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If you believe your ex-spouse may be trying to alienate your child or children from you, you are likely very stressed and you might be wondering how to address it without creating even more conflict. The severity of parental alienation and the impact varies widely as do the approaches required depending on the circumstances and level of severity. One way of attempting to reduce or prevent parental alienation early on is through incorporating terms in a parenting plan which provide clear guidelines and guard rails to both parents for expectations regarding their co-parenting relationship and their relationship with the child or children as everyone learns to navigate parenting while separated.

Family courts, family law professionals and clinical professionals have greatly improved their understanding of parental alienation in recent years. This means that there is a much more defined and clear legal definition and clinical definition for what parental alienation is.

Very broadly speaking, parental alienation is when one parent, influences a child or children causing them to fear, hate, avoid and reject the other parent without reason. The child or children will often have had a positive, even close relationship with the other parent before the separation and only after separation will they begin to say they are afraid of and don’t want to see the other parent.

In a recent decision, Y.H.P. v. J.N., 2023 ONSC 5766, Justice Kraft provided a detailed description of alienation and listed behaviors by both the child and alienating parent which the Court may look for as signs that parental alienation is occurring. Some of the behaviors demonstrated by the child in instances of parental alienation may be that they see one parent as all good and the other as all bad; their hatred for the other parent is based on reasons which are not true or don’t justify the level of hatred; they may speak about the parent they have rejected in a way which sounds rehearsed or includes language which is not childlike. The parent who is influencing the child may do things like insisting the child makes the decisions about contact; they may ignore the child after the child spends time with the other parent, or may even show they are angry that the child has spent time with the other parent; the parent may even tell the child false stories about how the other parent has harmed the child.

There is no question that parental alienation causes harm to the child. Children who have been alienated are at greater risk for developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, they also tend to have poorer outcomes academically and in their own relationships later in life.

So, what can be done to prevent or reduce the impact of parental alienation on the child’s relationship with the parent being targeted? If signs are emerging that parental alienation may be taking place or you are concerned about the possibility, a detailed parenting plan can help. A parenting plan can provide the terms for the way parents communicate with each other, as well as with the child. It is important to build in clear expectations within the parenting plan as to how the parents speak about each other with the child. It should be clear that it is not appropriate or permitted to have discussions about the legal issues related to the separation with the child, or to make disparaging comments about the other parent or their family to the child or in their presence.

A parenting plan can also provide clear terms for makeup parenting time. This is aimed at discouraging either parent from interfering with or preventing the other parent from having their schedule parenting time. Many parenting plans will clearly state that if a child is sick, unless their doctor has advised they should not travel, the child is still to transition between their parents care per the parenting time schedule. The plan may also automatically add make-up time onto a parent’s next period of scheduled parenting time when parenting time is missed. For example, if a parent misses an overnight during the week, but if that upcoming weekend is their parenting time, they may have an additional overnight added on at the end of their weekend, after which the regular schedule will resume.

If you and your partner are experiencing high levels of conflict even after being separated for some time, a more detailed parenting plan is often helpful. If parental alienation has become severe, then you may wish to consider court intervention and specialized resources.

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