Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Training Judges: A Lesson for Them and Me

What I learned from speaking with judges about parental alienation

Posted Jan 31, 2018

I had the opportunity to conduct a 2.5 hour training of judges in Nebraska in October. There were about 100 judges in the room, although most dealt with a variety of cases not just family law cases. They sat attentively for the entire training. They laughed at the funny parts (yes, I try to keep the training amusing even when speaking of abuse and alienation), they raised their hands when I asked for a show of hands on a topic, and they called out the answers when I asked for audience participation. Were they the liveliest audience I have ever spoken to? No. Hands down, that goes to targeted parents who hang on every word, nod their heads vigorously, and are deeply invested in hearing what I have to say. But the judges, in their more restrained manner, indicated a keen interest in this topic. A few even came up to me afterwards and shared that they had lived through alienation either as a child or as divorced parent. As we all know, no one is immune from this experience.

I think I may have gotten as much out of the training as they did because it really forced me to think about alienation from their point of view. I often rail against judges in my other workshops as people who lack the conviction to hold favored parents accountable and who lack the courage to override a child’s stated preference. I wasn’t going to call them lazy cowards so I needed a more refined and compassionate way to communicate to them that in many cases maintaining the status quo is not helpful, that it is more important to pay attention to the actions of the favored parent rather than his or her stated intent. I explained how important it is to consider the history of the case and to understand the extremely serious and long-term negative consequences of emotional abuse. One judge actually came up to me afterwards and asked if I was certain about this (I am). It was a long and grueling day. I flew out in the morning, gave my talk, and then flew home the same day. But I left with a feeling of satisfaction that in at least one state, most judges will be aware of parental alienation and at are likely to least consider the importance of intervening. Only 49 states to go!