Going through a divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. Unfortunately, it has become more frequent to see one parent try to alienate the other parent from their children. This is called parental alienation. This is an abusive strategy used by one parent to paint the other in a negative light in an attempt to “win the child over”. As a matter of fact, this type of behaviour displays the exact opposite.
Parental alienation can deeply affect the child and the alienated parent. The one projecting this behaviour has the intent to harm the relationship between the children and their other parent. As a result, the children are directly affected due to the fact that this places them in a conflict of loyalty between both of their parents forcing them to side with their “favourite” of the two. This is emotionally damaging to both the child and the parent-victim as it eventually becomes difficult for the child to maintain a healthy relationship with the alienated parent.
The child very well could suffer academically, socially and emotionally as they try to comprehend the situation between their parents. Essentially, the child’s best interests are neglected as they are caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict. They can feel fear and guilt when not abiding by the demands of the alienating parent to stay away from the other parent. The thoughts, memories and emotions of the child are suppressed, as a result. This is a form of emotional abuse that will impact the child’s mental health and hinder their capacity to form relationships in the future.
Is one sex more susceptible to parental alienation than the other?
No! Both fathers and mothers can be alienated from their children. In some custodial arrangements, the parent with sole custody of the child may try to alienate the other, since the child sees the one with limited parenting time less often than the custodial parent (Cyr, L’aliénation parentale : comment la définir, la détecter et intervenir ?).
What are the solutions?
As a victim of parental alienation, there are tools and services available to relieve the trauma of the situation. This includes therapy for the parties involved, psychosocial expertise and appointing a child’s attorney if need be.
In order to begin the healing process, seeking professional help is a necessity for all parties involved, including both parents and the child. This is especially crucial for the development of the child if they have been subject to abuse and deprived of stability within the family home. Given the intensity of the situation, it is strongly recommended that these children receive professional help to minimize the harmful long-term effects on their mental health. In the 2018 Youth Court decision, Protection de la jeunesse – 184273, the Court ordered that the parents take the necessary steps to schedule counselling with a therapist that specialises in the area of parental alienation. That being said, it is important to find coping mechanisms in order to manage the frustration, anger, grief and anxiety that stem from this type of behaviour.
Another tool the Courts may use to assess the parenting time as a result of early stages of parental alienation, is a psychosocial expertise. In the 2022 Superior Court decision, Droit de la famille – 221121, the Court granted a psychosocial expertise to be conducted in order to enlighten the Court on the parents’ parental capacity, the quality of the relationship between the children and each parent, whether or not the children are affected by a conflict of loyalty, the modalities of a parenting plan that best fit the children’s needs, and to seek any other recommendation pertaining to the best interests of the children. In this case, the Court also ordered the parents to share equally the costs of the evaluation. This avoids either party alleging that there has been a bias in the expert’s evaluation based on who paid.
Appointing a Child Attorney
During a dispute on parenting time, the Court will suggest appointing an attorney for the children once they are considered sufficiently mature to understand their wishes and the impact thereof. However, in the event of parental alienation, the childrens’ wishes could be set aside if they are not free and enlightened by reason of a conflict of loyalty. This is a factor to consider when appointing representation for the children. It is at the Court’s discretion to decide in accordance with the children’s best interests whether or not to appoint an attorney. In the case that a child attorney is ordered by the Court, the parents should not be the ones to discuss the present judgment with the child. The child attorney is responsible for explaining the circumstances during the appointment and what it entails.
If this resonates and you feel that your family is a victim of parental alienation in the home, please do not hesitate to seek professional advice and consult with a lawyer.
Droit de la famille – 221121, https://canlii.ca/t/jq3k2
Protection de la jeunesse – 184273, https://canlii.ca/t/j25h8