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Family Law Blog

Unpacking Myths About Parental Alienation

Unpacking Myths About Parental Alienation

Welcome back to our three-part blog series on parental alienation. In last week’s Part 1, we introduced the concept of parental alienation, its emergence as a sociological theory, and it’s uptake by the courts in British Columbia. In Part 2, we want to unpack some of the common myths about parental alienation.

Please Note: We will be discussing sensitive topics such as family violence, and how women can sometimes be falsely accused of parental alienation. This topic is a sensitive one, and we’d like to remind readers that each instance of parental alienation is unique, and if you have any questions or concerns it’s crucial you speak to a family law expert.

Introduction

Parental alienation is an emotive branch of family law. Due to the contested nature of the allegations being made, it can often be hard to define. Ultimately, it boils down to the targeted actions of one parent designed to prevent a child from having an ongoing relationship with the other parent.

Unfortunately, a worrying trend has developed around parental alienation in recent years. Abusive parents will make false claims of parental alienation to cover their behaviour and muddy the waters against the victimized parent. They may do this in the hope of manipulating the outcome of a custody battle and to punish the other parent. This can be extremely intimidating, with the victimized parent forced to defend themselves against their former partner, lawyers, judges and even family members. Worse, if the victim of the alienation is a woman, terms such as “hysterical,” “manipulative,” and “callous,” are often thrown around to diminish their claims.

As a result, we want to use this blog to focus on many of the myths and mistruths surrounding parental alienation. Hopefully, we can provide further clarity on this often misunderstood but serious issue.

Parental Alienation – Myths and Mistruths

  1.   Parental Alienation is Common in High-Conflict Family Law Cases

Although parental alienation is a hot-button issue, it only prevails in a small minority of high-conflict custody cases. In an Ontario study conducted by Nicholas Bala and Katie Hunder of 51 reported cases involving allegations of parental alienation between January 2013 and December 2014, the court determined that alienation was only present in 31 percent of the cases (16 out of 51 cases). in a BC study conducted by Jean-Paul Boyd, he found that between mid-2008 and mid-2015, there were 115 reported decisions with allegations of parental alienation. The allegations were substantiated in only 21% of those cases. 

  1. Both Genders are Equally accused of Parental Alienation

Most allegations of parental alienation are made against the mother. In the same study conducted by Nicholas Bala and Katie Hunder, the mother was determined to be the alienating parent in 69% of those cases (11 out of 16 cases). It is also far less likely that parental alienation will be alleged against the parent who the child does not reside with. In the same study conducted by Jean-Paulo Boyd, he found that in 67% of BC cases involving parental alienation, the mother was alleged to be alienating the children. However, of the cases where parental alienation was proven, the mother was found to be the alienator only 46% of the time.

  1. Family Violence is a Separate Issue from Parental Alienation

The issues of family violence (or domestic abuse) and parental alienation are sometimes intertwined. In Suzanne Zaccour’s article, ““Does Domestic Violence Disappear from Parental Alienation Cases? Five Lessons from Quebec for Judges, Scholars, and Policymakers””, she summarizes the findings of various studies that were undertaken of reported cases involving parental alienation. In roughly one-third of cases, there were allegations of domestic violence against the rejected parent. This has raised some cause for concern. It is unclear whether in some cases, men who are accused of domestic violence retaliate with an accusation of parental alienation. It is also possible that the mother is taking protective actions, which are labelled as alienating behaviour, such as limiting contact with their violent ex. The court may be asked to decide on competing allegations of domestic violence and parental alienation, or if both are found to be true, to decide which has a greater impact on the best interests of the children. Some family law experts have advocated for an exception for family violence, stating that parental alienation theory cannot be applied in such cases. Others, such as Zaccour argue that we cannot think about parental alienation without considering domestic violence, and warn of the dangers of overlooking domestic violence if we are too focused on the allegations of parental alienation.

  1.   The Myth that Parental Alienation isn’t Real

Although parental alienation only exists in a small minority of high-conflict family law cases, it is recognized by the court as a real and unfortunate phenomenon. In such cases, the parent alleging parent alienation must prove that the child’s poor relationship is the result of the alienating parent and not the conduct of the rejected parent. Recognized behaviours of an alienating parent include, among others:

  • allowing and insisting the child makes decisions about parenting time
  • telling the child fun things that were missed during their visits with the rejected parent
  • the rejected parent is discouraged or refused permission to attend school events and activities
  • no encouragement to call the rejected parent between visits
  • exaggerating negative attributes of the rejected parent, and omitting anything positive

Contact a Family Lawyer

If you’re dealing with Parental Alienation, either because you have been accused of alienating your child or you feel your child is being alienated from you, we understand how emotionally draining the process can be. It’s important to work with a skilled family lawyer to act as a level-head in an emotionally trying situation. Get in touch with us today. Our qualified team of family lawyers are ready to help.