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Custody Battles and Parental Alienation a Deep Dive into Texas Law

Every parent wants to have a good relationship with their children. Parents like you and I sacrifice a great deal to be able to provide for our children. On top of that, we also try to engage with our children and build a relationship with them. This is a part of our makeup as parents. We want what is best for our children. Additionally, we also understand that our children do best when we are a part of their lives. 

The state of Texas would agree with you. The presumption in Texas is that parents and children need to have a relationship with one another. It is presumed under the law that parents ought to have a sustained and meaningful relationship with their children. Additionally, parents are presumed to make decisions that are in the best interests of their children. Put all of this together and you have a lot of presumptions in Texas that you and your child should have a meaningful relationship.

However, we all have witnessed circumstances where well-meaning parents do not have good relationships with their children. For whatever reason, some parents never gained the ability to be a part of their child’s life. This is any situation that can easily happen in any Texas family law case. Your relationship with your child is at stake during the case. How will you protect it?

Co-parenting: opportunities and challenges

A major part of your child’s life during and after a child custody case is the co-parenting relationship. Your ability to share a relationship with your co-parent determines in large part the well-being of your child. Many people in a family law case presume that their case marks the end of their relationship with their spouse. Even in a child custody case, it feels like your relationship with your co-parent comes to an end. However, this could not be further from the truth. Your relationship with your co-parent becomes even more important now that you are transitioning into life after a family law case.

Many people do not have the patience or forethought to try and build a relationship with their co-parent. Instead, these parents will do everything possible to avoid difficult conversations that may turn out to be impactful for the family. Whatever it takes to get through the family law case, these folks will do. Until then not much of anything gets done.

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan recommends that this is not the course you take. Rather, it is much more reasonable to take the position that your relationship with your co-parent matters. Part of this is communicating well with your co-parent. Reach out to him or her and express your willingness and desire to work with them on matters related to the children. All persons involved in the case will benefit when this is the position that you choose to take. Working with an experienced family law attorney helps to be able to develop these communication skills despite your difficult circumstances.

What is parental alienation? 

If nothing else, improved co-parenting communication allows families to avoid alienating behavior. Parental alienation is any type of behavior that would stand to harm a child’s relationship with their parent. The difficulty associated with the situation is that a co-parent is the one displaying the bad behavior. This is especially troublesome for several reasons.

The first is that a parent is in a position of trust with a child. Your child trusts you and your co-parent. You and your co-parent share intimate and personal moments with your child all the time. This means that your child has a penchant for believing what you have to tell him or her. As a result, it is troublesome when your co-parent tells your child something untrue about you. The next thing you know, your child hesitates to spend time with you. This is completely out of character for your child. 

Another reason why parental alienation is so pervasive once employed is that it occurs behind your back. You cannot prevent this from happening. Instead, your child is left alone to deal with whatever your co-parent is dishing out. Depending upon the age and maturity of your client that could be bad news for your child. Whether he internalizes the bad words said about you is out of your hands. Instead, you are left to deal with the consequences. 

Can communicating with your co-parent prevent alienation?

A “glass half full” idea is to talk with your co-parent about the situation. Make sure he or she is aware that you are seeing changes in your relationship with your child. Put the ball in his or her court to have a response. This is a much more tolerable option than anything having to do with the prospect of heading to court. Nothing about going to court in a family law case is fun. It costs money, time, and stress.

However, you also need to think about this from the perspective of the likelihood of negotiation working in your case. In short, is it possible that the negotiation tactics will work? Or are you just delaying the inevitable descent into a family law case? Trying to hold out for success and negotiation is reasonable. That is, until you figure out that your chances of success are so low you are merely delaying the inevitable.

Ultimately, only you and your co-parent know how likely negotiation will be successful. Having a relationship with your co-parent before the family law case begins is a key part of this. You are much more likely to accomplish something meaningful when you have a pre-existing relationship with your co-parent. Trying to cobble a relationship with your co-parent together on the fly during a case is difficult. Whatever you were able to do before the beginning of a case Assists in avoiding parental alienation.

Impacting periods of visitation

One of the most intolerable circumstances involving parental alienation involves a parent interfering with their co-parent’s periods of visitation. Imagine the following scenario. You are attempting to pick up your children for a weekend. It’s Friday evening. You have an entire evening and weekend planned out in your mind. You pull up to the home of your ex-wife. Your kids are nowhere to be seen. 

Suddenly you receive a text message from your ex-wife. She is running late. She had taken the kids to the store with her and lost track of time. Now they are running half an hour late. When the kids get home, they tell you that they still need to pack their bags. In other words, nothing is ready. Reasonably, you think that your ex-spouse had plenty of time to plan for this period of visitation. however, when it came time, your kids were not ready and were not home.

To the untrained eye, this may look like a situation that can be explained away with poor time management. However, this may be more along the lines of parental alienation. Purposefully delaying a parent’s period of visitation is a classic alienating behavior. Even if it is not purposeful that is what it amounts to. This is something to be aware of and to act vigilantly against.

What does a court do when parental alienation is alleged?

Once an allegation of parental alienation is made the court takes steps to investigate. However, there is an obvious limitation to consider that a judge cannot leave the courthouse and follow you home. Likewise, the judge would not follow your parents to their home either. So, what can a court do? A court can appoint various people to become their eyes and ears.

First, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate the matter further from the perspective of your child. Ultimately, it is your child who stands to be harmed most significantly by parental alienation. As such, the judge would want to ensure that your child’s interests are examined closely. Therefore, you must be prepared for this stage of a case. You would be interviewed as well in this situation. Being able to provide Specific information about the alienation occurring at home helps a custody evaluator be able to determine the extent to which alienation has occurred.

The guardian ad litem reports back to the judge. The judge will be able to take into consideration the opinions of the guardian. Any other evidence you can collect which Goes to prove the allegation of Alienation can be helpful. This means working closely with your attorney to provide as much information as you can about whatever is happening in your specific situation. Working alongside an attorney who has guided parents in complicated custody cases is a tremendous advantage for you to have.

Helping your child avoid the worst effects of alienation

To be sure, your child can potentially suffer a great deal from the harms related to alienation. Children typically lack the experience and maturity to quickly tell what allegations against you are false. From there, your relationship with your child may be irreparably harmed. The damage done to your case is one thing. however, the harm done to your relationship with your child cannot easily be repaired. 

The effects of alienation can be devastating to a child. This means that your son or daughter may need some help when it comes to handling any effects of the alienation. Expect that your child will have some difficulty when it comes to responding to the words used by your co-parent. Attempting to help your child means listening as much as you are talking. Be sure to help your child understand that even adults say and do untrue things. 

Many parents would struggle in a situation like this. It is out of the ordinary to find yourself needing to explain the bad behavior of your co-parent to your child. However, if you can do so skillfully and honestly your relationship with your child may improve. Understand that your child may not trust you fully due to the negative words of your co-parent. The more patience you can show the more diligent you can be about supporting your child the alienating words of your co-parent may not have as much of a negative impact on him or her.

Having your child talk to the judge

in certain circumstances, your child may be able to speak to the judge about what is going on. In a Texas child custody case, a child 12 years or older has the right to speak to the judge about your circumstances. This is done by filing a motion requesting that the judge speak to your child. A judge would have no choice but to grant your motion under these circumstances due to the child’s age. From that point forward, the judge would arrange for a time for your child to speak to him in his office. This is a one-on-one conversation where neither parent may be present.

Children younger than 12 also can speak to the judge. However, by filing a motion to allow a younger child to speak to the judge you are asking him or her to grant their permission to speak to your child. It is up to the judge’s discretion to allow a younger child to speak to him or her. In any event, a judge asks questions related to the case. He or she may inquire about any potential alienating behavior. Whatever questions are asked they are geared towards finding out information about a specific subject. Or the court will learn more about your child’s preferences on primary conservatorship.

Do not think about this conversation between your child and the court as a therapy session. Judges are not counselors or therapists. Rather, judges are there to provide structure to the case and make decisions when you and your co-parent are not able to. Coaching your child before their interaction with the judge is not a good idea. Judges can see when a child has been coached. Rather, help your child to be as comfortable as possible before meeting with the judge. This will help your child to give information that is helpful and can positively impact their life.

The benefits of an attorney during a parental alienation case

Having an attorney in a contentious child custody case makes a tremendous difference. Mistakes tend to be very high when you are dealing with the well-being of your child. We all want what is best for our kids. However, it may be that you and your co-parent differ greatly in how you view the best interests of your child. When this happens both litigation and negotiation become options. Here is how an attorney can help you in either area of your case.

Litigation refers to going to court in a case against your co-parent. There is preparation required before going to court. Typically, courtroom appearances mean making arguments and introducing evidence. Being prepared to make an argument to a judge means understanding the facts and circumstances of your case. Presenting them in a fashion that makes sense to a judge is an important part of this. Sometimes you only get one opportunity to present information. As a result, you want the information to be laid out correctly.

Next, preparing evidence for admission into the record is an overlooked but important part of your case. Having evidence admitted into the record of your case is not as simple as dropping papers on the judge’s desk. Rather, there is a specific process involved with the admission of evidence. An attorney is knowledgeable about the rules of evidence and how to go about performing this task. The last thing you want is to be in a position where you have evidence but are not able to get it into the record.

Final thoughts on parental alienation

In any situation involving parental alienation time is of the essence. What you do not want to happen is for alienating behavior to go on unchecked for an extended period. Preferably, the alienating behavior is addressed and comes to an end. Having an attorney who is knowledgeable in family law and can immediately work with you to stop the behavior is what you need.

A practicing family law attorney provides you with the experience needed to handle such a sensitive topic. A family law attorney knows how to address the subject with the opposing party. From there, if the alienating behavior persists the attorney helps by filing motions and setting up court dates. Finally, if it becomes necessary to your case the attorney is capable of advocating for you in court. Organizing and submitting evidence to a judge can be complex. An experienced family law attorney is best equipped to assist in this area.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan    

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.

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At the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, the firm wants to get to know your case before they commit to work with you. They offer all potential clients a no-obligation, free consultation where you can discuss your case under the client-attorney privilege. This means that everything you say will be kept private and the firm will respectfully advise you at no charge. You can learn more about Texas divorce law and get a good idea of how you want to proceed with your case.

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