peterson talks about during parental alienation cases is exaggerating differences between the parents and the children. For example, that could be claiming abuse or transferring anxiety to the child.

If a parent were to ask a child, “Does your other parent ever do A, B, or C when you are at his/her house? No?”

It’s a way of really emphasizing the difference between the two parents to the detriment of the other parent and the child. So is talking about how abusive the other person is, or transferring anxiety.

Transferring anxiety may be where one parent exaggerates his or her emotions to a child and makes him or feel worry or sadness that the parent is in tears, for example. This could instill a fear for the child that there must be something to be worried about. Often personal details are shared that exceed the child’s cognitive and emotional abilities to handle.

Attorney Peterson will go through those types of psychological principles as well, and then he will ask the alienating parent if he or she has ever done that. When they say no, he once again goes back to the chronology and shows incident by incident how they have done so.

Additionally Attorney Peterson will ask an alienating parent about abuse concerns. He will get them to talk of how abusive or how horrible the other parent, his client, is and then he will go through the actual evidence, or rather, lack of evidence that they have to demonstrate this. When going through all of the evidence, there is often a pattern of exaggerated or distorted beliefs of how dangerous the target parent really is. However, again the idea is to first get the parent to commit to it.

Oftentimes the source of their information is unreliable hearsay statements from the child. If the child is truthful that is one thing. However, oftentimes a child is triangulating both parents, telling each what they want to hear. There are all kinds of reasons why a child might triangulate, including if they feel pressure to report what the questioning parent wants to hear, or because they genuinely prefer the alienating parent because of that parent’s lack of structure or rules and boundaries.

Attorney Peterson also asks the alienating parent to define every single reason why he or she believes the other parent is not fit and he gets them to commit to it. Next, if the child is not credible, he will get the parent to commit that he or she is basing a lot of his or her testimony on the child’s statements. He will go through and start talking about any evidence that he has of the child’s lack of credibility; if the child has made contradictory statements in the past or has said things just to get their way.

He might ask the alienating parent, “How credible do you think this child is? What about this statement or that statement? This is the information you’re relying on and concluding that my client is abusive.”

Additionally over involving a child in decision making and then hiding behind the child’s choice is one of the biggest ways that parents alienate. In these situations Attorney Peterson asks questions about how important the child is in the decision process. Often alienating parents will say the child is very important in the process. However, at trial he or she will be made to understand, often by expert witnesses in the court, the child is too immature to make a reasonable decision most of the time. Hiding behind an immature child’s choice and relinquishing the role of the parent is not helpful to the child.

Additionally Attorney Peterson will ask the parent what he or she thinks the long term consequences would be for the child when practicing rejection of the primary attachment figure of a parent. He may ask, “If a child practices rejection of a parent over and over again what impact will that have on them later in life when they have a rough time with a spouse or if they have an autistic child that’s difficult? Won’t that increase the likelihood that they will reject spouse or children?”

By hiding behind the child’s choice the parent is often helping the child practice rejection, which is going to serve them poorly in the future. Once again, when these things come up, Attorney Peterson will go back to the chronology of all of the times that the parent has hidden behind the child’s choice. He then starts to discuss with the deponent all of the various things that the parent could have done but failed to do, such as consequences for the child who is practicing rejection against the other parent, like refusing to see him or her.

Another area of important to look at in a deposition is interference with parent time and failure to adequately support the parent time, which are other methods by which alienation can occur. These can be more subtle than outright disparaging the other parent. There are multiple and varied methods by which alienation can occur. If someone has an attorney who understands them and who knows which psychologists or therapists can help identify what’s really going on, then that person has a much better chance of demonstrating that alienation is occurring.

Oftentimes alienating parents will blame negative behavior of the child on the other parent, or the target parent. To address these issues, Attorney Peterson will ask questions such as, “Well you love your child and she has some behavioral problems, yes? Do you believe there’s any increase or decrease in behavioral problems after a visit with the target parent?”

They inevitably will say yes, that there is an increase in these bad behaviors. So Attorney Peterson will then go through the research and quote the research showing how the alienating parents seem to seize multiple opportunities to link the child’s negative behavior to association with the other parent.

Attorney Kelly Peterson will go through all of the ways in the chronology to show the alienating parent has done exactly that and blamed negative behavior on the child. He will then ask questions about how the parent may have recruited others to their agenda; another therapist for example.

Once the deponent has been nailed down on their actual attitudes and beliefs in a deposition, that deposition transcript will be used to demonstrate to a custody evaluator and to the court, exactly the ways that the alienating parent is behaving in a way that would tend to diminish the love and affection of the child towards the target parent.

After a deposition, if the person deviates from his or her previous answers, Attorney Kelly Peterson can then use their deposition transcript, making it very clear to the court what’s really going on.

For more information on Ways Of Proving Parental Alienation, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children