Parental Alienation – What is it? What can a court do?

A Canadian Court got in the news this week when it took three children from their mother and gave them to their father. The news is that the court not only gave custody to the dad but cut off virtually all access of the mom. The court found that the children were victims of Parental Alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome, also known as PAS.

So what is Parent Alienation? According to a judge speaking at the 42nd Annual Advanced Family Law seminar in Texas this last week, there’s no clear definition. Speaking as a part of a panel discussing the subject, the trial court judge stated, “what I think it is and what another judge thinks it is may be two different things,” or words to that effect.

Per the panel, some judges think that Parental Alienation does not exist unless the child states that he or she never wants to see the other parent again. Others do not have such a benchmark.

In an article entitled Differentiating between Parental Alienation Syndrome and Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect, Dr. Richard Gardner stated,

Parental alienation syndrome is a disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. In this disorder, one parent (the alienator, the alienating parent, the PAS-inducing parent) induces a program of denigration against the other parent (the alienated parent, the victim, the denigrated parent). However, this is not simply a matter of “brainwashing” or “programming” in that the children contribute their own elements into the campaign of denigration.

The American Journal of Family Therapy. Vol. 27, No. 2, p 97-107 (April-June 1999)

Citing Dr. Gardner and others, in an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Law, Dr. Ira Turat described eight specific criteria for the diagnosis of PAS:

1. A Campaign of Denigration

This includes “direct and indirect criticisms, sarcasm, distorted communications, and/or other modes of interpersonal attack.”

2. An Inadequate Rationale for the Denigration

When asked, “the manipulated children offer weak, frivolous, or even absurd rationalizations for their hatred of the targeted parent.”

3. An Absence of Ambivalent Feelings

The child’s feelings about the targeted parent lack “appropriate balance….[t]he alienated parent is seen as ‘all-bad.’”

4. Alleged “Independent” Thinking

The child is encouraged by the alienating parent to believe that the thoughts are the child’s own “independent” thoughts.

5. Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent

The child “aligns unconditionally with the parent instituting the alienation campaign.”

6. An Absence of Guilt

The child feels no guilt and “the alienated parent’s feelings are generally ignored.”

7. Scenarios Which Are Borrowed from the Alienator

The child uses “the alienating parent’s stories and explanations to articulate what is wrong with the targeted parent and as a rationale for despising the alienated parent.”

8. The Animosity Is Spread to Others Associated with the Targeted Parent

The friends and family of the targeted parent may also become subject to “unwarranted hostility” and “contempt.”

Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Review of Critical Issues, 18 J. Am. Acad. Matrimonial Law. 131, 133 (2002)

The fact that even with these criteria, courts differ in their analysis of when the syndrome exists and when it doesn’t raises serious implications for parents, of course, when considering what a court can do, if it finds that the condition exists.

As illustrated by the Canadian Court this week, trial courts have few limits with respect to how far they can go in limiting the access of a parent which they have determined is “guilty” of parental alienation. The Canadian Court limited the mother to access only in conjunction with counseling and special therapy. But that is not the limit.

Texas courts have denied parents all access to their children — no possession, no phone calls, no letters, no Skype, no Face Time, no emails…nothing.

How long can a court keep a parent away from their child completely? For as long as the court thinks is appropriate, or until an appellate court determines that the trial court has abused its discretion.

If you are a parent that has been alienated, this may be good news. If you are a parent that is currently alienating, this case — and the others that have happened that have not made the news — should stand as a stark warning.

If you would like to discuss any of this with the attorneys at the Beal Law Firm, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or by calling 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. Our web address is www.dfwdivorce.com.

Six Ways to Save Money in Your Divorce or Custody Case

Hiring a competent attorney for any type of case is expensive. This article is written assuming that you are going to hire an attorney for your divorce, custody or other family law case — whether you should is a topic for another day.

Now that you’ve gotten an attorney, here are some ways to save money:

1. Hire a good attorney, then listen to your attorney not your spouse or ex

It is amazing and unfortunate how many people will be in a huge battle with their ex or soon to be ex, yet believe everything the ex tells them, rather than listening to what their attorney says. If you don’t trust your attorney, get a new attorney. If you have an attorney that you trust, listen to him or her. It is highly unlikely that you can rely on what your ex says, if you’re at war.

2. Do what your attorney asks

During the case, your attorney will have a great many tasks for you to do — complete a timeline, answer various questionnaires, fill out an inventory, gather documents, etc. You don’t have to do anything, but if you don’t you are going to cost yourself a great deal of money, and maybe more. At a minimum, your attorney will have to spend time trying to solve the problem another way — without the information that he or she has asked you for. If you’ve been asked for something critical, and you don’t provide it, you could lose your entire case.

3. Send documents, photos, etc. in one email, rather than a bunch of emails

Your attorney will undoubtedly ask you to send him or her documents, photos, videos, etc. If you are providing hard-copies, when you deliver them, have them organized, but not to a crazy degree. If you organize them to the point that they cannot be easily copied, worked with, etc., you are actually costing yourself money. If you are sending the items by email, it will help if you send them in reasonably sized groups. That is, don’t send 1,000 documents in one email, but even more importantly don’t send one each in 1,000 different emails.

4. Don’t have your attorney draft an agreement until an agreement is reached

If you think that you have reached an agreement with your ex, that’s great. But, having your attorney draft a 70 page divorce decree, that then gets substantially changed a number of times, can cost you an unbelievable amount of money. Often, it’s best to bullet point tentative agreements and make sure that there is really a meeting of the minds before incurring the cost of a major drafting project.

5. Don’t fight any more than necessary and don’t fight over things that don’t matter

Fighting is expensive. It takes attorney time, and that’s what attorneys sell — so time is truly money. If something is worth fighting over, the cost may be worth it, but fighting needlessly or over things that really don’t matter is a way to waste an incredible amount of money. Spending $7,500.00 of attorneys’ fees to get a couch that you could replace for $750.00 is probably a really bad expenditure of money.

6. Do not use your attorney as a counselor

Most people know this, but it’s hard to remember it. Attorneys generally cost more than mental health professionals, and no matter how much you like your attorney, if the discussion you are having does not further the cause of your case, you will be far happier at invoice time if you have spent your time counseling with a friend or mental health professional, rather than your attorney.

Finally, remember: there’s saving money on the front end, and saving money on the back end. Any competent attorney can settle your case in a few days, if you are willing to give the other side everything that he or she wants. That may save you some attorneys’ on the front end, but cost you a fortune on the back end. So the bottom line is, look for realistic ways to save money, but be smart.

If you would like to talk to one of the Beal Law Firm attorneys about representation, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can always find us at www.dfwdivorce.com.

New Help for Some Non-Deadbeat Child Support Payors

For over 20 years, Texas law has been clear: Moms and Dads are not allowed to modify their own child support orders without court approval.

Up until now, however, the cases have all dealt with situations where child-support payors have attempted to privately agree with the custodial parent to reduce or eliminate the child support owed.

In those situations, the law is clear that the court cannot enforce a private agreement, or rely on it to reduce the amount obligation.

Recently, a case was decided by the Texas Supreme Court with a distinctly different set of facts — the payor paid even more than he owed, he just didn’t pay it the way that the order directed him to.

The Texas Supreme Court noted that it has never said that courts cannot consider evidence of direct payments that are made in a manner that is different than what is ordered in the support order.

Now, in the case of Ochsner v. Ochsner, the Texas Supreme Court has determined that where the payor has made payments that satisfy an obligation incurred by the custodial parent, the court is permitted to consider direct payments when deciding whether the payor has met his or her obligation to pay support.

In Ochsner, the dad paid tuition to his child’s school. The mom had enrolled the child in the school and incurred the obligation. The dad not only paid everything he owed, he paid more than $20,000.00 more than he owed.

The mom sued him anyway, planning to not only keep the benefit of everything the dad had paid, but get even more money.

The Texas Supreme Court, told the mom, “No.”

While this may be good news for some payers of child support, the court warned:

“Our decision today should be confined to the facts presented. It should not be read to hold that tuition payments always qualify as child support. Further, it should not be read to encourage spouses to make direct payments and thereby bypass the registry or other payment mechanisms set forth in the divorce decree. At a minimum such behavior may needlessly complicate proceedings. It carries risks regarding matters of proof, and under different circumstances a trial court might well be within its discretion in refusing to consider such payments.”

If you believe that you have a child support issue and would like to discuss it with the attorneys at the Beal Law Firm, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can also find us at www.dfwdivorce.com.

For the complete story on the cases discussed above, please see the following links:

Williams v. Patton, 821 S.W.2d 141 (Tex. 1991)

Ochsner v. Ochsner, 2016 Tex. LEXIS 569, 59 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1359 (Tex. 2016)

How Do Courts Determine What’s Fair? – Property Division in Divorce

Everyone knows that property gets divided in a divorce. Buy how? What is the outcome based upon?

In a Texas Divorce, the Judge is obligated to make a “just and right equitable division” of the community estate. The Judge is supposed to do what is fair, considering the facts. But what facts can the Judge consider?

Here are a few:

  1. The age of the parties;
  2. The health of the parties;
  3. The needs of the parties;
  4. The income of the parties;
  5. The earning capacity and opportunities for future wealth and income of the parties;
  6. The separate estate of each party;
  7. The debts and liabilities of the parties;
  8. The custody of any children of the marriage;
  9. Any adultery committed during the marriage; and
  10. Any cruelty by either party to the marriage.

What is interesting about many of these factors is the way that they can cut either way. For example, a significantly older spouse can argue, “I need more of the estate, because I don’t have many more years to earn.” With the same set of facts, the younger spouse can argue to the older, “You don’t need as much money as I do, because you are not going to have as many years of life left that you need to pay for.”

Property division can be tough in a divorce. Knowing what facts matter can help you help your attorney.

If you would like to discuss your situation with the attorneys at Beal Law Firm, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com, call 817.919.3616 or 214.414.0418 or find us at www.dfwdivorce.com.

This is what makes it all worthwhile – Thank you!

Practicing Divorce, Custody, and Family Law is hard. I’ve done it for a long time now. The burden of having so many people’s lives resting on what you do and the decisions that you make, day in and day out, gets extremely stressful.

Sometimes the courts are hard to deal with. Sometimes opposing counsel is hard to deal with. Sometimes you run out of toner at 11:30 p.m. when you’re trying to print the last few pages that you need to take with you to court in the morning.

Practicing law, in general, is difficult. Practicing family law is especially difficult. I know of the comparison because I had a general civil litigation practice, which included family law, for about 15 years.

The one thing that I learned years ago is that one of the hardest things to deal with is ingratitude. When anyone, in any line of work, stresses, sweats, and gives their all to help another person, and the recipient of the help is ungrateful, it provides an additional layer of anxiety to an already difficult task.

But maybe that’s why the unexpected surprises like the one I got in today’s email are so extra nice. It was not just gratitude, it was heartfelt uplifting gratitude:

Thank you so much for taking care of me and my children – I seriously cannot thank you enough….you saved us

much love and forever grateful!

[Divorce and Custody Client] and her [Confidential number] kids!

Thank you Ms. [Confidential]!! You just reminded me why we do this!!

EDB

You can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418 or find us at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Off to school – Ready to Learn

Next week is the 42nd Annual Advanced Family Law Course put on by the Texas Bar. Most years, it takes place in San Antonio. Every year it is great.

What’s great about it? It is Continuing Legal Education (CLE) at its finest. We lawyers get to learn. We get to think about the law and talk about changes being made by the legislature and the courts. We get to talk about where the law has been and where it is going.

The course lasts from Monday to Thursday and has 21.5 hours of education available. That’s more education than the State Bar requires attorneys to get in an entire year.

Some attorneys dread CLE. Some of us love it. Those of us that love it a great deal get as much of it as we can.

Lawyers that get at least double the required amount can join the College of the State Bar of Texas. As the College’s website says:

The Texas Bar College is an honorary society of lawyers who are among the best trained attorneys in Texas. Members are qualified attorneys who are interested in both high ethical standards and improved training for all Texas attorneys.

The College recognizes Texas lawyers who attend at least double the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) required by the State Bar of Texas.

What makes a good attorney? One thing is education – and a major part of a lawyer’s education is the continuing education that he or she gets.

Even while some of Beal Law Firm’s attorneys are in San Antonio getting more educated, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or find us at www.dfwdivorce.com. We will have several attorneys in the office and ready to help every day next week, and even those of us in San Antonio will be available to help via skype, facetime, email, and telephone.

I Want to Move – But I Don’t Want You to Move: Lifting the Geographic Restriction

Relocation cases are difficult. One of the main reasons is that it is hard to find a compromise. If mom and dad get a Texas divorce, and mom wants to move with the children to New York, the compromise of mom moving to Tennessee is not likely to make anyone happy. Since it’s hard to settle a relocation case, they often end up going to trial – and that can be expensive and time-consuming.

Relocation is really the other side of the geographic restriction coin. If the prior decree or order does not have a geographic restriction (also known as a residency restriction or domicile restriction), then theoretically there is no relocation case or battle that needs to be fought.

When there is a geographic restriction, any attempt by the primary parent to move beyond the restricted area, can lead to a relocation case. Relocation cases can be dealing with moves across town or moves out of State or out of the Country.

If tried to the judge alone (a “bench trial”), the issue of relocation is completely within the discretion of the court. The parties in a relocation case have a choice, however, because the issue can be tried to a jury. In fact, per the Texas Family Code, the judge cannot alter the jury’s finding on the issue.

So whether to a judge or jury, the question is: What kind of evidence will you need to win your side of the argument?

The Supreme Court of Texas in the case of Lenz v. Lenz listed a number of factors for courts to consider when making the determination of whether a request for relocation should be granted. These so-called Lenz Factors include the following:

  1. The reasons for and against the move;
  2. A comparison of education, health, and leisure opportunities;
  3. Whether any special needs or talents of the children can be accommodated;
  4. The effect on extended family relationships;
  5. The effect on visitation and communication with the noncustodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with a child; and
  6. Whether the noncustodial parent has the ability to relocate.

When considering whether to file a relocation case or how to defend one, it is critical to determine and gather all the evidence that you can on all of the Lenz Factors.

If you need to talk to someone about geographic restriction (domicile restriction, residency restriction) and how to get it in place, keep it, or fight against it, you can contact us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or find us at www.dfwdivorce.com