Parental alienation cases are among the most troublesome in divorce court. Those dealing with alienated teenagers are particularly difficult. Judges are often confronted with evidence clearly demonstrating that the alienation is occurring and that the alienated teenager does not want to have contact with the targeted parent.
Often frustrated parents are confronted with judicial decisions that read something like: “This teenager is now of an age where, even if he/she may be too immature to appreciate what is best for him or her, he or she cannot be physically forced to remain where he or she does not want to be.”
Judges, child representatives, guardian ad litems, parenting coordinators, mental health professionals, and parents are often stymied when adolescents refuse to cooperate with court-ordered parenting Florida timesharing schedules. In addition, these children can be so convincing about their resolve to have their own way in terms of having no contact with a parent that they convince the court they are beyond its authority. Such behaviors can induce a sense of helplessness in judges, mental health professionals, parents, and other court professionals involved in the process.
However, professionals and parents dealing with these terrible situations should not feel so hopeless. Recent studies have reported that most children’s protests evaporate when reunited with a rejected parent. Instead of appeasing a teenager’s demands, the courts can order an intervention to assist children in adjusting to court orders that place them with their rejected parent. Professionals dealing with older children in Florida parental alienation cases need to remember that:
- Adolescents comply with many rules and expectations that are often not of their own choosing. Consequently, it is a mistake to assume that teenagers do not benefit from an assertion of authority on the part of the court and their parents. Adolescents need adult guidance, structure and limits as much as, if not more than, younger children do;
- Children of any age need to understand that they are not above the law or beyond its reach. It is a dangerous lesson to teach a teenager that they can get their way if they decide they’re going to act inappropriately or threaten inappropriate behavior; and
- Even though teenagers may have more mature cognitive capacities than younger children, adolescents are still suggestible, are highly vulnerable to external influence, and are highly susceptible to immature judgments and behaviors. These limitations are well known in the fields of adolescent development and neuropsychology, and by parents. These limitations account, in part, for the consensus view of the American Psychological Association that juveniles merit different treatment by the criminal legal system than adults receive.
Consequently, Florida child custody evaluators and forensic experts should inform the court about the benefits and drawbacks of various means of giving adolescents a voice in a custody or visitation timesharing dispute. Courts need to learn about the suggestibility of adolescents and their susceptibility to immature judgment and external influence.
Judges are not powerless in these circumstances. If the evidence in a case suggests that a child’s viewpoints do not reflect mature judgment independent of the other parent’s unhealthy influence (alienation) or the child’s expressed preferences are unlikely to serve the child’s best interest, then the court must impress upon the adolescent, either directly or through agents of the court, the necessity of complying with the residential schedule put in place by the court. The parents and the child should understand that failure to comply with court orders will not be overlooked and will not result in the court capitulating to the overt demands of the adolescent. This often will translate to the court reading “the riot act” to both parents indicating that if the parenting timesharing schedule is not complied with, then sanctions will occur. Those sanctions could include removal of the child from the complete care of the alienating parent. This firm stance by the court brings the added benefit of relieving the child from needing to maintain a parent’s approval (particularly an alienating parent) by refusing to spend time with the other parent.
When confronted with a highly alienated teenager, who states that he will not stay with the targeted parent or comply with the court’s Order, the targeted parent must be sure to provide the court with a forensic expert who can educate the judge about the issues of the suggestibility of adolescents, their susceptibility to immature judgment and their external influence; and:
- The short-term and long-term negative effects upon the child by capitulating to his or her demand;
- Providing the court effective interventions to assist the alienating parent in repairing his or her relationship with this alienated child; and
- Urging the court to make sure that all participants know about the potential sanctions that will occur in the event that the court’s orders are not followed.
Alienation cases are among the most difficult for lawyers, judges and parents to deal with in family court. The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson has been counseling, guiding and litigating on behalf of their clients in these very contentious situations. If we can be of assistance to you, please contact our office and schedule a consultation please click here.