The mother and father were married in October 2006 and were separated in October 2009. They are the parents of E.P. who, at the time of the decision, was 14 years old.
On July 6, 2017, Justice Lofchik ordered on consent that the parties have joint decision-making and equal parenting time over a rotating two-week schedule. However, on December 31, 2020, E.P. and her mother had an argument over E.P. attending her father’s New Years Eve party during the mother’s scheduled parenting time. Following the argument, E.P. left the mother’s home and never returned to her care nor spent any further meaningful parenting time with her.
Despite the parties’ consenting to a temporary without prejudice Order on May 27, 2021 which allowed for video calls twice a week and four in-person visits on successive weekends, contact with the mother did not meaningfully resume. E.P. would routinely cut the video calls short and would refuse to enter
the mother’s vehicle for the in-person visits.
The mother accused the father of alienating E.P. away from her and brought a motion for specified parenting time with her as well as an order for reunification therapy. The father brought a cross-motion for child support from the mother.
A section 112 assessment was ordered to be completed by an OCL clinician, however it was eventually discontinued given E.P.’s refusal to meet with the mother directly for observation. In assessing E.P.’s views and preferences, the clinician discerned a significant rift between her and her mother. E.P. presented as a mature and articulate child, able to recognize that she did not hate the mother, but rather wanted some time apart so both her and her mother could work out their separate issues. E.P. further identified the following problematic interactions with her mother, including but not limited to, the mother calling her fat and remarking on her weight, the mother purchasing food for herself but telling E.P. to microwave a hotdog for supper, and using E.P.’s horse as a weapon by threatening to sell the horse should E.P. argue back.
In his analysis, Justice Broad dove into the extensive case law addressing the issue of parental alienation, including it’s past treatment by the courts and the various factors the court will consider in making such a determination. When the existence of alienation is being disputed between the parties, and where the potential remedies to be implemented could have a long-term impact, his Honor stated that the proposed responses should be supported by admissible expert evidence. This is especially so at the
interim motion stage, where the impact of a court’s remedial decision can have such a significant impact on the child that it would resemble a final order. Only in circumstances where the evidence of alienation is so overwhelming can a finding of parental alienation be made at the interim stage.
When addressing the appropriate remedy to implement following a finding of parental alienation, orders for reunification counselling are only to be made sparingly. Such requests by a party require a detailed proposal identifying the proposed counsellor and what is expected of the process. Justice Broad goes even further and highlights that a request for reunification counselling should also contain an assessment of the potential emotional risks of such an order on the child.
Justice Broad recognized that the affidavits submitted by the parties did not have the benefit of being tested under cross-examination, with the only independent evidence provided being that of the OCL
clinician’s discontinued s. 112 assessment report. In this report however, the clinician recognized E.P.’s well thought out reasoning for her resistance towards the mother, and did not express any concern that E.P.’s views and preferences were not her own.
While the court recognized that there were problematic messages from the father and step-mother with respect to the mother, they were not sufficient to satisfy the high threshold of parental alienation.
Justice Broad refused to make a finding of parental alienation in this case, as it appeared from the limited evidence that both parents shared responsibility for the breakdown of the relationship between
E.P. and her mother. The father may not have recognized the importance of facilitating the relationship between E.P. and her mother, while the mother may have neglected her own role in causing damage to the relationship. Justice Broad further noted that the mother’s suggested reunification counsellor did not provide any evidence of the potential emotional harm that may befall E.P. by forcing her to participate in reunification counselling. E.P.’s views and preference were to be given due weight with her age and maturity, and given her expressed reluctance to attend counselling, such views had to be properly recognized.
The case of J.C. v. R.P. represents another example of the significantly high threshold facing parents claiming parental alienation. Enforcing parenting time or reunification counselling can be especially difficult for children in their teenage years. Their views and preferences will be given greater weight given their advanced age, and unfortunately, forcing such remedies upon them may cause more harm than good. Of further note from Justice Broad’s decision was his emphasis on the moving party to include evidence relating to the potential risks of imposing reunification counselling. Understanding the potential downsides of imposing such a recourse is critical for the court’s remedial determination, especially when they are asked to do so at an interim stage.