Judge Paul W. Burmaster, a distinguished jurist, currently holds the position of the 2nd most senior judge in the Family Division of the 10th Judicial District Court in Johnson County, Kansas. Since assuming this role in July 2019, he has emerged as a dependable member of the Family Court. He is pleased and proud to serve the people of Johnson County as he navigates the intricacies of family law, handling divorce, parentage, and protection order cases. Before donning the robes of a judge, Burmaster honed his legal acumen in private practice and public service. His career traversed criminal, civil, and juvenile arenas with countless bench trials and over 40 jury trials. As an attorney, Burmaster tried a wide spectrum of criminal cases, from DUI to First Degree Murder. Burmaster’s journey into public service commenced as an Assistant City Prosecutor in Wichita, Kansas.  He later served as an Assistant District Attorney in the 29th Judicial District, Wyandotte County, Kansas, from 1992 to 1994. In this role, he answered questions of the public, managed a caseload of adult criminal felony charges, and represented the State in mental health commitment hearings. His commitment to justice and community persisted through his role as an Assistant City Prosecutor in Kansas City, Missouri. In this capacity, he handled a myriad of cases and trials, negotiated plea deals, and maintained a rigorous schedule. A proud alumnus of the University of Kansas School of Law (Juris Doctorate, 1990) and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas (Bachelor of Science, 1987), Judge Burmaster’s involvement extends beyond the courtroom. Active in legal associations such as the Johnson County Family Law Inn of Court, the Johnson County Bar Association, the Johnson County Bar Foundation, and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, he is not only a dedicated jurist but a committed community member.

In this interview, Judge Paul W. Burmaster answers common questions about Family Law in Kansas.  Paul W. Burmaster is a Judge in the 10th Judicial District Court, Johnson County, Kansas.

What is the meaning of the term “Alienation” in Family Court?

“Alienation” occurs when one parent, by words or actions, tries to disparage their co-parent in the eyes or ears of their children.

Isn’t it natural for parents and people in general to defend themselves, defend their position, even with their kids.

Its important to remember that children are not small adults.  Our brains aren’t even fully developed until we are around 25 years old.  So, the things we put in our bodies and brains need to tailored for our age.  But even as adults, hearing negative things about our parents can be very damaging. So, in answer to your question, “yes” it is natural to feel a need to “defend” ourselves, but parents should resist that temptation.  They should instead consider that children don’t need to hear the bad things that Mommy thinks about Daddy or vice versa.  In fact, hearing those things is very damaging to children.

Why is it damaging for children to hear this negative talk?

Children love their parents and inherently know they come from Mom and Dad.  It makes them feel bad about themselves when they hear people speaking badly about Mom or Dad.  And it’s even worse when they hear bad things about Mom or Dad from Mom or Dad (or from Mom and Mom, the same rules apply to same-sex or any parents). Parents should also do their utmost to keep their family and friends from “bad mouthing” their co-parents where or when the children might hear.

Why is it worse when “bad mouthing” comes from Mom or Dad?

Children love both their parents.  So, if Dad – who the child loves and trusts – talks badly about Mom – who the child loves and trusts, it will be very confusing for the child.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  How should they feel?  Should they love one parent more?  Should they trust one parent more? This sort of situation can create tremendous anxiety and stress in a child of any age.  It places them in a “loyalty bind” between their parents. Children may react by acting out in school, shutting down, or even attempting to harm themselves.  Alienation causes long-term psychological damage to children and severely damages their likelihood of forming long-term loving relationships of their own as adults.  Simply put, it is extremely damaging to a child when a parent tries to alienate the other parent.  It’s very harmful to the alienator as well.

Why is it harmful to the “Alienator”?

Children absolutely hate it when parents engage in alienating behavior.  It is the single most common thing children complain about.  They usually end up holding all the negative things they hear against the person who said them – not the “bad” parent.  The alienating parent ultimately ends up alienating themselves from their child.  The child gets so sick of one parent “bad mouthing” the other that they simply tune out and then walk away from the “bad mouther” when they turn 18, 17, or even 16 years old.  It may be counter-intuitive, but by “bad mouthing” your co-parent, you will likely lose your child’s love.

What are some examples of things parents shouldn’t discuss with their kids about divorce?

They should never discuss court hearings or the case in general with their children, they should not discuss adult topics that involve their co-parent, and they should never “bad mouth” their co-parent  — it will harm your child, the child doesn’t want to hear it, and it may ultimately cost you your child’s love.

What should parents talk to their kids about?

That’s easy – let your kids do the talking. Ask them about their day, their interests, what they love.  Listen, listen, and encourage — and they will love you for it.

** Judge Paul W. Burmaster is a judge in the Family Department of the Johnson County Kansas District Court.  Judge Burmaster is pleased and proud to serve the children and families of Johnson County, Kansas.  Judge Burmaster is the second most senior member of the Family Law division and has extensive litigation experience.  Judge Burmaster likes to remind all litigants that court is not a game, but like a game, it has rules. It can be crucial to you and your children’s future to know the rules.  Please consider consulting with an experienced family law attorney if you have a case in family court.

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