How to Select an Attorney for Parental Alienation

All divorce lawyers are not created equal. Selecting an attorney must begin by finding one that is qualified to work in family court. There are Family Court attorneys that specialize in divorce and custody issues. You can usually get their names from the local bar association. The best way to find a good attorney is from someone who has had personal experience with the attorney and can give you a positive recommendation. This is still a good way to learn about an attorney’s reputation. Anyway, be cautious and take your time in finding the right attorney. 

  • Always look for an attorney who is experienced in the particular area of law that is needed. Though the competent attorney’s hourly rate is usually higher, I have learned that by the time the case is completed, the competent attorney costs were usually cheaper.
  • Remember you are paying for good representation and not specific results. Be suspicious of any attorney who makes promises about the outcome of your case.
  • Select an attorney who has a proven track record in the county where your case will be heard. Ask how many divorce cases they have had in the past year.
  • Usually a friend who has had experience with a particular attorney in a case similar to yours is an excellent source for getting the name of an attorney.
  • The local bar association will help you by giving three names of local attorneys. Keep in mind that the bar association will give you names of attorneys specializing in domestic relations and have an office close to where you live or work. The names do not take into consideration the attorney’s reputation or competency.
  • It is important to be cautious when hiring a big-name attorney for a divorce case. These attorneys usually have a reputation because they specialize in criminal law and may require expensive retainers. Your reason for hiring a high profile attorney may be to intimidate your spouse or his attorney. The strategy rarely works.
  • You should interview the prospective attorney before deciding to hire him. After all, the attorney will be interviewing you to see if he or she can work with you and if you have the money to pay your bill.
  • Look for an attorney who is interested, empathetic, and knowledgeable of the law.

Your Expectations

Going through any litigation is stressful, even if you have a strong case and are the plaintiff. In fact, the one thing you will learn from going to court is to avoid, if at all possible, going to court. Even so called winners find the experience emotionally grueling. To lessen the stress, you may want your attorney’s reassurance that he or she will win your case. Though your feelings are understandable, your attorney can only represent you on the strength of the evidence and the law. They cannot guarantee you that the judge will decide in your favor.

Because you are angry, you may think that hiring a big-name attorney will intimidate your spouse or the other attorney. This rarely happens. Most experienced attorneys know each other and are not intimidated by each other as “the opposing attorney”. Any intimidation is usually the client’s illusion and not shared by the attorney. In fact, be cautious when hiring a big-name attorney for a divorce case since they most likely have gained their reputation from criminal rather than divorce cases. If the high-powered attorney takes your case, he or she will be very expensive and may have little interest in your case. I once watched a big-name attorney mistake the client’s girlfriend as his client. (He was embarrassed and apologized.)

Know in Advance How Fees Are Determined

The least expensive hourly rate is not always the cheapest attorney. Ask the attorney about their hourly fees and what you are getting for the money. Many attorneys will charge for their time on the phone, doing research, or standing in line to file papers. You should know ahead of time what you are paying for so you are not surprised when you get the bill. Remember that attorneys are in business to make a living and are not a charitable institution. 

What Can the Courts Do About Parental Alienation?

Prevention of Parental Alienation is the most important step for both parents and professionals.  We must confront alienation where it is found and ensure treatment begins, initiate preventative measures, and educate parents about the symptoms and causes of alienation.  As a central area involved in settling matters of custody, support and shared parenting (visitation matters), the courts are in a position to do all of these things, through these steps:

  • Recognize early the symptoms of alienation, and help educate parents and attorneys of these symptoms.
  • Identify high-risk cases.
  • Intervene quickly.
  • Don’t let attorneys use delay tactics like continuances, especially in cases with a high-risk for alienation.
  • Order parents into therapy (family systems and cognitive behavioral therapy), hopefully before they come to an agreement on a Shared Parenting Plan.
  • Order a Guardian Ad Litem to monitor compliance and report to the court.
  • Don’t withhold visits unless there is a question about the child’s safety. There is always the risk that withholding visits will reinforce alienation and increase the risk that the child will believe there is something wrong with the targeted parent.
  • Give the parents an opportunity to speak before the court.
  • Order therapy for the child if their general level of functioning (school grades, socialization, interests, etc) deteriorates.
  • If the child is already alienated, order therapy for the parents with a therapist who understands parental alienation and works with high conflict families.