Court Awards Sole Custody to Father Due to Mother’s Parental AlienationWritten by: Alison Print This Article
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Earlier this month a court in Toronto, Cananda, transfered full custody of three daughters ages 9 to 14 to their father after a long-term parental alienation campaign by their mother. She had worked for years to brainwash them to hate their father. Judge McWatt of the Superior Court of Justice found that this constituted emotional child abuse and banned the mother from all further contact with the children except for counselling programs, including a program to help the children recover from parental alienation syndrome.
Parental alienation involves the systematic and frequently repeated denigration of one parent by the other and blocking of access to the parent who is the target of denigration. This is more than the unfortunately common occasional badmouthing during or after a divorce. While any badmouthing by one parent of the other parent in front of the children is detrimental, occasional negative comments are not enough to constitute parental alienation. This is especially the case when the parents making such mistakes recognizes them as such and try to avoid repeating them, respects that the children should have involvement of both of their parents in their lives, and complies with court orders involving visitation, custody, and contact.
Parental alienation is a form of emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse against children. Courts in multiple countries, including the United States and Canada, have consistently viewed parental alienation as child abuse. The way it has been handled has varied widely, however. Some courts have wrongly sided with the alienating parent. Others have shown unending tolerance for the alienation campaign. In both scenarios, the courts are directly contributing to child abuse.
Family law courts have been slowly learning that alienating parents will often not cooperate with any court orders or laws that are designed to ensure children will have both parents involved in their lives. Further, there is an increasing realization that parental alienation causes long-term damage to children that persists into adulthood. The alienator is essentially a criminal and the children and target parent victims. The courts are finally realizing that if they repeatedly cannot force a criminal to behave then they must protect the victims in some other way, most obviously by ensuring that the alienation is stopped by terminating the alienator’s access to the children. We suspect that the recent Canadian court decision is likely to be followed by many more like it.
In high-conflict divorces, there is often one parent who is particularly uncooperative with visitations, custody exchanges, and telephone contact. Such a parent will often practice “access blocking” making it difficult to impossible for the other parent to have involvement in the lives of their children. Such alienating parents often make denigrating remarks about the other parent in front of the children. They may do this when having conversations with their friends or family members within earshot of their children. Even though the comments may not be directed at the children, the children still suffer damage from them.
Alienating parents often push their children to join in the alienation. They may involve them in schemes to deny contact with the target parent, claiming sickness or disinterest. They may also train their children to make false abuse allegations against the target parent.
Alienating parents will often attempt to gain or retain 100% custody by vilifying the target parent. The excuse often used for this is that the target parent is a child abuser. In many cases, perhaps even most, this assertion is false. There is often no evidence for such alleged abuse except for statements made by the alienating parent and the manipulated children. This is very much like the “distortion campaign” practiced by many victims of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). So it should come as no surprise that parents who suffer from BPD are also likely to practice parental alienation.
If there truly was repeated or severe abuse against the children by the alienated parent, then it follows that the children may dislike the parent for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with parental alienation. Parental alienation specifically refers to damaging the parent-child relationship intentionally, usually by the other parent but sometimes by other parties closely connected with that parent. For instance, a hostile new spouse or grandparent who does not respect the importance of children having both parents involved in their lives could also be involved in parental alienation.
Based upon reports of parental alienation campaigns, it appears that parental alienation is often accompanied by alienation against grandparents and entire families. The entire family of the target parent is also vilified and portrayed as unwelcome and/or abusive by the alienating parent. Grandparents and other family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) are also important to children and their well-being. Therefore it follows that alienation practiced against these people also constitutes child abuse.
Our view is that alienating parents should have their access to the children suspended and then gradually reintroduced during a recovery program. They, any other alienators, the children, and the alienated parent and/or alienated family members should be engaged in long-term therapy to reverse the damage and rehabilitate the alienators to keep them from doing it any more. The alienators should be held financially responsible for the costs of this treatment. As the children recover, gradually some contact should be restored between them and the alienating parties so long as there is no further evidence of continuing alienation. Ideally, the result of this program should be to restore frequent beneficial contact of the children with both parents and their families.
Some allowance should be made for minor recidivism by the alienators, but it should be caught quickly and result in reduced contact and more therapy that persists until the therapist and the patients believe they are ready to try increased contact again. If the alienation continues despite this, eventually the courts should terminate contact between the alienators and the children until they are adults and can make their own choices. It is detrimental to the children to be jerked back and forth between varying custody situations and parental alienation campaigns. Ultimately the alienators have to be held responsible for their misconduct.
Stopping parental alienation is a critical part of protecting the best interests of children. We applaud Judge McWatt’s decision and hope it will inspire more judges to similarly protect children from abusive alienating parents.
TheSpec.com – BreakingNews – Mom loses custody for alienating dad
Toronto: Mom loses Custody for Alienating Kids from their Dad
Ontario Superior Court of Justice Decision (PDF)
PAS Kids: What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?
Wikipedia: Parental Alienation
Parental Alienation & Parental Alienation Syndrome