Why do the court clerks make a big deal about filing my initial papers for my divorce?

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Atty Chris Pearsall

By:  Christopher Pearsall, Esquire
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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This is a loaded question.  I hear people who are angry at the clerks for not helping them with the forms.  Other people are upset when the clerks caution people to speak with a lawyer about filling out the paperwork.

The big problem here that causes the frustration for people is that they want to do this without a lawyer because they either do not have money to spend on a lawyer or they simply don't want to spend money on a lawyer.  

I can understand that.  That is the very reason I created my coaching program because I knew people needed a more affordable way to get help with the documents that are filed with the family court when they file for divorce.  Perhaps my biggest mistake was failing to understand that most people don't understand the significance of the documents they are creating.

So let's address the main question.  Are the clerks making a big deal because the papers really are a big deal?  Or are the clerks making a big deal because they get tired of people's angry attitudes when they have to reject their papers because they are wrong or incomplete?

Truthfully I think that both of those questions give us the reason.  Perhaps people would get the message if there weren't any things called "forms" given out by the court at all.

Now this has nothing to do with wanting to deny attorneys or anyone else access to some forms that could generally be used for divorces.  Heck, forms make things easier for everyone don't they.  They certainly make them easier for me.  

However, here is one of the problems that forms cause.  When you have a form, here is what people think,

"Hey, this is easy to do this.  I just fill in the blanks in each of these forms.  I don't need a lawyer for this.  I know how to write and so I just fill in the blanks with what makes sense.  Or, better yet I'll look at one that was done in another case by an attorney and I'll use what they wrote but apply it to my own case.  So I don't need a lawyer.  I don't need the hassle of finding one and I can keep the money in my own pocket."


So, all of these things happen because the court provides a few forms.  Some of the forms are semi-clear. Some of them are vague with big blanks in them.  Some of the divorce forms have tremendous signficance. Do you know which forms are which?  Do you know which ones you CAN NOT afford to make a mistake on?

Do you know that for some cases, even simple cases, there is crucial language that can hurt you if you don't include it?  Most people don't.  Did you know that the clerks can't give you advice about filling out the divorce forms as much as they might like to?  Why?  Because they are not attorneys and the law prohibits them from doing do.

So they give you a hard time about filing your initial papers for your divorce because it IS a big deal!  Sometimes even one word..... that's right.... ONE WORD. . . can make you or break in a divorce.  Every word you put in those forms has to do with your legal rights.

Do you think the divorce court clerks are thoughtless and could care less about you?  On the contrary, I have known many of these clerks for years and I know they are not only good people but they are caring people.  Do you know how hard it is for them to perform their jobs and have their hands tied from trying to help you because the law prevents them from giving legal advice?  These folks care about you.  If they gave you a big deal or if you felt hassled, then remember that they care!  They have a hard job.  

I've seen a few clerks try to help people with the forms only to get reprimanded because they are not supposed to give out legal advice and because they might be (and sometimes are) incorrect in what they told the person.

So I'll curse the forms on this one.  If you think that because some forms exist that this is easy and you don't need even the advice or help of a lawyer, then you need to get a grip on the concept of divorce.

EVERY divorce is different and I do mean EVERY SINGLE ONE!  Your life does not fit any form!  Unless a lawyer sees it clearly enough to make the form conform to your life and legally protect you.... then your form might as well be a bunch of blanks each of which is a landmine waiting for you to step on it and blow your legal rights all to hell!  You are not a template!

Trust me when I tell you that I made a few minor mistakes in my early years of practice by excluding things from those blanks that need to be included.  Thankfully I was allowed by the court to fix those errors under exceptions to certain rules.

Don't expect a clerk or a judge to protect you.  When you hire a lawyer to give you advice then that's his or her job!  Are we necessary?  Absolutely!!!

Should the clerks make a big deal about the initial filing of your divorce papers?  Yes!  If they didn't, they would be doing you a disservice.  

Get some legal advice.  You don't have to get full blown representation in every case but if you don't get some legal advice about your paperwork and your rights, then you are acting foolishly.

These are your rights.  If you're willing to buy a few Christmas presents for $150 or $300 at holiday time or to pay for a party for your child but you're not willing to spend the same amount to protect your legal rights in a divorce then clearly your legal rights don't have the priority they should.

Hopefully this helps you understand why clerks make a big deal about your initial divorce papers when you go to file them.  Because they are important and chances are better than not that you forgot something and they get so tired of seeing people who are throwing their rights out the window when they could afford some proper legal advice.

Do yourself a favor!  Get some legal advice from an experienced Rhode Island family court lawyer!

Parental Alienation - Exists Despite What Some People with their Own Agenda Report!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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Today, I did an obscure search on Parental Alienation.  I came up with an article by the Reverend Anne Grant, a person I hardle hold in high esteem yet none the less I address her on her presentation and her facts and not on my dislike for her misrepresentation of facts or the lack of facts entirely when she advocates for something.  She touts principals and at times has used rumors, conjecture and has actually lied to the public by creating articles in which she omits critical facts and circumstances which, if people knew them, would make a huge difference in the informed judgments they might make or possibly even discount her writings altogether as those of a vigilante on a mission who does not care about the means by which she gets there, including misinforming the public.

Yet I digress.  Let me move back into a third party perspective as my legal and psychological training has taught me to do so that I can, as much as possible give you and objective view of what I perceive to be an article that has substantially decreased value today.

I urge you, first and foremost to read Anne Grant's 1998 article at this link.


The topic of the article is supposedly to address Parental Alienation Syndrome.  Anne Grant's premise is that it has been discredited.  In her Op-ed peice she states as follows:

The so-called Parental Alienation Syndrome, touted by many in the Rhode Island Family Court, has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and, recently, by both the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Children's Legal Rights Journal. For more than a decade, I have witnessed the devastating effects of this strategy in Rhode Island courtrooms and families.

For it's publication date, it may or may not be accurate.  For the sake of argument I will address it as of its time frame as well as it's current value, if any.

In the article Anne Grant states that Parental Alienation Syndrome has been discredited by the American Psychological Association.

In actuality the American Psychological Association stated on January 1, 2008 exactly as follows:

Statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome

The American Psychological Association (APA) believes that all mental health practitioners as well as law enforcement officials and the courts must take any reports of domestic violence in divorce and child custody cases seriously. An APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called "parental alienation syndrome", and raised concern about the term's use. However, we have no official position on the purported syndrome. [emphasis added.]

You may find this statement at the following website at the official site of the APA.org


The American Psychological Association did not as Anne Grant claims discredit Parental Alienation Syndrome.  It simply lacked data and therefore did not have an official position as to whether it was an actual syndrome or not.

That is, in fact, the very position that the American Psychological Association takes today.  This statement can be found in the detailed analysis located in an article quoting the same by two opposing therapists to PAS in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online.


This is contained in the March 1, 2013 Publication, Volume 41, Book No. 1, Pages 98-104

Specifically in this analysis it states on Page 99 of the foregoing publication as follows:

The American Psychological Association has no official position on ‘parental alienation syndrome.’ … There is no evidence within the psychological literature of a diagnosable parental alienation syndrome.”

[Emphasis Added - Page 99]

Similarly, in doing my research of Anne Grant's article I found that her article was neither true of the other positions she states at the time the article was written, nor is it applicable now.

In short, the American Psychological Association will not add the Parental Alienation Syndrome to the DSM-5 and ICD-11 which are the major psychological publications of acceptance throughout the mental health community for a variety of reasons including 1) lack of empiricle data, 2) consideration of factors relating to syndromes as opposed to other mental health disorders, 3) lack of clarification of a definition and misinformation or misunderstandings about what PA or PAS is or is not in the psychological community, and 4) considerations of factors that reach well beyond the perview of the qualifications of a mental health syndrome or other mental illness but far reaching affects such as those that are both legal and political in nature, a consideration which may well be beyond the purview of the APA in such a consideration.

Yet, it is clear from extensive reading that while the courts may not be willing to accept Parental Alienation Syndrome as an actual mental health disorder because it it not contained in the DSM-5 and thererfore not considered more globally accepted, that does not mean that there are not substantial proponents in the psychological and therapeutic community that believe PAS should be recognized and accepted once a clear definition and understanding has been reached as to what PAS is and who it applies too.  In the article in the Journal of Psychiatiatry a historical notation is made that more than 70 therapists proposed PAS for acceptance with a certain definition and guidelines.

Even though the proponent's definitions and criteria for acceptance of PAS have yet to be accepted at this juncture, that does not mean that PA or PAS does not exist, but rather that the APA wants to get it right and that they need not only strict definitions and criteria for identification but that they must also be concerned for practitioners' liability and the manner of treatment in addressing it, a subject which may be the hardest part of the entire process.

I have noted in reading Anne Grant's article that she embraces it with sensationalism as a newspaper would when trying to sell more newspapers.  

For instance, Anne Grant does not mention convictions by persons in her article.  She mentions arrests.  People who are arrested are innocent until proven guilty.  Arrests mean nothing.  Police officers, as hard as they try, are not always right.  In fact, sometimes they are dead wrong.

I was arrested once Anne.  The police thought I was a drug dealer because one officer thought I matched the description of a guy who was reported to be dealing drugs.  It was not until well into the procedure that I was able to show the police that I was actually the good citizen who called to report that the guy was dealing drugs and that they should send a squad car by.  Yet by your account Anne, I should be judged because I was arrested even thought I was the "good guy" doing my civic duty to report the drug dealer.

Here's the hard part.  I've done my homework. I always do but I can only suspect that Anne Grant does not. I see the sensationalized words she uses.  I wonder how Anne Grant obtained what would have been "privileged communications" in cases that almost certainly would not have been revealed to her so how did she fill in the blanks.  Did she guess?  Did she just fill in what made the most sense?  Did she just hear a lawyer or a parent claim something in court without an ounce of proof to show for it and without being under oath?  I don't know these answers.  What I do know is that what she has written can be pulled apart as easily as a well-boiled chicken at Thanksgiving!  Sorry folks.... I like chicken and not turkey! 

Rather than spend another 10 pages pulling apart the article to show how by virtue or research and common sense the house of cards created by Anne Grant's article isn't reliable because it's standing on quicksand, I'd like to address what I see as Parental Alienation.

Keep in mind that I am not trying to model the American Psychiatric Association in any way or to follow anyone's teachings.  From the name itself, "Parental Alienation" I developed my own concept based upon what I have seen as a family law attorney in Rhode Island.  It's not a wonderful defense or a wonderful offense in court.  In fact, it is one of the hardest and most difficult things to prove.  So how does anyone know what's going on, especially me, right?

In criminal law, a judge once said, the definition of "Child Pornography" may be vague and arguable in many instances, but ... I know it when I see it!

That is the case with me as a Rhode Island Family Law Attorney.  Since Divorce and family law is all that I do in Rhode Island it makes it easier for me to focus.  Ultimately, whether I represent a mother or a father, if any child is going to be hurt in the process, I'm on top of it like fleas on a dog!  I'm not about to let my client or the other parent hurt a child and ultimately if a parent is damaging a relationship with the other parent then that is exactly what that are doing, they are hurting a child.  Children are priority number one in my book!!

So, do I think Parental Alienation Syndrome exists?  It's not my place to say.  When you add syndrome on the end then you are talking about a mental health diagnosis and that is most assuredly not my field.

Do I believe that Parental Alienation exists?  Absolutely!  I have not one iota of doubt that it occurs and I've seen it over and over again.  I've seen it by actions and inactions of both mothers and fathers.  I've also seen attorneys ignore it and I've noticed that sometimes it is lost on the judge or even repatriation counselors and therapists entirely.

So in my opinion what is it?  I'll answer that question and then I'll address it in more detail in my next article tomorrow.

Parental Alienation is when one parent through their words, actions, or their inactions creates an environment or provides information or deprives information from a child which causes the child to voluntarily want to disassociate with the other parent, become angry with the other parent and take on the feelings, beliefs and/or traits of the parent causing the alienating environment so the child no longer wants to have a relationship with the other parent.

I'll process that for the night myself while you do the same and tomorrow we'll address the difficulties that Parental Alienation causes to parents and to children. 

In closing, if you read this Anne Grant, please do not write that I have claimed to be a psychologist or that I know more than them or that I have claimed that my personal definition (which continues to change as time goes on).  I am a legal practitioner in Rhode Island intent on protecting children.  Let's stick to the truth.  

Aren't people entitled to it?

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