Children Resisting Contact & Parental Alienation: Context, Challenges & Recent Ontario Cases
29 Pages Posted: 6 May 2015
Date Written: May 5, 2015
High conflict separations and parental alienation pose significant risks for emotional harm to children, as well as substantial challenges for professionals, agencies and the courts. These cases are very difficult to resolve by mediation or other forms of ADR. Often these cases result in multiple court appearances, not infrequently with concurrent family and child welfare or criminal proceedings. Alienation cases need to be distinguished from other types of parent child contact issues, including cases of “realistic estrangement” and “affinity” towards one parent without rejection of the other.
In the two-year period from January 2013 to December 2014 there were 51 reported cases in Ontario involving allegations of parental alienation. Most of the alleged alienators were mothers, and most were custodial parents. Fathers, however, also engage in alienating conduct, sometimes combined with spousal abuse. Judges concluded that parental alienation had occurred in 16 cases; in 14 of the cases the court responded by making some change in the custody arrangements, often combined with supervision or suspension of access to the alienated parent.
Lawyers and judges can have a critical role in educating and encouraging parents who engage in alienating behavior to desist in this behaviour and focus on the interests of their children. Although in many less severe alienation cases parents can be helped (or pressured by the courts) to reduce their conflict, in the most severe alienation cases contact with an alienating parent may need to be suspended to prevent emotional trauma to the child. In other cases, it may be best for the child to give up attempts to legally enforce contact with a rejected parent.
Keywords: divorce, high conflict separation, child custody, parental alienation
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