Parental alienation essentially occurs when a parent’s behaviour, whether conscious or unconscious, serves to mitigate the relationship between a child and the other parent. This alienation is often executed by one parent in an attempt to penalize the other parent for any misfortunes experienced in his/her marriage or life.
In a decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, a mother, the Respondent in this case, loses custody of her three daughters and her right to see her children except in relation to counselling, due to her longstanding destructive behaviour of attempting to alienate her children from their father, the Applicant in this case, for more than a decade.
The parties in this case began dating in July 1993. By March 1994, the Respondent was pregnant with the parties’ first daughter. After the birth of their first child, the Applicant had little contact with the child or the Respondent, except on occasions when the Respondent needed something from the Applicant. Right from the first born child’s birth, the Respondent essentially dictated whether or not the Applicant could see the child at all, and any contact between the child and her father was sporadic at best. The parties, however, decided to marry and in fact were married on November 23, 1996. Shortly after the marriage, the Respondent became pregnant with the second child. Despite having married the Respondent, the Applicant still felt marginalized and was allowed no input on issues regarding the children. Furthermore, the Applicant was given very little opportunity to spend quality time with his children when he wanted to. The Respondent, instead, had a very difficult time differentiating herself from the children, and as a result, was overbearing to say the very least. The Respondent, for example, slept in the eldest child’s bedroom on a nightly basis even though the Applicant was greatly opposed to this arrangement, she had problems dealing with the eldest child attending a prekindergarten Montessori school and thus took her out of the program, and furthermore, fired her nanny because the child had a hard time “connecting” with the nanny. What is even more telling is that the Respondent kept the child and the Applicant apart, and according to the judge in this case, encouraged any difficulties the child had in bonding with her father because the Respondent allowed them no time together. There was also evidence presented to the court that during the parties’ marriage, the Respondent was abusive toward the Applicant in front of the children. On one occasion, for example, the Applicant was holding one of his children in his arms when the Respondent demanded that he give her the baby back. The Respondent grabbed the child from the Applicant’s arms, put the child on the floor and began to push the Applicant, which ended in the Applicant falling on the kitchen table and then onto the floor. The child witnessing the event was scared and appeared to be horrified. The police had been contacted on several occasions in regards to examples of such abuse, but no charges were laid.
In and around the latter part of 1998, the parties separated. Although separating in late 1998, the parties resumed their relationship for one night, at which point their third daughter was conceived. While the Applicant lived on the third floor of the parties’ home, he was allowed virtually no contact with his daughters, and no alone time with them at all. Furthermore, the Applicant did not even know that the Respondent had given birth to the third child, until after the child’s birth when he heard about it through one his children’s teachers.
Various Court Orders pertaining to custody and access were made by the court while the couple was separated, but the Respondent refused to abide by them and continued to exert control over the children. On June 3, 1999, the court ordered an assessment of the family by Dr. Barbara Fidler. The Physician’s Report in 2000 concluded that the children were at significant risk for becoming aligned with their mother and in turn alienated from their father. Further, the Report recognized that a Court Order would likely be insufficient to ensure implementation of a parenting plan and the Mother’s compliance with such. The Report also indicated that sole custody in the Mother’s favour was contraindicated due to the significant concerns related to the Mother’s parenting and her willingness and ability to involve the Applicant in the children’s lives and decision making. By March 13, 2000, Justice Benotto recommended that counselling for the eldest child and the Respondent be had as the children were at ‘substantial’ risk as a result of their mother’s conduct. However, there was no evidence that the Respondent went to any counselling ordered by the court. The Respondent continued thereafter to evade all orders made by the Court, until finally the Applicant was fed up by the ineffectiveness of the Orders, and decided not to go to court between 2000 and 2006. Instead, he attempted to reason with the Respondent who warned him during this period that “if you keep putting pressure on me about the children, you’ll get nothing”. During this time period, if the Applicant was permitted to be with the children, it was on the Respondent’s whim and schedule, and only in her presence. Furthermore, the Respondent would belittle and berate the Applicant in front of the children during his contacts with them. Eventually, the Applicant’s communication with his children was reduced to him shouting goodnight to them through the door of the home, as he was not permitted by the Respondent to see them or speak to them on the telephone. By the spring of 2006, the Respondent cut off any contact he had left with the children.
On July 21, 2006, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (“OCL”) was appointed to represent the children at the request of the Applicant. The alienating behaviour, however, continued despite the involvement of the OCL. In order to increase his contact with the children, the Applicant, for example, would have to go to the extent of leaving notes for the children under the garage door. Court orders and suggestions made by the OCL were also not abided by the Respondent, even though the OCL strongly felt that the family dynamics exhibited in this particular case could not continue.
As a result of all of the foregoing, the court was led to conclude that the Respondent had ‘conducted a consistent and overwhelming campaign, for more than a decade, to alienate [the Applicant’s] three children from him”. The Court further remarked that the Respondent’s unrelenting behaviour towards the children was ‘tantamount to emotional abuse’. Thus, the court ultimately decided that an order granting the Applicant sole custody was the most appropriate and least harmful remedy in this particular case. In addition to the grant of the Applicant’s sole custody order, the court also instructed that no access be given to the Respondent for a period of time as recommended by counsellors engaged to treat the children, save and except for the purposes of counselling. Further, the court ordered that the children would be required to attend a special intensive therapy program for children affected by ‘parental alienation syndrome’, the costs of which would be borne out by the Respondent.
As a result of the Respondent’s uncooperative behaviour with the court and Applicant up until the date of trial, the court was satisfied that the Respondent could only hinder the healing process between the Applicant and the children if access were to be given to her. Therefore, the Respondent’s reinstitution of access to the children would only be considered by the court once the Respondent demonstrated genuine willingness to change her unacceptable behaviour. Thus, paradoxically, the children would be temporarily alienated from the problem parent in an attempt to repair the damage that was created as a result of the original alienation. What the court finds particularly persuasive in its decision is the fact that the Applicant was a very sympathetic litigant, as he had tried for over a decade to do everything he possibly could to have some meaningful contact with the children. The court commented on how remarkable it was that the Applicant did not just give in to the Respondent’s persistence in keeping the children away from him over the last fourteen years, “as most parents probably would have”.