What is Parental Alienation?

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is a situation where one parent, consciously or unconsciously, attempts to keep the children from the other parent. This can occur where one parent has a negative or unsupportive attitude toward the other. This can also occur where one’s conduct and words in the presence of the children demonstrates one’s anger and bitterness toward the other.

Parental alienation is used in divorce and separation cases to denote the breakdown of the relationship between a child and one of the parents. It most often occurs in cases where the parties have locked themselves into high levels of conflict that often includes custody and access matters. The reason for the breakdown needs to be tied to the other parent’s behaviour. Courts have described parental alienation as when a child demonstrates an illogical refusal to have a normal relationship with a parent produced by the custodial parent’s conscious or unconscious pressure on the child to reject the relationship with the other parent.

What is not Considered Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is not, and should not be confused with, estrangement or ‘justified estrangement’. Justified estrangement is described as a logical refusal to have a normal relationship with a parent arising from the non-custodial parent’s behaviour or attitude towards the child.

Also, if a child does not want access or parenting time with a parent as a means of demonstrating the child’s will, this is not parental alienation.

Behaviors Associated to Parent Alienation

Below are some examples of behaviour which may relate to a parent alienating a child from the other:

  1. The parent allows and insists that child make decisions about access/parenting time;
  2. The parent rarely talks about the other parent; disinterested in child’s time with other parent after the contact; cold shoulder, silent treatment, moody after return from visit;
  3. The parent refuses to hear positive comments about other parent or they are quick to discount good times as trivial and unimportant;
  4. The parent does not encourage calls to other parent in between visits and they rationalize that child does not ask;
  5. The parent tells child fun things that were missed during visit with other parent;
  6. The parent indulges child with material possessions and privileges;
  7. The parent refuses to speak directly to parent; refusal to be in same room or close proximity; does not let target parent come to door to pick up child;
  8. The parent exaggerates negative attributes of the other parent and omits anything positive.1

If you fear that there is alienating behaviour in your family law matter, it is crucial that you obtain early therapeutic intervention for your child(ren) with a person who specializes in child issues during a divorce/separation. You will also benefit from counselling to develop the skills to deal with the rejecting child and the alienating parent.

It will also be crucial to seek the assistance of a family lawyer to help you address the issues of custody and access in court. Presenting evidence sufficient to prove parental alienation is difficult and nuanced. The evidence usually requires expert opinion on the nature of the relationship and the alienating behavior.

1. Bala, Fidler, Goldberg and Houston, Alienated Children and Parental Separation: Legal Responses in Canada’s Family Courts, 33 Queen’s L.J. 79.