When Children Take Sides

When Children Take Sides: The Complicated Nature Of Parental Alienation

For parents going through a divorce, the best interests of their children are typically the top priority. In some cases, complications arise when a child is programmed or manipulated by one parent to denigrate the other parent or meddle with their relationship. Family law acts across the country recognize the seriousness of this issue and have begun to respond accordingly.

Divorce is complicated, made even more so when there are children involved. While parents typically prioritize their children’s well being, even the most well-intentioned adult can find themselves engaging in bitter disagreements or disputes with their former spouse that may influence or impact their kids.

In some instances, the negative feelings that one parent feels for the other have the potential to impact a child’s relationship with their parent. Whether intentional or not, the ways that one spouse speaks to or about the other may result in parental alienation, a serious issue that has the potential to yield long-lasting consequences.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation refers to the act of one parent denigrating the other, consciously or unconsciously, in a way that causes the child to adopt the same behaviour. It can present in a range of manners such as through the manipulation of a child’s feelings through excessive gifts and lofty promises or by criticizing or otherwise condemning the other parent. In extreme cases, a parent may use alienation tactics to continue the emotional abuse of a former spouse even once they have separated.

Is It Alienation or Estrangement?

As is the case with most legal matters, parental alienation is anything but cut and dry. Determining whether parental alienation is taking place can be difficult to do, especially because there may be valid reasons for a child to show preference towards one parent that are unrelated to alienation.

For instance, a child who has witnessed violence or abuse by one parent directed at the other may wish to avoid the violent parent. It can be complicated to assess whether a child has been alienated from their parent or if they have become estranged.

The Legal Response to Parental Alienation

Across the country, some provinces have begun to recognize the impact that parental alienation can have on a child and have amended their family law acts accordingly. In some instances, alienation may impact the typical way that the court handles matters relating to custody, support, and other critical matters.

For parents navigating a situation where alienation may be a factor, some options available could include:

  • Requesting supervised visitation with the spouse suspected of causing the alienation
  • Requesting additional time with the children to minimize exposure to negative comments or criticism from the other parent
  • Requesting that a judge order the parent refrain from engaging in negative talk or behaviour about the other parent while the child is present

Protecting The Child’s Best Interests

The most important factor to consider in cases of suspected parental alienation is the child at the centre of the dispute. Ensuring that children are protected and that their best interests are safeguarded is critical.

A family lawyer who understands the implications of parental alienation and has experience handling these complex cases can provide much-needed support and guidance to a parent as they navigate this stressful situation.