Proposed Ban: Parental Alienation 

A coalition of more than 250 feminist organizations from across Canada are calling on the government to reform the Divorce Act and ban the concept of “parental alienation” in family law cases, calling it a “sexist and unscientific theory” that undermines survivors of domestic violence and puts children at risk.

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The Edmonton Family Network does not support the proposed ban of the concept of “parental alienation” in family law cases. Banning a concept does not address the root of the issue. “Parental alienation” is a term used to describe a pattern of behaviours that harm a child’s relationship with the targeted parent. These behaviours are a form of child abuse whether it’s labeled as “parental alienation” or not. Child abuse is not a “sexiest and unscientific theory.” The harm is real. A child can be alienated against either parent regardless of gender.

What’s the deal with parental alienation?

Every child deserves to have a relationship with both parents. However, not every parent deserves to have a relationship with their child. When one parent does not deserve to have a relationship with their child, it’s often reflected in their behaviour of the other parent. That parent might show it with their body language, or they might talk poorly about the undeserving parent directly to the child or within earshot of the child. 

Sometimes the behaviour is much more toxic than rigid body language or unpleasant words. One parent might act like a gatekeeper to the child making it extremely difficult for the parent to have any time with their child. A child might be caught in the middle of a loyalty battle. A child might be rewarded for aligning with their deserving parent or punished or ignored if they do not. To please a deserving parent, a child might stretch the truth, lie or reject the undeserving parent. 

Honourable Justice Colin C.J. Feasby, in the decision of LS v MK, 2023 ABKB 487, included an Appendix of behaviours in cases of parental alienation. The “Alienating Parent Behaviours” are:

  • Allows and insists that child makes decisions about contact;
  • Rarely talks about the other parent; uninterested in child’s time with other parent after contact; gives a cold shoulder, silent treatment, or is moody after child’s return from visit;
  • No photos of target parent; removes reminders of the other parent;
  • Refusal to hear positive comments about rejected parent; 
  • quick to discount good times as trivial an unimportant;
  • No encouragement of calls to other parent between visits; rationalizes that child does not ask;
  • Tells child fun things that were missed during visit with other parent;
  •  Indulges child with material possessions and privileges;
  • Sets few limits or is rigid about routines, rules and expectations;
  • Refuses to speak directly to parent; refuses to be in same room or close proximity;
  • Does not let target parent come to door to pick up child;
  •  No concern for missed visits with other parent;
  • Makes statements and then denies what was said;
  •  Body language and nonverbal communication reveals lack of interest, disdain and disapproval;
  • Engages in inquisition of child after visits;
  • Rejected parent is discouraged or refused permission to attend school events and activities;
  •  Telephone messages, gifts and mail from other parent to child are destroyed, ignored or passed on to the child with disdain;
  • Distorts any comments of child that might justify accusations;
  • Doesn’t believe that child has any need for relationship with other parent;
  • When child calls and is quiet or non-communicative, parent wrongly assumes pressure from target parent, or that child is not comfortable with target parent; evidence of bad  parenting; does not appreciate that child is uncomfortable talking to alienating parent about target  parent;
  • Portrays other parent as dangerous, may inconsistently act fearful of other parent in front of child;
  • Exaggerates negative attributes of other parent, and omits anything positive;
  •  Delusional false statements repeated to child; distorts history and other parent’s participation in the  child’s life; claims other parent has totally changed since separation;
  • Projection of own thoughts, feelings and behaviours onto the other parent;
  •  Does not correct child’s rude, defiant and/or omnipotent behaviour directed towards the other parent, but would never permit child to do this with others;
  • Convinced of harm, when there is no evidence;
  • False or fabricated allegations of sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse;
  •  Denigrates and exaggerates flaws of rejected parent to child says other parent left  “us,” divorced “us”  and doesn’t love “us”;
  • Over-involves child in adult matters and litigation;
  • Child required to keep secrets and spy or report back on other parent;
  • Child required to be messenger;
  • Overt and covert threats to withdraw love and affection from child unless other parent is rejected;
  • Extreme lack of courtesy to rejected parent; and,
  • Relocation for minor reasons and with little concern for effects on child

This type of behaviour influences a child whether it’s labeled as “parental alienation” or not.

The proposed ban of the concept of “parental alienation” will not make the pattern of behaviours disappear. It’s a step the wrong direction. The ban would do nothing more than to disempower parents from trying to advocate for their child and to hold the other parent accountable for their actions. The issues with identifying “parental alienation” are eerily similar to the issues of claiming “family violence.” One parent claims to have been wronged by the actions of the other and the child’s safety and wellbeing are at risk. There is a lot more going on than identifying a concept. Treating the symptoms will not fix the underlying issues.

What can you do about it?

It’s important to be “child oriented” when exercising parenting time or and decision-making responsibilities. Children are people. Children have their own opinions, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes children do not like things and they are entitled to those feelings. However, it’s important to remember that children should not be encouraged to make big decisions for themselves that are respectfully adult decisions. Children do not always know what’s best for them.

To put it into perspective, a child that hates school is still forced to go to school. Most parents will not allow their children to skip school just because they hate it. Many parents instead try and find out why their child hates school. There is usually an underlying issue like the child is struggling socially or academically. Third party service providers like mental health counsellors or educational tutors are usually brought in to address those issues. Parental alienation should be treated the same way.

Children that do not want to see their undeserving parent should still be encouraged and available for visits. At the same time, the reason the child does not want to go should be adequately investigated. Third party service providers like parenting experts, mental health professionals and supervisors should be brought in to identify and address the root of the issue. Professional support and harm reduction strategies are extremely important to help children succeed when accusations like family violence or parental alienation are in the mix. The child is worth the effort to take the appropriate actions.

Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal professionals and community support services.

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