Calgary Parental Alienation Estrangement Lawyers help children and their parents deal with a family dysfunction associated with relationship breakdown. In today’s blog, by Peter Graburn of our downtown Calgary family lawyers and Calgary Parental Alienation Estrangement Lawyers’ team, explains strategies to deal with what is a serious issue in high conflict separations.
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Separation and divorce can be difficult, especially for children. Medical evidence has shown that the stress of divorce can be psychologically damaging to children, affecting their long-term personal growth, mental health, and future relationships. One of these stresses is the unreasonable influence by one parent against the other parent, known as parental alienation. Parental alienation (also known by its psychological term Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS) occurs when a parent naively or intentionally and systematically attempts (often during high-conflict child custody disputes) to negatively influence the child’s relationship with the other parent, often leading to the complete breakdown of that relationship.
In the first blog on topic of parent and child alienation, we looked at some of the common “red-flag” indicators to try to identify the existence of parental alienation of a child (rather than other possible reasons a child may wish to spend more time with one parent than the other, commonly know as estrangement). In this part of the series, we look at how the Courts (particularly the Alberta Courts) address the issue of parental alienation once it has been professionally identified. So what strategies do courts and Calgary Parental Alienation Estrangement Lawyers use to protect children?
What Is the Percentage Of Parental Alienation In Cases Where It Is Alleged?
Parental alienation is (unfortunately) a common issue raised in Canadian family law cases. Studies (ie. Bala. et al., Canadian Research Institute for Law and Family) have shown that parental alienation was found by the Court to have occurred in between 22 – 35% of the cases where it was alleged. In an early Ontario case [see L.(A.G.) v. D.(K.B.), 2009 CarswellOnt 188], the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted sole custody (decision-making powers) of the children to the father and severely restricted the access (parenting time) by the mother to the children, holding that the mother (who was found to have conducted an “overwhelming campaign” of alienation of the children from their father for years) would not make decisions “in the best interests” of her children. The Court found the mother was guilty of abusing her children by preventing them from having contact with their father, and for the emotional damage inflicted on the children by alienating them from their father.
In a previous article on parental alienation, MacLean Law Founder Lorne MacLean reviewed a 2016 British Columbia case which found that a Court must be careful in assessing whether parental alienation exists (ie. the need for compelling personal and expert evidence) and, once such alienation has been established, in directing any change in custody or therapy for the child. However, once a finding of parental alienation has been found, quick legal action must be taken to counter the dangerous effects of parental alienation on the child(ren) – the Court should not hesitate to “take charge” of this high-conflict situation, including appointing one Justice (ie. a Case Management Justice) to oversee the case on a going-forward basis.
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In Alberta, the Alberta Court of Appeal (see VMB v. KRB, 2014 ABCA 334) upheld the decision of a Case Management Justice to grant sole custody (decision-making) and primary (day-to-day) care to the father of the couple’s 2 children after the Justice found the mother’s efforts to alienate their daughters from the father left him with “no meaningful relationship” with either of the children, noting the mother’s clear “behaviour to do anything and everything to thwart the children’s access to their father” to rebuild those relationships. Here the Court relied not only on the “best interests of the children” test but also on section 16(10) of the Divorce Act regarding which parent will promote/facilitate access of the children to the other parent. The Justice also directed that the children receive counselling and that the mother’s access to the children is at the discretion of the father until otherwise ordered.
In the 2015 case of Angebrandt vs. Shaw (2015, ABQB 417), the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench upheld the mother’s primary care of the couple’s 3 children (aged 16, 13 and 11), finding the father had tried to influence the children by inappropriately discussing court matters with the children and had actively ‘coached’ the children in what they told the psychologist assessing the children, stating (at para. 107):
“This manipulative behavior, combined with his inflexibility and very poor communication skills has created a climate of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress for the children and Ms. Shaw and, possibly unintentionally, undermined her authority as the children’s primary caregiver.”
The Justice found that both parents had actually tried to influence the children: the mother had made “significant efforts to stop trying to influence the children”; the father, however, was “either unwilling or perhaps unable, to desist in this abusive behaviour which, in essence, forces the children to choose between the parents” (the father going so far as to subpoena the children to testify at the trial).
Our Calgary Family Lawyers Can Help Protect Your Children From Alienation
As we indicated in Part 1 of this series, parental alienation is a complex and controversial topic, for psychologists, parents and the Courts. Courts are initially hesitant to address the issue of parental alienation without clear expert (ie. psychological) evidence as to the potential consequences (ie. change of custody / limiting access to the parents, assessments, and counselling for the children, etc.) can be severe. But once parental alienation has been established, the Courts are swift to act to attempt to reverse the effects of (or at least prevent further) parental alienation of the child(ren), as this behaviour goes to the very core of the alienating parent’s ability and fitness to parent the children. Courts are not afraid to label such behaviour as abusive, concluding that depriving the connection and healthy relationship of a child with one of their parents is not “in the best interests of the child”, the ultimate test in determining custody and access disputes in Canada.
As we cautioned in our article on narcissism and divorce Dealing with Narcissists during Divorce , lawyers are not psychologists – we are not trained to identify symptoms or diagnose forms of mental conditions or personality disorders. But we do constantly hear from our clients’ concerns about parental alienation. At MacLean Law, we understand that no matter whether you suspect your ex-spouse is alienating you from your child, or you are being accused of this, not only is your relationship with your child at risk but also their current and future emotional and social health.
Contact our Calgary Parental Alienation Estrangement Lawyers today as time is of the essence when you suspect parental alienation is in play in your family case.