Parental alienation is real. It occurs when a child expresses an overwhelming preference for one parent and extreme negativity towards the other parent.
Parental Alienation is different from Estrangement. Dr. Baker, defined an “alienated child” as one who unjustifiably rejects one parent (the “disfavoured parent”) and is aligned with the other parent (the “favoured parent”). This is distinct from the “realistic estrangement” of a child, who has rejected a parent but has done so for an objectively good reason (Justice Blok’s reasons for judgment C.J.J. & A.J. April 15, 2016).
Parental Alienation can happen abruptly, after an argument or disagreement, or develop over time. The “favoured” parent may say that the child does not want to see the other parent. They may say that they do not want to “force” the child to go on visits, or go back to the other parent’s home. In every case, the child is caught in the middle of the parental conflict.
How do you know if a child is being alienated from their parent? There are some tell tale child indicators of parental alienation:
- The child has a very negative view of the “disfavoured” parent, without any concrete reason. They dismiss any positive relationship they may have had with that parent in the past. The child can not come up with anything positive to say about that parent. The child may even try and convince siblings to share their negative view of the parent.
- There are no real reasons for the child’s attitude towards the parent. Alternatively, their reasons may be weak, frivolous or absurd. Their reasons for disliking the other parent may be extremely vague, such as “feeling unsafe”, without any real triggering incident. It is as though the child takes on the favoured parent’s description of the other parent as a “bad” parent or “bad” influence.
- The child’s judgement about their parents is extreme. One parent is wholly “bad” and the other entirely “good”.
- The child does not consider that one parent may have influenced their point of view. They believe the negative statements to be fact, not opinion.
- The child criticizes only one parent (the disfavoured one), even if both parents behaved similarly, or made joint decisions that the child was unhappy about.
- The child has no guilt about the treatment of the disliked parent, and no remorse or regret for how they have treated that parent.
- The child “borrows” the “favoured” parents views of the parental conflict related to the separation or divorce. Sometimes they even use the same turn of phrase as their custodial parent when re-telling events.
- The child rejects the “disfavoured” parents’ extended family, even when they might have had a close relationship with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins, in the past.
What can you do if you think your child has become alienated from you?
- If you are being denied parenting time, or “access” to your child, consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.
- A lawyer can help you apply for enforcement of your parenting schedule, and have your concerns put in front of a judge.
- A mediator can meet with you and the other parent to discuss concerns, and come up with a plan.
- A Parenting Coordinator can help reduce conflict between the parents, and make decisions for the child’s best interest.
- A judge can order family or individual counselling.
- In extreme cases, a judge may change the child’s custody arrangements entirely.
- A judge can also order the child and parent(s) to attend an anti-alienation counselling program, such as the Family Reflections Reunification Program (FRRP) .
Information for this article was obtained from the BC Supreme Court Judgement of C.J.J. & A.J. (NewWestminster BC, April 2016), experts who testified at the trial over Parental Alienation (Dr. Reay and Dr. Worenklein), and an interview with Victoria BC Family Lawyer, Certified Family Mediator, and Parenting Coordinator Michael Butterfield.
Jayne Embree holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. She is currently working with the Administrative Department of Butterfield Law.
Michael Butterfield is the Principal Lawyer and Mediator with Butterfield Law, and can assist with negotiations, mediations, writing separation agreements, and providing independent legal advice on existing or proposed agreements. He is located in Victoria, B.C.