“Parental Alienation”
What is it? What can you do? How is it
connected to abuse?
March 27, 2014
Tamar Witelson, Legal Director, METRAC
Victoria Starr, Lawyer, Starr Family Law
www.onefamilylaw.ca
Funded by:
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METRAC
METRAC, the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against
Women and Children
 works to end violence against women, youth and children
 a not-for-profit, community-based organization
www.metrac.org
METRAC’s Community Justice Program
 provides accessible legal information and education for women and
service providers
 focuses on law that affects women, from diverse backgrounds,
especially those experiencing violence or abuse
Family Law Education for Women in Ontario -- FLEW
 provides information on women’s rights and options under Ontario
family law
 in 14 languages, accessible formats, online and in print
www.onefamilylaw.ca
www.undroitdefamille.ca
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Presenters
Tamar Witelson
Victoria Starr
Legal Director, METRAC
Family Lawyer/Mediator/Arbitrator,
Starr Family Law, Toronto
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Topics to be Covered
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
What Does “Parental Alienation” Mean?
Reasonable Child Behaviour
Signs of Parental Alienation
Is Abuse Part of the Picture?
What To Do:
a) Out of Court
b) Going to Court
6. What Is the Office of the Children’s
Lawyer?
7. Conclusion
8. Additional Resources
Accurate as of the date of this webinar presentation: March 27, 2014
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What Does “Parental
Alienation” Mean?
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What Does “Parental Alienation” Mean?
• “Parental Alienation Syndrome” term
introduced by child psychiatrist Richard
Gardner (1985, United States)
• Gardner described a condition in which a
child criticizes and pulls away from one
parent, without reason
usually after parental separation
usually the other parent is blamed for influencing,
indoctrinating or “poisoning” the child’s view
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What Does “Parental Alienation” Mean?
• “Parental Alienation Syndrome” is not a
medically recognized disorder
• Gardner’s observations were limited, focused on
child custody cases where he believed fathers
were “falsely accused” of child abuse
• High conflict parental separation can affect
children in many ways:
strong bond with one parent
distance or estrangement from other parent
may or may not involve abuse
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What Does “Parental Alienation” Mean?
• A child who persistently expresses
unjustified negative feelings and beliefs
about a parent that are out of proportion to
the child’s actual experience with that
parent is a legitimate cause for concern
such as anger, hatred, rejection, fear
• May be called “Parental Alienation”
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Reasonable Child
Behaviour
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• When separating parents fight over
custody of a child, it is common for child to
feel:
sadness
guilt
protective of one or both parents
anger at one or both parents
conflict over loyalty to one or both parents
a need to reduce conflict and bad feelings
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• Child behaviour that is justified, or has a
reasonable explanation is not “parental
alienation”
• Strain, tension, distance in the relationship
with one parent is not always “Parental
Alienation”
• There are expected and typical reasons
why a child may feel more
positive/negative with each parent
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• Some explainable reasons for a child’s
positive/negative feelings towards one
parent:
greater comfort with the usual primary
caregiver
separation anxiety when leaving a
comfortable environment
identity with parent of same gender or
interests
preference for more material comforts and/or
fewer demands on behaviour
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• A child’s reasonable positive/negative
feelings towards one parent, related to
family breakdown:
anger at the parent who leaves
moral judgement of a parent’s behaviour
sympathy or worry for rejected parent
disruption in social life and routine
dislike of a parent’s new partner or stepsiblings
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• Signs of reasonable child behaviour:
negative attitudes towards the rejected parent
are occasional or reduce over time
negative attitudes may be mixed with positive
attitudes and affection
negative attitudes may be directed at both
parents at various times
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Reasonable Child Behaviour
• Behaviour related to abuse or neglect, such
as:
child is/was physically or sexually or otherwise
abused by one parent, or by someone else while
in care of the parent
child witnessed a parent’s violence or abuse
against someone else
child was threatened or has a reasonable fear of
harm by parent
child’s needs are or were neglected by parent
child was abandoned by parent
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Signs of “Parental
Alienation”
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• Context
increasing number of claims of “Parental
Alienation” (PA) in Canadian child custody cases
from 1989-2008, 60% of PA claims upheld
mom was 2 times more likely to be considered
the “alienating” parent (moms are more likely to
have custody or most time with child)
dad was 3 times more likely to claim PA which is
not upheld
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• Negative child behaviour becomes
progressively more severe, for example:
feeling pressure and loyalty conflict between
parents
reducing pressure by siding with one parent
adopting more negative views of rejected parent
resisting contact with rejected parent, even when
contact has been positive in the past
extreme anger and complete rejection of
alienated parent
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• Concerns about a child’s behaviour arise
when there is no reasonable or justifiable
explanation
view of parents is one-sided; one parent is
“good” and the other is “bad”
towards the rejected parent:
• vicious response or hatred – verbal and physical
• negative to associated family, friends, pets,
possessions
• blamed for separation and current life conditions
• reasons for rejection are false, irrational, trivial
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
view of parents is one-sided; one parent is
“good” and the other is “bad”
towards the favoured parent:
•
•
•
•
•
worried about parent
cares for or feels the need to care for parent
defends parent
denies worry or protection for parent
mimics what the parent says without an
individual view
• parent is idealized
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• The favoured parent (the alienator)
direct or indirect signs of encouraging the
rejection or alienation of the other parent,
such as:
o rarely talks about other parent or regularly says
negative things about other parent
o denies other parent has any positive qualities
o interferes with child’s contact with other parent
• lets child decide if/when to visit
• is upset if child does visit
• discourages phone calls, email, birthday or
celebrations of other parent
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• The favoured parent
 encourages the rejection of the other parent:
o sends messages through child, puts child in the middle
o ignores or destroys messages from other parent to the
child
o talks about the other parent with disdain
o makes child feel guilty for any positive feeling towards
other parent
o unjustifiably portrays other parent as damaging to child
o discusses legal/separation issues with child
o asks child to spy on or keep secrets from other parent
o threatens to withdraw affection, unless other parent is
rejected
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Signs of “Parental Alienation”
• The rejected parent’s behaviour can make
things worse, such as:
says negative things about other parent
makes child feel guilty
ignores or rejects child’s feelings
argues with child, tries to convince, or punish to
change behaviour
overly strict rules or complete resignation and
rejection of child
discusses legal/separation issues with child
sends messages with child, puts child in the
middle
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Presenters
Tamar Witelson
Victoria Starr
Legal Director, METRAC
Family Lawyer/Mediator/Arbitrator,
Starr Family Law, Toronto
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Is Abuse Part of the
Picture?
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Is Abuse Part of the Picture?
• Richard Gardner invented the label “Parental
Alienation Syndrome” to combat claims of child
sexual abuse against fathers, which he viewed
as commonly false
• Research shows 50-70% of child sexual abuse
claims are valid
• A child’s fear and rejection of a parent for abuse
is justifiable and not “Parental Alienation”
• A parent’s legitimate concern for a child’s safety
is not “Parental Alienation”
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Is Abuse Part of the Picture?
• Partner Abuse and Violence
 criticism and de-valuing of a parent in front of a child
by the other parent is a form of domestic partner
abuse
 encouraging a child to reject a parent without
justification may be a continuation of partner abuse
 the risk of partner abuse and violence increases
immediately after separation
 custody battles can be used as a tool to attack a
person’s competence as a parent, identity and dignity
 interference with a mother-child relationship may be a
profoundly damaging tactic of woman abuse
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Is Abuse Part of the Picture?
• Child Abuse
child’s right to have a meaningful and beneficial
relationship with both parents is threatened or lost
alienating parent exploits child’s lack of power
and control
risks of harm to child from “Parental Alienation”
o Short Term
•
•
•
•
•
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stress
emotional distress
taking on adult responsibilities to protect favoured parent
guilt or regret from loss of rejected parent
health: depression, self-harm, eating problems, cutting
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Is Abuse Part of the Picture?
Risks to child from “Parental Alienation”
o Long Term (still being researched)
• ongoing emotional distress
• low self-esteem; belief in inadequacies like rejected
parent
• ongoing dependence on favoured parent
• fear of loss of favoured parent
• rigid, black/white view of world
• self-blame
• depression
• difficulty with interpersonal relationships
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Presenters
Tamar Witelson
Victoria Starr
Legal Director, METRAC
Family Lawyer/Mediator/Arbitrator,
Starr Family Law, Toronto
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What To Do: Out of Court
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What To Do: Out of Court
Tips to avoid or deal with “Parental Alienation”
• Both parents should:
 follow terms of a custody agreement or Court Order
 stay positive with child
 avoid being negative about other parent
 not involve child in legal or parental discussions
 not use child as messenger between parents
 use an online program to communicate with other parent
o e.g. Our Family Wizard
 keep personal record of positive activities and concerns
 save or copy all notes, cards, documents, email, texts,
record of phone calls
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What To Do: Out of Court
• Services to Support Parents
 Talk to a lawyer
 Parenting Course
o geared to child’s age
o to better understand child’s needs and concerns
o to respond and positively interact with child
 Conflict Resolution Course
o specifically for separating parents
o to improve communication, respect, trust
o e.g. Families in Transition
 Mental Health Professional
o expert in high conflict parental separation
o more specific to the individual parents and child
o help to reasonably respond to difficult situations
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What To Do: Out of Court
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)
o consult a lawyer
o to resolve disputes between parents
• mediation (best at early stage)
• parenting coordinator
• arbitration
o See webinar: “Conflict, Court or Another
Way? Different Ways of Resolving a Family
Dispute”
www.onefamilylaw.ca/en/webinar/
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What To Do: Out of Court
• Services to Support Child
Talk to a lawyer
 Child Therapist
o emotional outlet and counselling
 Mental Health Expert Report
o report on child’s views and preferences; provide opinion
 Brief Focused Assessment
o report on parental conflict and effects on child
o provide ideas for practical solutions
 Children’s Aid Society
o may assist or refer child and family to community services
o can intervene if CAS believes child is in need of protection
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What To Do: Out of Court
• Family Counselling
should have expertise on “Parental Alienation”
and child rejection of a parent (estrangement)
identify your concerns about parent/child
relationships
child, both parents, new partners, other family
members should prepare to attend
only a parent with custody can agree to involve
child
consider: will counselling be confidential (closed)
or open, with a professional report and
recommendations
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What To Do: Out of Court
• Keep in mind: you may end up in Court
courses, counselling, assessments and reports
may be viewed by the other parent in a Court
proceeding
“out of Court” information could become evidence
in Court
you can agree in advance that a document will
not be used in Court and an expert will not be
called as a witness
if it is to your benefit, you can agree in advance
that a document and witness can be used in
Court
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Presenters
Tamar Witelson
Victoria Starr
Legal Director, METRAC
Family Lawyer/Mediator/Arbitrator,
Starr Family Law, Toronto
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What To Do: Going to Court
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What To Do: Going to Court
• Other solutions are not working
• Court involvement may be appropriate
• Court has broad powers, can order one or
several of the following:
ask judge to caution parties about behaviour
ask judge to “case manage” and keep case
moving
Review Order: parties return to Court every week
or two to report
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What To Do: Going to Court
• Court can:
 order “Section 30 Assessment” (under Ontario
Children’s Law Reform Act)
o in custody/access case, Court can appoint a
professional to “assess and report” on the needs of the
child, and whether the parents can satisfy those needs
o Court can order parents and child to attend
assessment
 Request involvement of the Office of the
Children’s Lawyer
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What To Do: Going to Court
• Court can order:
 a parent or child to participate in a course or
counselling, such as:
o parenting, conflict resolution, individual or family
therapy
 psychological assessment
 Brief Focused Assessment
 a very specific parenting agreement
 supervised exchanges of child
 supervised visits with child
 police enforcement
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What To Do: Going to Court
• Court can order:
spousal support reduced to pay for
counselling
a parent is declared “vexatious”
a parent must pay the other parent’s legal
costs
a parent is “in contempt” of Court and order a
penalty, such as fine or jail
a limit or increase on parental time with child
a change in child custody
no parental contact with child
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What Is the Office of the
Children’s Lawyer?
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What Is the Office of the Children’s
Lawyer?
• Ontario Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL)
 free, government-funded lawyers and clinical
investigators who will assist the court to help children
under 18
 Court, or usually at one parent’s request can request
OCL to get involved in a case
 OCL may:
 Not take case
 appoint a lawyer to report to Court on child’s views and
preferences and take a position on behalf of the child
 conduct a “clinical investigation” and make recommendations to
the parents and Court
 determines strength, consistency and independence of
child’s views and preferences
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What Is the Office of the Children’s
Lawyer?
 advances a position on behalf of the child
 makes recommendations to the Court
 position might not mirror child’s stated views and
preferences
 does not represent either parent
 does not take instructions from parents
 may speak to parents and others to get more
information about the child
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Conclusion
• High conflict parental separation and custody disputes
may affect children and their parental relationships
• Justified withdrawal from a parent is not “Parental
Alienation”
• Make sure arrangements and Court Orders are
detailed
• Follow custody agreements and Orders
• Stay positive with child
• Consider out of Court supports
• Consult a lawyer
• Don’t wait, take action sooner rather than later
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Presenters
Tamar Witelson
Victoria Starr
Legal Director, METRAC
Family Lawyer/Mediator/Arbitrator,
Starr Family Law, Toronto
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Additional Resources
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Online Basic Information
Ministry of the Attorney General
www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/
• 1-800-518-7901 (toll free)
• 1-877-425-0575 (TTY)
Family Law Information Program (FLIP)
www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/flip.asp
Family Law Information Centres (FLICs)
www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/type_family.asp
Family Law Services Centres (FLSCs)
www.legalaid.on.ca/en/contact/contact.asp?type=flsc
Family Law Education for Women (FLEW)
www.onefamilylaw.ca/en/resources/
Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN)
www.owjn.org
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Domestic Violence and Abuse
•
Assaulted Women’s Helpline www.awhl.org
 24 hours/7 days; multiple languages
 Toll-free: 1-866-863-0511; TTY: 1-866-863-7868
•
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres http://www.sexualassaultsupport.ca/
•
Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres
www.sadvtreatmentcentres.net.
•
Victim Services Directory www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/pcvi-cpcv/vsd-rsv/index.html
•
Barbra Schlifer Legal Clinic
 Toronto: 416-323-9149 x278 (legal intake) TTY: 416-3231361
 Free counselling, referral, legal and interpreter services to survivors of violence
(Family, Criminal and Immigration law)
•
Family Violence Authorization Program (Legal Aid Ontario)
 Free 2-hour emergency meeting with a lawyer
 Offered through some shelters and community legal clinics
 Toll-free: 1-800-668-8258; TTY: 1-866-641-8867
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“Parental Alienation” Resources
• co-parenting communication guides
www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/PDF/AzAFCC%20Co
parenting%20Communication%20Guide.pdf
www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/
www.afccontario.ca/resourcesparentschildrenpr
ofessionals.html
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Looking for a Lawyer
• Helpful to talk to a lawyer
 ask for free first consultation
 discuss cost of fees and disbursements
• Legal Aid Ontario
www.legalaid.on.ca/en/getting/default.asp
 416-979-1446 (Toronto)(accepts collect calls)
 1-800-668-8258 (toll free)
 1-866-641-8867 (TTY)
• Office of the Children’s Lawyer
www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/ocl
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Looking for a Lawyer
Legal Aid Ontario
• for low income people
• 20 minutes Summary Legal Advice
• Family Court advice lawyers
 at Family Law Information Centres (FLICs)
• Family Law Service Centres
 help with documents
 help to get lawyers
• If your partner is violent or abusive
 Family Violence Authorization Program
 free 2-hour meeting with lawyer
 offered through some shelters and community legal
clinics
 Toll-free: 1-800-668-8258; TTY: 1-866-641-8867
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Looking for a Lawyer
• JusticeNet
 not for profit service
 reduced legal fees
www.justicenet.ca/professions
• Canadian Family Law Lawyers Network (National)
www.cfln.ca
• Law Society of Upper Canada Lawyer Referral
Service
www.lsuc.on.ca/with.aspx?id=697
 416-947-3330 (Toronto)
 1-800-268-8326 (toll free)
 416-644-4886 (TTY)
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Looking for a Lawyer
Community Legal Clinics
• can refer to services; may do some family law
www.legalaid.on.ca/en/contact/contact.asp?type=cl
Toolkit for a good Client-Lawyer Relationship
schliferclinic.com/vars/legal/pblo/toolkit.htm
• Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
See FLEW Webinars:
• Where to Look for a Family Law Lawyer
• Your Day in Family Court: How to Prepare and What to
Expect
www.onefamilylaw.ca/en/webinar/
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Resources
Ontario Courts
www.ontariocourts.on.ca/
•
•
Online guide provides an overview of all courts in Ontario
Information on family courts:
– Superior Court of Justice www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/en/famct/
– Ontario Court of Justice www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/familycourt/overview/
Ontario Court Locations
www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/Court_Addresses/
•
Find court addresses across Ontario
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