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Family Law Blog

What is Parental Alienation?

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation cases, where a child is estranged from a parent, are complex, time-consuming and emotionally taxing for everyone involved. When parents separate or divorce, the best interests of the child(ren) should be the priority. In most cases, this means shared custody, which can take a variety of forms. However, establishing legal parameters for shared custody is not always simple or amicable. In high conflict cases, custody can be wrought with feud. Such cases risk parental alienation syndrome (PAS). 

What is Parental Alienation? 

PAS occurs when one parent manipulates a child’s beliefs and affections to align with their own to the detriment of the other parent. In doing so, the child adopts persistent negative behaviour towards the victimized parent. In extreme cases, this can be viewed as child abuse. In N.R.G. v. G.R.G. 2015 BCSC 1062, Mr. Justice Kent describes parental alienation as inexcusable: 

[278] While the undermining of the relationship can arise from direct or indirect behaviours, in its worst form the parental conduct is expressly designed to alienate the child from the other parent. Such conduct is pernicious and unpardonable.

What are Symptoms of Parental Alienation?

Below are some behavioural signs that a child may be suffering from PAS: 

  • The child unconditionally aligns with the alienating parent and persistently rejects the other parent
  • The child displays only anger or hate towards the targeted parent
  • The child demonstrates no guilt, remorse or sensitivity over cruel words or actions towards the victimized parent
  • The child protects the unaffected parent's actions and feelings at all times
  • The child expresses frustration or anger at being forced to spend time with the targeted parent, even if ordered to by the non-targeted parent due to a court order or parenting agreement
  • The alienating parent spreads hostile feelings to the victimized parent, as well as their friends and family members

    The long-term psychological consequences of PAS on children are serious. As cited in paragraph 269 in N.R.G. v. G.R.G. 2015 BCSC 1062, these effects include: 

    • Problems in school
    • Problems in relationships with peers
    • Difficulty with trust and relationships later in life
    • Difficulties caring for their own future children
    • Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety
    • Increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse

    Alienation vs Estrangement

    It’s important to note the difference between alienation and estrangement. Parental alienation applies to scenarios in which there is no justifiable reason for animosity towards one parent. In contrast, estrangement refers to a child’s refusal to be in contact with a parent’s abusive behaviour or parenting conduct. Cases which include: family violence, addiction or abuse are not considered parental alienation, because exposure to such toxic behaviours are not considered in the best interests of the child.

    Get in Touch

    Parental alienation cases are emotionally taxing on everyone involved. It’s so important to hire a skilled 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.