I would like to talk to you today about parental alienation.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child, usually by one parent, into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards another parent. When a child demonstrates an unwarranted dislike of one parent, usually post-separation, which has been influenced by negative comments from the other parent, this is known as “parental alienation”.
What are some signs of parental alienation?
Separation can lead to conflict between parents, and often the children are the main victims. Parental alienation arises most often in high-conflict separations and divorces dealing with custody and access arrangements. Leading experts in Canada and the United States have identified some signs that parents should be aware of when a child is being alienated from one parent by the other parent:
One sign of parental alienation can be if a parent blocks access to the other parent. In most cases, it is in the best interests of a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, whether they live together or not, and this is often what exists prior to the separation. It is therefore important for a child to have contact with both parents post-separation. However, too often the rejected parent is actively blocked by the other parent from having access to the child. The reasons given to the rejected parent are numerous, such as the child needs time to adjust to the change, or access is too unsettling to the child, or the child simply doesn’t want to see that parent.
Unfounded Allegations of Abuse
Another sign can be false abuse allegations being laid against the rejected parent. Although accusations of physical or sexual abuse might be brought forward, the most common form of false abuse allegations are examples of abuse that do not leave a mark, such as emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse allegations can take different forms, such as complaining about allowing a child to watch too much TV, or concern about one parent introducing the child to a new partner too early after the separation. Whatever the form, the object is clear: one parent is presented as being inferior to the other parent, and not worthy of being involved in the child’s life.
Deterioration in Parent-Child Relationship
Most children have good relationships with both parents before separation, so what can be said when the opposite happens post-separation? If the rejected parent is trying to maintain a relationship with the child, then it would be natural to assume that something happened to cause the change in the parent-child relationship. A healthy relationship between a child and parent does not just fall apart on its own, and therefore every parent should be mindful when a change has occurred.
Intense Reaction of Fear by the Child
The last sign to be aware of is when a child suddenly, and without provocation, decides to cancel an access visit with the rejected parent. This can often be due to the child’s fear of losing the approval of the custodial parent. The child constantly wants to please the custodial parent, and this can be reinforced by the custodial parent making the child “choose” which parent they want to spend their time with. The child is afraid of being abandoned by the custodial parent, and as such they will make negative decisions regarding their relationship with the other parent to maintain the approval of the custodial parent.
What is the effect of parental alienation?
The effect of parental alienation is that the child may resist or even outright refuse to have contact with the other parent, or may express dislike or even intense hatred toward that parent. The outcome is often an eroding of the relationship between the rejected parent and the child that cannot so easily be repaired, which is ultimately to the detriment of the child.
What can you do if you are experiencing parental alienation?
If you believe your former spouse is attempting to alienate your child from you, it is important to bring your concerns before the court as soon as possible to prevent long-term harm to your child. You should consider consulting with a lawyer who can assist you in quickly bringing your concerns forward.
Judges will often tackle these situations by working with mental health professionals who will assess the extent of any parental alienation within the family, and see whether a child’s reluctance or refusal to be involved with a parent is a result of any inappropriate influence by the other parent. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL) may become involved. A judge may order therapeutic intervention with the explicit goal of re-establishing the child’s relationship with the rejected parent, or may order counselling. The best interests of the child in the particular circumstances will always govern the court’s decision.
Thank you for taking the time to watch this video. I hope that I have answered some of your questions about parental alienation. You can also find more information on our website if you would like to meet with one our family law lawyers for an initial consultation, please call us at (905) 581-7222.