After divorce, it's not so uncommon for a child to pick the parent they want to be with, and avoid - or even stop speaking to - the other. In this episode, we dive deep into the complex and emotionally charged topic of parental alienation. Join us as we explore the nuances of this issue and discuss its impact on families, legal proceedings, and the lives of children caught in the crossfire. Your host, Family Law Attorney Billie Tarascio, answers questions we've collected and shares the realities of how parental alienation manifests, its controversies, and potential solutions.
This episode is packed with even more pearls on what to do about the problem and and when you should avoid going to the court for help. Whether you're a parent navigating a divorce or simply interested in understanding the intricacies of parental alienation, this episode offers valuable insights, expert opinions, and potential avenues for healing fractured family dynamics. Join us for this enlightening conversation that sheds light on an issue affecting countless families worldwide.
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Nancy Conrad: I'm Nancy Conrad. I am Billie Tarascio's mom, and we are at the Modern Divorce Podcast.
We're changing things up a little bit today, and we took a look at all of the questions and answers and comments that people that have signed into your Facebook Modern [00:01:00] Divorce group. For your TikTok group. So many interesting things coming up.
Billie Tarascio: Absolutely, yeah. There's a lot of things that people really, really wanna talk about and they wanna get in depth.
Nancy Conrad: So I, I have a list, right. Okay. This is by no means in any order of importance 'cause there's so many important things. We, we talked about what to talk about because there's so much going on. Mm-hmm. But one of the things that comes up again and again is parental alienation. And I remember this from like 20 years ago.
It was kind of new. Now I heard you talk about what goes on in the courtroom and how is that received. Does it help people? Doesn't it help people? Tell me a little bit about that.
Billie Tarascio: So I know what you're talking about. There was a recent post I did where someone asked about basically one parent not supporting the other parents' relationship, and they asked, is this parental alienation?
And my response was, that's not really a term that you should use. [00:02:00] I generally speaking, that's a good rule of thumb that parental alienation is one of those buzzwords that you really wanna avoid. Sort of like narcissism. But we do have cases where judges will say, one parent is alienating another parent.
So it's not that parents are that parental alienation isn't a thing that happens or comes up in family court now it is controversial. Some people will say it's junk science. It was made by pedophiles Other P Yeah. Yes, it's, I mean, it's that help pedophiles because there are, there's a school of thought that says that the whole thing is made up.
Basically to help abusive fathers as a way to say that moms dad said, moms made up, kids not wanting to go and it's mom's fault when in fact the dads were abusive. And that's, and there was a legitimate reason why the kids didn't wanna go. So that's why it's so controversial.
Nancy Conrad: So what would you say your mind really constitutes a classic [00:03:00] parental alienation case?
What would Sure. What would be the moving part? Sure.
Billie Tarascio: In a classic parental alienation case where a judge believes parental alienation has occurred, a child used to have a good relationship with one parent and now no longer sees that parent. And I wanna take a specific example that has come into public view recently.
There is a, I believe she's 14. There's a 14 year old here in Arizona who has been ordered by the court to attend a parental alienation. Wow. Turning Points Camp in Texas and the situation with her is her stepfather was abusive. Her mother failed to protect her. She then went and lived with her father.
I think that her mother and stepfather broke up. Her mother tried to rekindle a relationship and the daughter was like, I'm out and refused [00:04:00] to. Didn't want a relationship with her mom and the court eventually ordered no contact with dad. You have to go to a reunification camp and mom can, or, and dad cannot talk to the child for 90 days.
And that's the typical protocol of a, a, a parental alienation can't. The child loses all contact. With the preferred parent. Oh my gosh, that's harsh. While there's an intervention to try to fix the relationship between the child and the alienated parent. Now you can see why this is hugely controversial.
Nancy Conrad: and, and really from the perspective of a 14 or a 15 year old, three months, four months is an eternity. It's
Billie Tarascio: an eternity. And what, what an intense consequence. I mean, there's really two schools of thought here. On the other hand, there are children and [00:05:00] parents who lose their relationship forever, right?
When they do not develop one that is healthy as a child and they lose not only their relationship with the target parent. One of the classic signs of alienation is when a child rejects, not just a parent, but everything associated with that parent, all of their extended family, their cousins, their grandparents, people who they don't have any reason.
To reject, but anything associated with that parent, they reject. And that's when legal professionals and judges really get concerned because that's not really logical. Wow. That's
Nancy Conrad: really sad. I mean, and I have heard stories too where, let's say in one case that I know of, it's the father who felt like he was shut out.
Mm-hmm. Didn't get to see the kids. He would come over and always be the wrong time. You know, he may have made some wrong moves in there. Mm-hmm. But he, his relationship with his girls that were teenagers mm-hmm. Really fell apart. Mm-hmm. Which was really to their detriment. Mm-hmm. And, you know, [00:06:00] what can, what can somebody do legally that works mm-hmm.
With the court system or, or maybe even not through the court system, maybe working through back channels.
Billie Tarascio: These. Relationship dynamics get so, so complicated and they are. It is very easy for a parent to influence a child's belief about another parent, and it can have a real impact on that child's relationship, which is why everybody has to go through a co-parenting 1 0 1 class when they get divorced because you are hurting your child desperately.
By engaging in anything that would make them feel like they're in a loyalty bind. So there's do's and don'ts for both sides of these parents, right? There's do's and don'ts for if you are the Alienator or the alienated, but it's really just both parents running a foul [00:07:00] of what they kind of need to be doing.
Nancy Conrad: Do you have any ideas or have you seen anything that really works that helps rebuild things without going to legal, going through legal methods?
Billie Tarascio: Yes. In, yes. So prevention is the absolute best thing you can possibly do. And I see this happen more often with dads and moms. And usually what happens is moms have been the primary caretaker.
Dads have allowed them to have that role. Dads have taken a real. Hands off approach and now mom may not want the Divorce. So this is the classic pattern that I see. Mom doesn't want the Divorce dad was the Divorce dad leaves. Mom makes the child feel like Dad left us. You can't go over there or when you go over there, I miss you so much, or I, I'm so sad you're not here.
Or we could be making memories together or incessant communication. That type of behavior is completely unacceptable and judges hate it. And so if judges [00:08:00] see that type of behavior, because we can show evidence of that type of behavior. If we can show evidence of that type of behavior, and mom in this situation does not change, her behavior continues to do it.
She is risking losing parenting time, losing decision making,
Nancy Conrad: and then you throw a phone into the, you know, mom supplied them with a phone or dad supplied them with a phone and maybe the other parent doesn't allow them to use it during a certain period of time. And I could, I understand how that's frustrating.
I don't know if that crosses over into alienation or does that play a role in it?
Billie Tarascio: It certainly can. So if mom, in our hypothetical situation is incessantly texting the child or on the phone with a child or FaceTiming the child, that's an inappropriate intrusion into dad's parenting time. Now the, the real mistake that Dads make here is failing to enforce their parenting time.
Oh, that is a mistake. The worst thing you can do is say to your nine or 10 or seven or 12 year old, that's okay. Then. If you don't wanna come to my house, don't worry about it. That is a [00:09:00] huge mistake when you get divorced. You have to exercise your parenting time. You have to, and you have to reset boundaries.
Your whole relationship as a parent to your child is going to change. And many times for dads, it changes for the better.
Nancy Conrad: Wow. That's very interesting. Well, I'm thinking about the parents that have to work together. It does it mean that the, the exes have to get together and, and, and work on that? I mean, it's, you've talked about parallel parenting mm-hmm.
Is where I wanted to go with this. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And sometimes it's not always possible to work mm-hmm. With the other parent.
Billie Tarascio: Mm-hmm. Right. Yeah. So I've got a, a a case like this right now, this kind of classic situation, mom homeschools. Mom has told the youngest, she, you know, really shouldn't go to Dad's dad was super easygoing, hands-off guy was like, fine, she doesn't need to.
It's now been three months now. He's like, I'm really concerned. I've been doing everything I can and it's not working. You have to up your efforts. So at, at that point you have to get the court involved early and often. Now you wouldn't meet the court if you enforced your parenting time from the [00:10:00] beginning.
That's not always an easy transition for people to make. Not everybody goes into a Divorce with thousands of stories in their head of seeing divorces play out and watching judges, and knowing the dos and don'ts of co-parenting, but there really are dos and don'ts, so you want to try to work with the other parent and not have the court be involved, but at a certain point, if you can't, you have to get the court involved.
And the longer you wait, the worse it's going to be.
Nancy Conrad: Now, this is gonna change, I presume, over ages. So if you have a child that's like under four years old, Things are gonna be different than if you're talking about a kid that's over 13 or even 15 or 16. The rules change a little bit. Well,
Billie Tarascio: the rules don't change, but the practicality of their application changes.
Yeah. So I have another situation where I'm thinking, you know, mom and dad had three kids. Mom filed for Divorce. Dad was kind of on the narcissistic spectrum. You know, kind of a typical, let's just say an asshole. Right? [00:11:00] And the kids don't wanna be around dad. Okay. The kids probably didn't ever really wanna be around Dad, mom didn't wanna be around Dad, mom filed for Divorce, and the kids who are teenagers really never go over to dad's house, or they do it every other weekend, or they do it begrudgingly.
But one of them is now 18, the other one's like 1715 and, and they will probably never do a 50 50. Because even though it's on paper, they're not, dad's not enforcing it and it's working for everybody and they're so close to 18, this is probably the way it's gonna go. Plus you
Nancy Conrad: throw in all of the other elements, like, you know, maybe mom and dad don't live in the same town, or they're in different states.
Or there's other siblings or step siblings that come into the
Billie Tarascio: picture. Right, right, right. All of these situations make things so much more complicated. Out-of-state, parenting's really hard, really hard. What
Nancy Conrad: are some of the big issues that you have seen in your office having to work out between, out-of-state parents, you represent Arizona [00:12:00] parents, unless they are, have moved outta state news to be in Arizona, but have there been any memorable cases that you had to deal with in this?
Billie Tarascio: Yeah, so outstate parents have a particularly challenging situation, especially with teenagers. There could be a situation where children are alienated and that's just very easy to happen. Or kids could just have their own lives and stuff going on. So I, with any issue, I think Divorce forces you to be a better parent.
I really do. And I think the relationship that you have with your children is the most important factor. Your ability to be an effective parent. If your relationship is suffering and you and your children are out of state, you probably need to go outta state and spend some time with them and invest in that relationship.
It cannot be all on them. They cannot, you cannot expect that your children are the only ones that have to adapt to a situation. Everybody's gotta [00:13:00] put in the
Nancy Conrad: work. It's, it's hard. I mean, I had to do that. I had to go from being in California to Oregon to go visit your younger brother. You were already grown up. And you know, you have to go stay in a hotel and rent a car and
it's not easy. So it could be expensive, especially for people on a really tight budget. Yes. But you know, if you don't, then your relationship can be horrible.
Billie Tarascio: Absolutely. Absolutely. And my current partner he has kids who are teenagers and his parent, his Divorce was not easy on those kids.
One of the best things he can do for their relationship is to go spend time where they're at and be part of their world for a little while, and invest in that and go drive them around for four or five days outta the month and watch their games. And that pays dividends in their willingness to then get on a plane and come to a state they don't live in.
Nancy Conrad: Well, I, and this is kind of apart [00:14:00] from the parental alienation subject, but really that. Once you get somebody through the Divorce and they've got kids, this sharing of parenting goes on for years. Mm-hmm. Yes it does. And there's drama that happens in between, and sometimes they're back in your office again.
Billie Tarascio: Many times they're back in my office again. It's always better when that's not the case, but the conflict goes on forever, and it's interesting. I was licensed in Oregon and in Oregon. If you do not agree to joint legal decision making or joint legal custody, one person has sole custody, which is hard because when you're going through a Divorce, most people don't agree, which means one person usually is the primary parent or has primary custody.
In Arizona, the presumption is the opposite, that everyone should have joint custody, and most people start with joint legal decision making and have to. Figure out a way to make decisions together, which is many times impossible. And so the only thing they can do is come back into my office and we refile with the courts.
Nancy Conrad: You know, that's so interesting. It really points up to the differences between states, right? I mean, I'm not an attorney, but we know Arizona is a community property state. There's a lot of property state, but the whole. Difference in treating how parents are get to treat their children. Mm-hmm.
Billie Tarascio: Right? And it is culturally very different. Like what's accepted here or normal here in courts might not be normal somewhere else. So one of the things you have to figure out no matter where you're at, is not only what does the law say, but what usually happens.
Nancy Conrad: Let me take a look at some of these other comments that we're getting.
So, Here was something that came up and it's kind of along the same lines. So when you force a kid to go to the other parent's house, let's say they're older, can a child get their own attorney and, and should they, you know, if they don't wanna go to the other house, or maybe they don't get along with the stepparent or the step siblings obviously that's not gonna happen for a much [00:16:00] younger child unless there's some other issue going on.
But what do you think about that?
Billie Tarascio: So those are called guardian ad litems and guardian ad items. And it happens all the time. It depends on which state, but in many states, use guardian ad litems or best interest attorneys, and the court will appoint a best interest attorney or guardian ad litem. You don't see that so often in Arizona.
In fact, I've only had one case. Where there has been a best interest attorney appointed me personally. My office has had many, many, many cases where best interest attorneys have been appointed. This is an interesting situation because you're not exactly the child's attorney at that point. So if a child gets an attorney, if a child hires an attorney, one parent hires an attorney for a child, you can do that.
And at that point, the the child is the client. And the lawyer must represent the child's wishes and advocate for what the [00:17:00] child wants. Normally, that's not
how it works.
Nancy Conrad: It could go against the parent
that hired the attorney.
Billie Tarascio: It could. It could. But what usually happens with Guardian ad litems or best interests attorneys, is that they turn out to be investigators and they come to their own conclusions, and then they make whatever recommendations they want, regardless of what the child wants, which as an attorney kind of bothers me because.
This, the child is supposed to be the client and we have duties to the client. It's not supposed to be about what I want or what I thought think, which is another thing that people comment about all the time. You know, you shouldn't do this as an attorney. You should be fighting for the child. As an attorney, you should always, you know, make sure X, Y, or Z happens.
And that's just not our role. Our role is to represent our client's interests. Those are the rules of engagement.
Nancy Conrad (2): Wow, that's very interesting. Well,
so I'm assuming you'd have to be a fairly well off or wealthy person in order to do that. Or maybe your child is special or maybe they have, you know, there are some kids that have careers of sorts, either because they're into sports or [00:18:00] stage or, you know, performing arts or something like that. And, you know, maybe they have to have other rights.
But that would be a very rare case.
Billie Tarascio: That's an interesting idea. I have almost never seen a. Lawyer hired on behalf of a child who has special interests or economic I've almost never seen it. So usually one parent really is the defacto representative for the child's interests, and the other parent is not supportive.
That's usually how that happens.
Nancy Conrad: You're gonna wanna know to know "is this parental alienation?" They're treating me differently now, and he spent a lot of time over at, you know, my ex's house with the new stepmom. You know, I just feel like. The kid is not treating me the same, and I think there's alienation going
How do I know?
Billie Tarascio: Well, the answer is there probably is. There probably is. Okay. Okay. Exes smack about each other all the time. All the time, and that is absolutely going to impact how your children interact with you. And the [00:19:00] court isn't gonna solve your problem. The court is not equipped to solve this problem.
So all you can do is work on having the most positive relationships you possibly can with your ex, and I understand how impossible that sometimes is. And number two, have the very best relationship you possibly can have with your children. I have a client who is the most exceptional mother, the most exceptional mother, and she was married to the biggest asshole.
He has completely attempted to make her very small children hate her, say mean things to her, think bad things about her, say things like, I will always choose daddy model. And she, because she's an excellent, excellent mother, dug in and invested in more time and more resources to become an even better mother and to become a parenting coach and to learn how to deal with that.
And so she would come to her little kids who would [00:20:00] say, mommy, I would always, always choose daddy. Wow, let's draw a heart. Your heart is big enough for both of us. You have to counter parent. You have to say the things that your children need to hear to know that it's okay to love everybody and help them in an age appropriate way to process what they're hearing at the other house.
And then the other thing that you can do is you can reach out to the other parent. And, and do everything you can to put them on notice of why this is hurtful and hurtful and unacceptable and make your paper trail. So what I would recommend you do is if you have your child come to you and say, I'm always gonna choose daddy, or your version of that, that you know, is negative thoughts and talk coming from the other parent, you help your child process it.
You invest in your relationship with your child, you become the best flip parent it can possibly be, and you put the other parent on notice that you heard this, that it's not okay, and that you're doing everything you [00:21:00] can to protect your child from that. The other thing you can do is help get your children into counseling and ask for the other parent to show up to counseling.
You have to be as proactive as possible. Most of the time this doesn't happen in court.
Nancy Conrad: Wow, that's huge. I mean, you just said a mouthful. So hard. I think, you know, personally feel like you're being attacked and yet you have to be the bigger person in order to get the job done. Very, very hard, but super good advice.
So let's wrap this up. We've got a whole bunch of more things to talk about in the future. So for now, let's sign off and thank you Billie. Appreciate,
Billie Tarascio: thank you.
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