Parental Alienation is a complex and deeply painful dynamic that can profoundly affect families. This issue can be challenging to address emotionally and, in some cases, legally. With this particular backdrop, Alberta Family Courts are confronted with the unique challenge of evaluating and finding solutions on matters such as Parenting Time Schedules and Decision-Making for children of separating couples.
Alberta’s Family Courts aim to prioritize the best interests of the child in such cases, but it can be difficult to discern the truth amidst this type of allegation. A claim of Parental Alienation invariably and immediately makes a couple’s separation more high conflict.
Identifying Parental Alienation
Parental Alienation is a global term used to describe a multitude of actions and relationships between parent and child. It may include:
- Limiting contact with the child
- Badmouthing the other parent
- Mischaracterizing the other parent as unstable, dangerous or as abandoning the child
- Using the child as a messenger or spy
- Withdrawing approval for the child when they express positive feelings for the other parent
- Vilifying the other parent while inappropriately discussing legal or financial matters with the child
Weaponizing An Allegation of Parental Alienation
With increased public exposure, Parental Alienation has been prone to misuse as an allegation in Family Courts. Sensationalized celebrity cases, broader social media attention and agenda-driven support groups have served to raise awareness of the issue, while unfortunately at the same time, presenting it as a somewhat trendy legal strategy to be exploited. Reckless use of the accusation can irresponsibly feed conflict and distract from identifying the genuine parenting issues at play. We must differentiate Parental Alienation from situations where the child genuinely expresses favoritism for one parent or independently resists contact with a parent for legitimate reasons.
Once accurately recognized, Parental Alienation is more likely to be promptly triaged to a suitable forum for attempted resolution.
Resources and Resolution Forums
- Counseling and Therapeutic Options: Both parents and children can benefit from counseling or therapy to address the emotional trauma associated with Parental Alienation. Resources that help families navigate these challenges include Parenting Coordination and Co-Parent Counselling. Publicly offered Parenting After Separation education programs can also improve communication and facilitate solutions.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution: Co-parents may opt for the more amicable and cooperative means by which to address this issue such as Mediation or Collaborative Law. Not only are these options more cost-effective than Court, their primary focus is to deescalate hostilities while searching for common ground.
- Court: The Court may employ tools for the detection, treatment and deliberation of Parental Alienation in the context of a separation. A nuanced and multi-faceted approach would put emphasis on any or all of the following:
- Listening to the Child: Subject to the age of the child, a psychologist or lawyer could be appointed to the child to assist with expressing the child’s preferences or wishes.
- Assessing the Family: An assessment could be conducted on the entire family, with the Parenting Expert reporting back to the Court with any suggested recommendations.
- Seizing a Judge/Appointing a Case Management Judge: The Court could appoint one Judge, tasked with the duty to make decisions, short-term or long-term. This provides the added value of allowing a Judge to gain an extraordinary degree of familiarity, understanding and knowledge of a family.
Recognizing Parental Alienation and seeking help early is crucial to reducing the lasting negative impact on children and parents alike. Alberta’s legal system and support services are available to assist separating couples in resolving conflicts surrounding Parental Alienation. The central goals are to prioritize the best interests of the child and work towards healing fractured family relationships whenever possible.
Written by Nigel Montoute