How Canadian Family Law Defines Parental Alienation
Canada’s Divorce Act recognizes that most children need both parents in their life in order to thrive. Judges actively seek to preserve the relationships between parents and their children, and custody arrangements reflect this agenda unless one parent has engaged in family violence which can prove harmful to children.
Yet sometimes parents despise their ex so greatly that they try to turn their children against them. This campaign is known as parental alienation, and it has serious consequences under the law.
What is parental alienation?
Parental alienation occurs when one parent engages in a pattern of behavior meant to purposefully manipulate a child into rejecting the parent. The alienating parent might try to make the child fear, despise, or disrespect the other parent, either to punish the other parent for the hurt caused by the divorce or out of a hope that this campaign will give them an edge in child custody proceedings.
This behavior can include denigrating the other parent, interfering with parenting time, manufacturing abuse allegations, making the child feel guilty for spending time with the other parent, and more. It is a betrayal of the best interests of the child, which requires both parents to commit themselves to fostering a relationship between a child and both of their parents.
What are the signs of parental alienation?
Your ex may be engaging in a parental alienation campaign if:
- Your child now knows details of your divorce that you yourself never shared with them.
- You find yourself facing allegations of domestic violence.
- Your ex speaks poorly of you in front of the children.
- Your ex excessively crosses their arms, rolls their eyes, sighs loudly, shakes their head, and otherwise nonverbally communicates disrespect for you in front of your children.
- Your children’s attitude towards you changes dramatically.
- Your children won’t admit to having fun with you, even if you know they did.
- Your children report that your spouse is trying to pump them for information about you or your life.
- Your ex starts trying to shuffle the parenting time schedule to a degree you can’t keep up with.
- Your children don’t arrive ready for parenting time. They arrive without clean clothes, homework assignments, or schoolbooks.
- Your ex constantly signs your children up for activities that interfere with your parenting time.
- Your ex acts like it is your child’s choice to engage with parenting time, rather than a right you and your child share.
- Your ex asks your children to choose which parent they “side” with.
A parent is not committing parental alienation if they are trying to get their child away from true family violence. Nor does it apply in cases where one parent is neglectful and the children begin to resent them for not being involved in their life.
How can you prove parental alienation?
We tell all of our client-parents to keep detailed records of any interaction with their ex or their children in case the need arises. We ask that you save text messages, emails, and call logs, and to keep a journal.
We also recommend verifying the details of each visit in writing via email. If your spouse gives you misinformation about parenting time on purpose we can use these records to prove that they are deliberately interfering with parenting time.
We can also put social media conversations to good use, as alienating parents often make posts or comments online that can support an alienation claim.
Another thing we do is identify witnesses. Caregivers, teachers, coaches, pastors, family friends, and family members may have all witnessed the alienating behavior.
Often, it is necessary and wise to bring in professional child custody evaluators to serve as expert witnesses. These professionals can help tease out the truth and can present the judge with recommendations which can help your case.
What can your attorney do about parental alienation?
We’ve seen two types of cases here at Merchant Law.
One is a case where a parent is falsely accused of parental alienation syndrome, often by an abusive parent who really is a danger to both the child and the innocent parent. It takes experience and proof to help show the court who is in the right and who is running a strategy that is likely to harm the child irrevocably.
To prove your case, we might bring in 911 calls, hospital records, witness statements, family evaluation professionals, and other witnesses and evidence which can help prove the existence of family violence.
Another is a case where a parent is the victim of PAS, and is trying desperately to reclaim a relationship with their child while putting an end to the other parent’s damaging behavior. In this case we may have to enlist expert witnesses such as psychologists, social workers, and other specialists to help prove that the alienation exists, that the parent is not a danger to the child, and that the court should intervene swiftly lest the damage become irrevocable.
We’ve successfully resolved both types of cases, and are confident we can help you resolve your case, too.
What are the consequences of parental alienation?
If a judge believes you are engaging in parental alienation it is likely that your child will be living with the other parent the majority of the time. Parental alienation syndrome may even be serious enough to warrant assigning you supervised visitation, and cutting your parenting time down to a very small percentage of the child’s time. You may even lose your right to weigh in on decisions which impact the child.
The courts may also levy other sanctions. For example, it is well within the court’s rights to reduce or eliminate spousal support payments if the judge finds that one parent has damaged the child’s relationship with the other parent to a significant degree.
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