What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent uses various tactics to influence their child into rejecting the other parent without legitimate justification. This phenomenon typically arises in the context of a contentious separation or divorce. Parental alienation is a form of manipulation and can also be regarded as emotional or mental abuse of a child.

Tactics an alienating parent may use to influence their child may be subtle or overt, including badmouthing, limiting contact, or creating false narratives about the other parent. If successfully influenced by the alienating parent, a child may show signs of fear, hostility, or indifference towards the other (alienated) parent.

Ontario Courts have identified four main courses of action in dealing with instances of parental alienation:

  1. Do nothing and leave the child with the alienating parent.
  2. Reverse custody and place the child with the rejected parent.
  3. Leave the child with the favored parent and provide therapy.
  4. Provide a transitional placement where the child is placed with a neutral party and therapy is provided, with the goal of eventually placing the child with the rejected parent.

Recent Alienation Cases

What remedy the Court orders in a specific case will vary depending on the degree of alienation, the circumstances of the parties, and the age of the child. The ultimate goal of the Courts, at all times, is to prioritize the best interests of the child.

In the 2023 case of Y.H.P. v. J.N., the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that there was a long-term campaign of parental alienation by the Mother against the Father in relation to their pre-teen daughter. The alienating behaviors of the Mother noted by the court included (among other things):

  • Making false allegations of sexual abuse against the Father (which were not verified by authorities such as the police or Children’s Aid Society).
  • Insisting on supervised visitation between Father and child without justified reason.
  • Terminating the child’s therapist when said therapist supported a Father-child relationship.
  • Disrupting a therapy session between the Father and child.

The remedy ordered by the Court was a “blackout” period (i.e., no-contact period) wherein the child would have no contact with the Mother for four months while living exclusively with her Father. During this period, the Father and child would attend specialized therapy to repair their relationship without the influence of the alienating Mother.

It should be noted that Courts have indicated that a remedy involving a “blackout period” from the alienating parent is a measure of last resort. However, if the degree of alienation is extreme, a blackout period may be seen as the best solution to undo the impact of alienation and repair the relationship with the alienated parent.

In another 2023 case of G.R.G. v. S.G., the Court reversed primary care of the child from the alienating Mother to the Father until further determination of the Court. The Court ordered that during this period, the Mother would have once-weekly supervised parenting time with the child.

In this case, the Mother had engaged in a campaign of fabricating allegations against the Father, ranging from claims of him having anger issues, to him engaging in sexual abuse of the child and drugging the child, all of which were unverified. Similar to the Y.H.P. case, the Mother also breached multiple court orders regarding parenting time between the child and Father.

A strict blackout period was not ordered by the Court, but a reversal of primary care was implemented to pave the way for therapeutic intervention between Father and child.

Parental alienation can have devastating and long-term impacts not only on the parent-child relationship but also on the child themselves. The involvement of skilled third-party professionals is often necessary to address and mitigate its impact. In promoting the best interests of the child, Courts aim to restore the relationship between the child and the alienated parent and alleviate or reverse the impact of the alienating parent’s manipulation and influence. Dealing with parental alienation in the family law context is often a complex exercise, requiring legal and therapeutic intervention.

If you are experiencing a separation and/or divorce and feel that you are being alienated from your child(ren), it is important to obtain legal advice to understand potential options and strategies to address the other parent’s alienating behavior and foster a continued relationship with your child. Feel free to contact a member of our Family Law Group at Mills & Mills LLP to learn more about how we can help you in your matter.

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