When your finances prevent you from getting legal help

Is money keeping you from protecting your child?

Is money preventing you from helping your child?

Many parents faced with an ex who’s assaulting their parent-child relationship feel helpless, and think that taking legal action is too costly. While it can indeed be expensive, it can also end up costing you nothing… and the alternative is simply not acceptable, which is the continued emotional abuse of your child.

If your child is being abused in a campaign of parental alienation, you need to get legal help. Many decrees have standard language addressing badmouthing the other parent or discussing other adult matters, but many do not.

Here’s an example from a Texas decree:

Minimize Exposure to Harmful Parental Conflict
The conservators agree that any discussion regarding the child(ren) will not occur in the presence of the child(ren). The conservators further agree not to discuss any any conflicts that may be occurring between the conservators with the child(ren).

Family courts are aware that many parents will drag their kids through the divorce drama, so most have standard language like the above depending on what county and state you’re in.

If your decree doesn’t have such language, it needs to be inserted. Consult an attorney, who will be able to advise you on how to add this (usually called a “Motion to Modify,” which is a written request to the court to change a prior order regarding custody, child support, etc) to your decree.

But before you take the legal route, consider getting CPS involved first. Although CPS doesn’t deal with many parental alienation cases, you could get a caseworker who does understand this form of abuse (sadly most CPS caseworkers do not). Be prepared from blowback from your ex, but don’t let that stop you from taking every effort to protect your child. I suggest having some audio or video evidence to back up your call to them. Being that abusers frequently abuse on multiple levels (see this post), the caseworker could end up discovering abuse that you were unaware of.

Then, it’s time to find a good attorney. If you’re a father, find a male attorney, and if you’re a mother, find a female attorney. Why? Because sexes tend to side with and have a better understanding of each other.

Call at least five or six attorneys. Since an attorney’s job is to fight for the best interest of children, make sure you mention that your child is being abused. Any good person/attorney is not going to say, “I can’t help you” just because later in the conversation you mention that you don’t have the money immediately available.

There are many options for paying attorneys that you and your attorney can agree to. Don’t be shy in suggesting one or more of these. In most attorneys’ eyes, some money now or over time is better than no money at all.

Here are some ideas and tips:

  • Don’t go with big-name law firms. Go with the smaller firms or independent lawyers as their odds of needing you as much as you need them are pretty good
  • Dig deep: use your credit card, sell some possessions on eBay or Craigslist, take out a home equity loan, downsize your $30,000 car, borrow money from a friend or relative, etc.
  • Suggest bartering if you’ve got some talent, skills, or a product that could help the attorney
  • Your attorney should advise you that you’ll be suing the other parent for attorney fees (as he or she is the guilty party, and the reason for the legal action in the first place).

With the divorce rate as high as it is and the amount of parents that are unable to control their emotions, parental alienation is a common problem. And in the mind of a parent who’s capable of abuse, the best way to hurt the other parent is to turn the child against them.

There’s always a way to legally help your child who’s a victim of parental alienation. Lack of money is no excuse for not fighting for your child.

Bonus tip: Remember, if your decree has any wording addressing keeping the child out of conflict, your legal efforts should be an easy fight for your lawyer because he or she would be likely setting up a contempt hearing. Get as much evidence as you can, including therapist notes, audio/video evidence (complying with the law, of course), other witnesses, etc. The more evidence, the better.


About John

John Thomas Steinbeck is a parental alienation consultant. He and his son's relationship was under attack in a deplorable campaign of parental alienation. In this blog, John shares his insights, techniques, and tools in combating emotional child abuse. He did it-- today his son's love has been restored-- and you can too!
  • Reggie

    Good post.

    The truly sad thing is that you may spend all of that money (and more) and have nothing to show for it when all is said and done.

    I don’t have much faith in the system, I’m afraid.

  • admin

    That’s true, Reggie. With so many dysfunctional family courts out there, you could end up shafted. Your lack of faith in the “system” is justified.

    But there’s also a good chance a court will understand your pleas and will help you accordingly.

  • Elaine

    I’m right there with you. I fought until all of my resources were exhausted, and that includes financial, physical, and emotional. I don’t have any faith in the system anymore either.

    I was alienated from my children, and my ex still acts as if I’m a threat to my own children, when I was a stay home mother for 13 years, but to listen to them now, after 7 years of alienation, you would think I just abandoned them and left them to themselves, starved them and ignored them while I was home with them. It hurts, and I still cry about it sometimes. Losing my children is truly the only thing I’m still bitter about involving my divorce, but I’m very bitter and hurt by that.

  • pat

    What if the provision is not yet in a court order and it’s been going on for sometime. Will the contempt only apply if there’s this provision.

  • Maria

    I think it’s narcissistic to keep threatening litigation. Maybe you’re wrong? Forgive me for sounding sceptical, but is it possible, even, that you”re the narcissist? Your arguments are very black and white, very judgmental about narcissists, when in fact if someone is one – however toxic – it makes them a person in pain, a sad person, not an evil force to be conquered. They believe their nonsense and they’re acting in good faith a lot of the time, however warped it may seem to a healthy mind. I spend my life fighting off my narcissistic ex’s attempts to get me into court willy nilly, and his false accusations of PAS. Even his new wife has told the children their dad is a good man and their mom is a very angry, bad woman because I often don’t want to behave the way they want me to. They try to avoid blame and responsibility, they annex the children to make themselves look good, they flatter the kids and buy them stuff, spoil them, say and do inappropriate things, have favourites, are never there for them when it matters…I can go on and on. I’ve spent years trying to understand how they can do this to children, but in the end the children can SEE who behaves badly and they make their own judgment.

  • John


    Certainly threats of frivolous litigation are contemptible. My article addresses those parents who need legal help to help them protect their child.

    I’m sorry your children are being turned against you… it’s a feeling unlike any other. Shame on anyone trash talking a child’s own parent.

    You’re right, in the end children DO see the alienators for who they are and were. They will make their own judgments, and, in your case, your resolve and love will win the day. It will take a lot of patience in the meantime…

  • I’m smack dab in the middle of a custody hearing and after friends RAISE my $5000 retainer for me, my lawyer bolts……sending notice of withdraw to opposing council before I was even notified. Obviously blindsided, now I’m stuck, again, penniless (after years of back and forth all brought on by my ex) and looking for a lawyer. Of course my ex and his lawyer JUMPED on this and filed ANOTHER modification…….she, the lawyer, is “known for manipulating the law to her advantage” and “fabricates” false CPS allegations and uses Temp Restraining Orders in an effort to win custody battles. He’s text book narcissist and now with learning so much about Parental Alienation and Hostile Aggressive Parenting, I at least feel like I have a direction to go in. How I’m going to do it, and be prepared in TWO days for the next court appearance, well, I just don’t know.

  • Alise

    Re:Elaine – I am also a non-custodial mother, like you. His family financially supported him & he was awarded custody because they showed the court they/he could provide a nicer house. I was their sole caretaker from the moment of conception. He never took me to the Dr. and most certainly couldn’t be bothered to “babysit.” He was unemployed 6 out 8 years of our marriage, and I paid for childcare to work. Even after he took custody away after I left him so we could escape escalating abuse, he didn’t work a job for over a year. I would come to visit my girls, clean their room, do their laundry, the schools had never met him in person.

    My sister is also a mother who lost her children to a richer more powerful abuser and his family. The number of women in our particular situation seems to be growing, but it may just be I am finding more cases similar to mine due to searching for help myself. There is strength in letting go, and faith from loving your babies is why you are going to stand on your two feet. I tell my children a quote from the bible which I adapt thusly: “Nothing can separate me from the love of my mother and father.” I make them recite it before bed as a prayer during visitation. Make a ritual.

    This is my counter-brainwashing program. Because the custodial parent has more time to poison, the anti-venom must be applied regularly. So no matter the bad treatment you suffer from the abusive parent, constantly reach out with words of peace and definitely follow the points the good gentleman of this blog has highlighted! Keep your counter-doctrine very simple, use repetition, so that you never address specifics with the children about their other parent’s behavior: keep those concerns in a journal, or email the parent to express your concerns directly sending a BCC to a lawyer and another witness.

    Repetition and consistency is the key to counter the programming. And let the child talk, express their frustrations, listen for their needs. You are still powerful in their life.

  • Tiffany

    Hello. I’m glad that I came across this website, and it clears some of my thoughts about what I am experiencing and trying to escape. Do you know of any groups that deal with helping individuals in this matter near Delaware County PA? My ex is brainwashing my daughter. I am suffering. He is poisoning my daughter and putting her against me. It just breaks my heart. I don’t have a lot of money saved up because he was very controlling and I couldn’t even take out $20 and be scrutinized in why I took it out and what it was being used for. I would appreciate anything you can suggest in helping me. Please help me leave.

    broken heart

  • Angel C ahatter

    Parental alienation is the aliby my Ex tried to use to get away with very real and serious abuse of our daughter. If you are a mother or a father of an abused child beware of this terminology “parental alienation”!!! Do not report crimes to Child Protective Services or the Department of Family and Protective Services their only authority is civil and social workers are not Criminal investigators. Hire a private investigator and use medical doctors and forensic licensed counselors and therapists if your child makes an outcry of abuse. WARNING…. Let the doctors and therapists do the reporting to social services!!! As a parent reporting abuse you have no credibility. These agencies believe that parental conflict causes false allegations and you will as the non offending parent wind up in Cps court ordered services and may lose custody to the abusive parent. I know it goes against every instinct you have as a mother but, if your child tells you about abuse do not ask them anymore questions. Call a forensic Phyciatrist , counselor, or phycologist and get your child in immediately for an appointment. This bull **** about parental alienation almost allowed my ex to get away with drug facilitated sexual assault of my six year old daughter. Thank God for forensic toxicoligst who specialize in hair follicle drug testing, geneticists, and neuropsychiatrists. If it wasn’t for scientists my child would have been turned over to her sicko father because CPS employs a bunch of brainless idiots. After you’ve taken your child to professionals, understand that they are required by law to report abuse to Child Protective Services if it is abuse relative to a parent – INSIST they cross report to law enforcement and get the name of the detective assigned to the case and work directly with them. Also HIRE a lawyer to protect yourself and your child . Lawyers are expensive but what is your life really worth if your child is handed to their abuser by the very agency that is supposed to protect them? Seriously even if you think you can’t afford it, sell EVERYTHING you have and get an attorney who knows the Kaw and is an experienced fighting litagator who knows the laws in your state. Children do deserve a positive relationship with both parents as long as there is no abuse. We must remember that our kids are not parental property and ultimately they belong to themselves and God.

  • Gina

    I am having this problem to the maximum and I am not even divorced yet. I have been with my husband for 22 years… I had a 5yr old boy when I met him.. When he turned 16 I had a baby with my husband and things that were probably were never right went south…. FAST…. After about 3-4 years of solid verbal and physical abuse I left. Began filing for a divorce. Husband got sick And I went back for awhile. When he was better I left again (He was still abusive and horrible while sick and his family backed him on being that way to me.) I left met someone for a short period of time. Husband cried and begged to change I went back. I now have an 11 year old with him and a 3 year old. My poor son who was treated like garbage ended up with a drug problem. I am constantly fighting to save his life and in the meantime my husband is back to his abusive self to me, and terribly turning my children, my sweet girls against me. He has turned my siblings against me (they are my older sons age and like my kids also), and the final straw that is making me look up help is making my 3 year old feel ashamed and guilty of visiting my mother (last weekend after fleeing the house and having my face grabbed and my hair pulled).. I have been hit hard and was laid off and am temporarily unemployed so I feel soooo stuck…. I get yelled at for buying groceries, clothes for the kids, he tells them I spend all his $ ( He makes poverty wages for a family of 4) It is totally out of control….. The minute I get a job I am contacting a lawyer and making my escape. But he turned my 3 year old in one stern look and a guilt trip. It’s scary… I KNOW that it is his issue and I KNOW how damaging it is to the kids I have told him and he doesn’t care. I have done nothing to deserve this treatment…. Not even an argument….. How can you make the un-stoppable stop because I KNOW it will get worse after divorce. His Mother has messed him up this way and still at 44 years old STILL is trying to please her….. She does it to behind my back. I finally have stepped away from the controlling family but it got worse with kids because they have more alone time with them….. Is there anything legal that can be done to stop this? HELPPPPPPP…… I don’t want to lose anymore children in this relationship I feel like I have lost one already……..

  • Great work, a couple of extremely valid suggestions! I value you crafting this article and the rest of your site is outstanding!

  • I am from the UK where I am sure the law is different but the situation remains the same as many. In brief. My x and I spilt in July 2009. I continued a good stable relationship with my daughter twice a week until the following March (although there were breaks in contact due to my ex cutting contact for approx. 1 mth in each occasion) when I saw my daughter for tea and made an arrangement to pick her up from school on the Friday but in-between this time received an email from my x cutting all future contact. I accepted this at the time due to a difficult divorce but maintained contact via phone/Facebook until my daughter clearly brainwashed cut me out blocking me from Facebook and changing her number. I maintained sending cards/gifts etc. until I took my x to court for access (April 2012). Caffass clearly took my ex’s side from the outset. I wrote to my daughter monthly on instruction from the courts and attended a parenting course (something we should have both attended at separate occasions but she did not attend). In the end my daughter was ordered to see the judge and reciprocated she wanted nothing to do with me. Because of her age, 11 at the time the judge had no choice but to take on her views. I carried on writing to my daughter monthly until March 2013 when I received a torrent of abuse and was told never to write again. I continued to send cards etc for birthdays Christmas (I stopped gifts along time ago as I believe cards/gifts are intercepted). I sent a friend request to my daughter in October 2013 and it was accepted. The first I heard was just after Christmas 2013 asking for all photographs/video’s I have, wanting them back. I asked her to call to discuss the matter to no avail. Messages continued over a 3 day period (with one calling me w**ker dad) with me repeating for her to call, ending in a message after midnight that was clearly written and sent from my EX stating she and her family required the photo’s back and to then go away. I was then blocked again only for a friend request to come through the following week from my daughter’s account. I don’t know where to take it from here? I have not accepted the request. There is a police order in place between me and EX where we cannot contact each other directly; I think my X uses my daughter’s account pretending to be her? In brief, the financial situation through divorce stands that my x gained 26 properties (I was a property developer and offered this as security for her and my daughter), I have 2. Due to this maintenance was set at a low level but still an amount I have been unable to maintain due to ill health. My E
    X has said she doesn’t want such a lowly sum and calls it an insult. I have another daughter from a previous relationship who I have only seen for the last 2 years due to my ex giving me an ultimatum 6 months into our fast moving relationship..it’s me or her (at the time of the ultimatum my ex was pregnant but sadly miscarriage, one of several). Since our split I have built a fantastic ongoing relationship with my daughter from my pervious relationship. My daughter from my marriage has been made aware of her half-sister by my x and it is always used as a tool so to speak. I have kept everything noted from the last 4 years as a diary (most of which is copied and pasted from nasty messages received from facebook etc), now 300 pages long. It is factual, not about the way I feel.