1 Do not use the term ‘Parental Alienation’ or ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’, ‘Alienator’ or ‘Target Parent’. This is key. Parental Alienation seems to be an idea that judges are simply not ready for yet, as one of our survey respondents points out, after getting a useful expert’s report:
“Amazing report that was dead on accurate: took 19 hours of interviewing and 8 psychometric tests of both parents, child and grandparents on each side. Diagnosis V995.51 (child abuse) and v61.29. Alienator showed in test to get MAXIMUM score on narcissism test. 220 page report from the psychiatrist and….Judge said PA was an American thing and the report was waffle!”
Many, or perhaps most, judges find these terms a turn-off for these reasons:
(i) For some judges, this is a fairly new idea, even though in the higher courts, PA has been referred to as ‘mainstream’ – but some still think of PA as “American twaddle” or “psycho-babble”;
(ii) Judges like to feel ‘in charge’ (this is because they are!), and so like to come to their own conclusions;
(iii) Although PA is ‘new’, judges are very familiar with the effects of the ‘parental manipulation’ of children – but seem not to like a label;
(iv) Sometimes, perhaps, using this term makes it sound like you are the victim, not your child. You are a victim, of course, but so is your child, and your child’s best interests is the thing the court will want to focus on;
(v) In similar vein, make sure you keep talking about your child and how awful it is for them, and how you want to make it better. Your feelings and emotions are not the court’s concern;
2 Be respectful. Address a District Judge as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ and a Circuit Judge as ‘Your Honour’. Judges in the High Court and Court of Appeal are ‘My Lord’ or ‘My Lady’;
3 Shut up!
You want to tell your story, and people get that, and make allowances, but keep your words to the absolute minimum. If the judge or one of the lawyers wants to know more, they will ask. Judges will usually give you time at the end of hearings to add anything you feel may have been missing from your evidence. If not, ask;
4 Remember that, whatever you know about the law, the system, CAFCASS or anything else, the judge will know more. Judges are experienced lawyers – most have been family law solicitors or barristers for many years before they became a judge. This does not mean that they will be right, and you should not be afraid to challenge judges, or bring case law or anything else to their attention if you feel that they have overlooked something. Just keep within the confines of respectful discourse. Your cause will not be best served by making an enemy out of the judge;
5 Follow the judges pen. Don’t gabble. Don’t start your next sentence until the judge has caught up and made all the notes she or he needs to make – remember that although judges know the law, they do not know your case anything like as well as you do;
6 Judges, and the entire ‘system’, have conservative instincts. Family law uses a ‘no Order’ principle, that is ‘if in doubt, do now’t’. This is a problem. This means that, whether you are seeking contact that you are not currently getting, or especially a Transfer of Residence Order, you face an uphill battle;
This is a difficult one. Despite our recommendations that wishes and feelings reports are a waste of time, they will still be ordered, because they are relatively quick, and cheap. They are usually prepared by relatively inexperienced CAFCASS officers, and simply record what the child says it wants which, in PA cases, entirely misses the point. They should be abolished.
You should start from the general position that, as a Targeted Parent, CAFCASS are not your friends. CAFCASS is in a position of power. Many judges simply follow what CAFCASS recommend. And CAFCASS have an agenda. CAFCASS simply do not understand, or want to understand, that the short-term discomfort of enforcing contact is more than outweighed by the longer-term benefits of your child having both of its parents in its life. In essence, keep your answers short and simple. Do not vilify the AP. Concentrate on your child. Make big, simple points, like the fact that before you and your ex fell out, your relationship with your child was fine.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford an expert, this is someone with whom you should be completely candid. Tell them everything, but, again, be guided by them. The expert’s evidence may be your only answer to a lazy CAFCASS report.
Lawyers and McKenzie Friends
We have dealt with lawyers elsewhere. Be careful.