If you are an access parent and you begin to notice a permanent change in the behavior of your child it may be due to parental alienation. Warning signs may include:
- the child’s withdrawal from the relationship,
- complete isolation whereby he or she stops wanting to attend access visits, and
- you notice that he or she consistently sides with and supports the custodial parent.
Parental alienation usually occurs because the custodial parent has been brainwashing or indoctrinating the child so to eventually eliminate the access parent from his or her life. The motivation behind the custodial parent’s actions can vary, it can be for vengeance or financial gain. Justice Perkins, in the case of S. (C.) v. S. (M.) 2010 ONSC 340, provides a useful definition of parental alienation at paragraph 92 of his judgment:
“Children who are subject to the parental alienation syndrome (I will call them PAS children) are very powerful in their views of the non-alienating parent. The views are almost exclusively negative, to the point that the parent is demonized and seen as evil. [...] PAS children feel empowered and are rewarded for attacking the other parents and feel no remorse or shame for doing so. [...] PAS children have a knee jerk, reflexive response to support the alienator against the targeted parent, often on the basis of minimal evidence or justification. PAS children broaden their attacks to encompass members of the other parent’s extended family. [...] PAS children are recruited by the alienating parent and alienated siblings to the alienating parent’s cause. [...] With PAS children, you cannot be sure who you are listening to – is it the child, is it the alienating parent, or is it Court Watch [an advocacy group supporting the father]?”
Therefore, and based on this definition, if a parent continues to see or have access to the child on a regular basis then he or she will not be considered to be “alienated.” A child being disrespectful towards a parent, or an increase in arguments between parent and child is not “parental alienation.”
Once a child is diagnosed he or she is said to suffer from parental alienation syndrome and the consequences flowing from such a diagnosis are that the parental-child relationship is deeply lost or altered. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that if you feel alienated you must intervene and attempt to reverse the damage that has occurred.
There are numerous recourses available to you if you have been alienated:
- You may seek a court-ordered resolution (i.e. increased access or maybe even custody). Note though that this is expensive and requires a lot of evidence from objective third parties who can testify as to the nature of the relationship you shared with the child pre-alienation.
- You and your child may also seek counseling in the form of reunification therapy with a professional who is familiar with parental alienation.
- Or, another alternative is to unilaterally attempt to reverse the effects of alienation by maintaining consistent contact with your child (this is of utmost importance and should always be done when there is evidence of or suspicion of parental alienation). During this time you should try to engage in fun and conflict-free activities, avoid acting aggressively or attacking your child for his or her behavior, refrain from “bad-mouthing” the other parent, etc.
In the most extreme of cases, where the alienation is so severe that choosing one of these three option would be useless, the courts can order that your child participate in the Family Bridges program created by Dr. Richard Warshark.
Under this program, which as of now is only available in United States of America, the alienated parent and child are sent to a hotel or a resort for four days of intensive therapy (64 hours of treatment) with two mental health professionals. During this time the child is able to spend time with the alienated parent, hopefully reconnect, and is taught to have a compassionate view of both parents as all parents make mistakes. The child is also taught the importance and benefit of having two parents present in his or her life at all times. This process however can be very expensive and in some cases cost approximately $20,000 (U.S.).