Monday, June 25, 2012
I am typically contacted by parents who find themselves in the throes of parental alienation. Occasionally, I am contacted by a Family Lawyer, but primarily it is parents who reach out to me. After I have some sort of consultation with a new parent and we both decide that my help is indicated, that parent will contact their lawyer, if they have one. It is at this point that my involvement can become derailed. The reasons for this are understandable or at least explainable, and worthy of mention here. First of all, not all lawyers are resistant to help from a consultant such as myself. I have had a number of lawyers eagerly interested in my help. In spite of this however, there are those who are not so inclined. I believe that the first reason for this is that they simply and honestly do not understand my role, which is no failing on their part. Most mental health types with doctoral degrees operate as expert witnesses for most Family Lawyers, so it is understandable how they would immediately assume that this is the role that I would fulfill. As a testifying expert, most competent Family Lawyers see it as their responsibility to find and contact any potential expert. There are good and sound reasons for this, so a Family Lawyer, hearing from their client that they have contacted what the lawyer assumes will be a testifying expert, will react negatively to this and advise the client to let them do their job, and for the client to simply relay on them. After however the Family Lawyer learns that my role would not be as an expert, but rather as a “behind the scenes” consultant, the lawyer should begin to react more openly. After all, the role that I occupy serves as a resource to the lawyer, essentially making his or her job easier and more effective. I have found that the best of the Family Lawyers do react this way and are glad to have another member on the team. But all lawyers do not react this way, even when my role is clarified. Why is this? I believe that there are a few consistent reasons for this and none of them are terribly good news. In no particular order, I believe that one reason they react this way has to do with fees. Simply put, any monies paid to me or to someone like me are monies that will not be spent on the lawyer. Since these cases can be expensive, this reason makes logical sense, even if it is ethically flawed. Secondly, I believe that another reason has to do with accountability. When someone hires a Family Lawyer, the new client essentially puts their family crisis in the hands of the lawyer, who most often is a perfect stranger. For those not familiar with the legal mumbo jumbo of the rules of civil procedure and evidence, this entrée into the legal environment is intimidating and confusing. The new client puts their faith in the judgement, education and skill sets of the lawyer, who essentially becomes their sole authority on Family Law. I have found that when I have become incorporated in the case as a consultant, my mere presence acts as another pair of eyes watching what is going on, serving sometimes as a referee, sometimes as a translator, and sometimes as an apologist. In spite of the fact that I am not a lawyer, the fact is that I have been involved in hundreds of cases involving parental alienation, whereas the lawyer may have been involved in many many fewer, if any at all. Therefore, I can immediately impact suggestions that might be perfectly sound if parental alienation was not present, but which would predictably create a negative outcome in a parental alienation case, before it is executed. Again, I have seen the best lawyers see this as a resource that can help prevent them from making a well intended tactical errors. The good lawyers begin to then rely on the judgement and experience of the consultant, presumably being comfortable with what they know as well as with what they do not know, making them open to input. The other ones however tend to feel threatened and resistant. I often get the feeling that they fear being found out somehow. The fact of the matter is that parental alienation cases are different than cases where parental alienation is not present. Whereas all divorce cases may involve some negative portrayal of the other parent and some distortion, the level of vilification typical to parental alienation cases requires different interventions. Failure to implement these alternate strategies and tactics will predict failure of outcome, nearly every time. What I refer to as the “good lawyer” will be open to this and become a collaborative team leader, whereas the others will not. I find this reaction to be symptomatic.