What is parental alienation and how do you assess it?

By Millad Ossudallah, Vancouver Family Lawyer

A family breakdown can cause a child to reject a parent while developing strong alignment with the other parent following separation. This can be due to what psychologists describe as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) where the efforts of one parent are to indoctrinate the child against the other parent. The child may engage in a campaign of denigration against the rejected parent, express inconsequential or frivolous explanations for not wishing to see the parent, or claims that his or her beliefs about the rejected parent are the child’s own and not those of the alienating parent, etc.

In addition, there may be other valid reasons for the breakdown of the child’s relationship with a parent that may justify the rejection of and refusal to visit that parent known as estrangement. The child may have witnessed or experienced family violence at the hands of the rejected parent or the rejected parent may have a rigid or authoritarian approach to discipline, or the rejected parenting may be emotionally unavailable to the child. There can be many reasons for estrangement and these possibilities need to be explored before a finding of alienation can be made.

How to Assess Allegations of Parental Alienation

In the event that alienation is identified and differentiated between estrangement, immediate action is required to restore contact between the rejected parent and the child. Often this leads to a Court application under the Family Law Act as the alienating parent will rarely agree to the interventions required to correct alienation. Oftentimes a judge will order counselling to address the relationship between the rejected parent and the child. Moreover, the Court may have difficulty in assessing parental alienation and may make an order for a Views of a Child Report or a Section 211 Report.

Psychological Reports

When a child is about the age of 12 and older, the Courts will put more weight on their views and opinions when determining parenting time and contact. When there is a strong indication of parental alienation, a Views of a Child Report may not be ideal as these reports will diarize the view of the child and deeper analysis is likely needed to properly assess alienation. A full Section 211 Report is the preferable avenue as a psychologist screens for alienation and provides recommendations for the next steps. A full Section 211 Report can cost upwards of $30,000 and this cost will be apportioned between the parents, so the decision to conduct a 211 report cannot be taken lightly.

The Court’s Approach on Parental Alienation

In the case of Bassett v Magee, 2015 BCSC 237, the father alleged that the mother was alienating the children by giving them a choice to stay overnight with the father. There were no expert reports and the Court found that there was no alienation. It is clear that the Court would require an expert report to find alienation.

In the case of C.(J.D.) v (K.L.M.F), 2014 BCSC 2182, the mother claimed that the father was alienating the child and there was an expert report provided. The Court held that the father had been influencing the child in such a way that could be considered alienation. The Court held that the father’s conduct was not at the level of deliberate or intentional alienation, but a reflection of poor parenting skills which negatively influenced the child. The Court ordered that the child remain primarily with the father and spend every other weekend with the mother.

In the case of Dimitrijevic v Pavlovich, 2016 BCSC 1529, the Court identified the ethical obligations of the authors of Section 211 Reports. This is an important case for determining how to cross-examine the author of a 211 Report.

The Approach You Should Take

It is important to discuss parental alienation concerns with your family lawyer to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to quickly address any alienation that may be taking place.

The Vancouver family lawyers at Crossroads Law have dealt with cases involving parental alienation and know how to take immediate steps to reinstate parenting time with a child. Contact us today for your free 20-minute consultation to learn more.