A friend asked me, “Alan, when you got divorced, did you use an attorney?” And without hesitation, I quickly responded, “Well, I did the first two times but, after that, I sort of knew what I was doing.” It was funny, and we laughed about it. I have to laugh about it. If I didn’t laugh, I would probably jump off the Brooklyn Bridge because who wants to listen to my mother, the real Estelle Costanza, yell at me, “Who gets married and divorced four times?!” And I do tend to find the humor in just about everything.
But putting the humor aside, I look at it as real-life practical experience for what I eventually would be doing professionally – dealing with divorce and, more importantly fighting for parental rights and defending against parental alienation. And there is absolutely nothing funny about that.
People might think that because I have been through it four times myself, and the big part of my business is matrimonial work, that I might be used to it and immune to the emotional backlash. Honestly, it never gets any easier. I learned to deal with it differently, but it never gets any easier. And there were a lot of learning experiences built in to each of those situations, as there are in each case that I am assigned to work with in my caseload.
People come to me all the time and boast, “This divorce is the most amicable divorce you will ever see. We agreed that the kids are not going to be dragged into it. I want him (or her, as applicable) to see the kids anytime they want.” Yeah, yeah, yeah! I wish I had a dollar for each and every time someone said that to me…and it turned out disastrous. Because, inevitably, the uncontested, non-contentious, BFF divorce turns out to be contested, contentious, and downright ugly. What leverage do the parties have? The kids. They use the kids as the physical weapon, financial weapon, and, the worst of all, the emotional weapon. And just about every divorce or post-judgment matter involves using some issue about the kids to “get at” the other party. And quite often, one party grabs the upper hand and prevents the other party from parenting time with the kids.
In each of my four marriages and ensuing divorces, I have either been the victim, or witnessed, what could be described as parental alienation.
Wife No. 1 made sure my two children were mad at me for divorcing her. I did, indeed, want the marriage over. However, her constant spewing of venom about me to them, and her constant role as the victim, paved the way for them to align themselves with her. They were young, and I understood, but it hurt because I was the caretaker, the nurturer, and the more active parent to them. She spewed so much venom that people I knew growing up in town started avoiding me in the supermarket. During two-plus years mired in the family court system, I had my parenting time curtailed and she interfered with time at every interval and prevented the kids from attending their activities if the times went one minute past what was supposed to be my “minimal” time with them. It became a “your time v. my time” rather than the “kids’ time.”
Wife No. 2 introduced me to real parental alienation. When we were first dating, her first husband was coming to pick up her two daughters for his weekend visitation. Just before he was to arrive, she yelled, “OK girls, go put on your daddy clothes!” What the hell are “daddy clothes?” The girls came out of their bedroom with old, tattered clothes. I asked what was going on and she told me, “If he wants to take the girls then that is the way he gets them. I am not sending them with good clothes. They probably won’t come back with them anyway.” Um…ok…I guess. But for the years I was with her, her ex-husband was very rarely, if ever, included in anything. She made sure of that. Whenever it was his weekend of parenting time, she would conveniently have the girls scheduled for an activity or an event or some birthday party of a kid they hardly knew. The girls never called their father and, when he called, the calls were screened and the girls were never encouraged to pick up the phone or call him back. She made it like her ex-husband did not exist. I could never understand that and, whenever I could, I made him feel welcome in my home. I would, ultimately, catch hell for that each and every time. I, too, would incur her wrath and be on the receiving end of the same treatment. After eight years of raising the girls, coaching their sports teams, supporting them financially, and emotionally, I was cut off from them totally when we decided to split. I was extremely close with the girls, especially the younger one, who was like my shadow. I made one attempt to contact them sometime after the divorce, and I learned a quick lesson…DON’T DO IT! I haven’t been in contact with either of them in 13 years.
Wife No. 3 spent a lot of time trying to convince her ex-husband that he was in desperate need of psychiatric assistance. And even if that was true, she spent just as much time conveying this message to her three children. And, as a result, the oldest daughter refused, REFUSED, to have anything to do with her father. I spent four years in that environment and the only thing I could ascertain is that she simply just wanted the kids to like her better than they like him. That’s all it was. The guy couldn’t hurt a flea. She had pushed him away; she wanted to “explore” her options. When she decided that her options weren’t what she expected, she asked him to “return to the bedroom.” He declined and he suddenly became a villainous creature not to be loved or honored by the children.
Wife No. 4 created a similar scenario. Her husband had wanted a strict, disciplined home life like he experienced. She wanted the two children to like her better. She oversaw the children but never disciplined them. She proclaimed herself as “Mary Poppins” only the Mary Poppins of movie fame did instill discipline. She, instead, was trying to be their “best friend” and allowed them to get away with anything and everything, keeping it all a secret from her husband for years. The kids grew up believing that their father was “the bad guy.” They had zero respect for him, they barely liked him. They basically put up with him. And while the son would as least share time with him, the daughter refuses to engage with him, except to ask for money when she is desperate.
The conundrum with regard to these matters, and other matters that come before the court, is the line that divides “clawing for the kids’ affections” and true “parental alienation.” Just about every matter has issues that deal with custody and visitation, or, parenting time, with the children. And when does a court get involved and force the other parent to comply with any agreement or court order that grants the other party time with the children?
Parties have spent so much time, and so much money, trying to get “justice” in family courts around the country, and around the world. Truthfully, trying your case in family court is like a hamster on a wheel in a cage – how far have you gotten? Or, better yet, have you gotten anywhere? Most people come to me and have exhausted their time, their money, and their emotions and are completely drained from the experience of fighting in the family court system just to see their children.
Unfortunately, people believe that there are no other alternatives. But the reality is that there can be another route to take. The right to be a parent is a Constitutional issue…an issue that need not be dealt with in family court, rather, it is dealt with in the Federal District Court. There is also the issue of misrepresentation because of the vicious falsehoods that have been presented against a person. And, most importantly, there is the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress. What jury would not agree that there is emotional distress when you are willfully and purposefully being prevented from having parenting time with your children?
The truth is that the family courts will not recognize the issue of “parental alienation” until such time that actual case law is made and the court will have a baseline to issue a ruling. While there are people fighting to make parental alienation an actual “diagnosis” or “affliction” it is not yet recognized as such and no court has made a ruling that will grant any judge the authority to use it as a basis for law. So while litigants continue to attempt to use it as a “legal argument” there is nothing, yet, to make a family court issue a ruling strictly based on that argument.
The idea is to take it out of the hands of the family court and bring forth a lawsuit before a Federal court and a jury of your peers, and ask for damages as a result of the great carnage that has been brought upon you by your tormentors who have cut you off from your parental rights.