The concept of parental alienation can, unfortunately, be common in the practice of family law; one that can affect decisions relating to support or even custody in some cases. However, parental alienation may soon also be considered a medical diagnosis, labelled as a disease with long-term repercussions affecting the children of parents who use manipulation in an attempt to create rifts in their relationships with other parents or family members.

The World Health Organization (“WHO”) is set to vote on the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) next month, including the addition of ‘parental alienation’ to an updated list of diseases and related health problems. In extreme cases, experts have determined that this form of psychological manipulation of a child by one or both parents may lead to serious mental health consequences for those affected, including anxiety, lowered self-esteem and a higher risk of depression throughout their life.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child by a parent, to invoke hostility towards the other parent. It can be deliberate or unintentional, but certain behaviours can have the same consequences, regardless of the intent. These behaviours include:

  • belittling the other parent in front of the child or encouraging the child to do the same;
  • interfering when the other parent is set to spend time with the child or inflicting guilt on the child for spending time with the other parent;
  • portraying the other parent as being dangerous to the child; and
  • asking the child to help to spy on the other parent

What are the Symptoms of a Child Subjected to Parental Alienation?

Experts have identified certain behaviours to look for in children who may be suffering from this form of parental manipulation, which include:

  • rejection and denigration of a parent for reasons that are trivial;
  • rigid refusal to consider alternative views or explanations;
  • repetition of the favoured parent’s words;
  • using what may seem like a rehearsed script;
  • relatives are included in the rejection (even pets); and
  • little or no regret or guilt with respect to behaviour towards the parent being rejected 

Proposed Changes to Canada’s Divorce Act Set to Address Concerns of Parental Alienation

Bill C-78, a proposal to further promote, among other issues, the ‘best interests of the child’ under the Divorce Act, seeks to address the concept of parental alienation by specifically stating that courts should take this behaviour into consideration when making custody orders. The bill includes language that requires courts to consider this factor holistically, in conjunction with the child’s overall safety and well-being, recognizing that in some cases facilitating a relationship with both parents may not be in the child’s best interests.

The long-term effects of parental alienation can be significant and can last well into adulthood. Children who have been subjected to parental alienation may have difficulty forming lasting, healthy relationships, suffer a higher rate of substance abuse and depression, and have a lower quality of life overall. As a result, experts are stressing the importance for the legal and psychological communities to come together to raise awareness of the consequences of this behaviour, as well as to put procedures and laws in place to prevent it whenever possible.

Ahead of the upcoming WHO vote, a meeting is being held in Toronto this month to examine the issue further with the help of experts in both law and developmental psychology with the goal of informing lawyers, judges, and psychologists around the world about the seriousness of this issue.

If Parental Alienation is a Concern in Your Divorce or Separation, Consult with a Family Lawyer Immediately

Child custody and access issues can add significant complications to divorce and/or separation, and acrimonious relationships between parents can have negative effects on the children involved if the parents exhibit certain behaviours or manipulation tactics. It is important to discuss all aspects of your situation with a qualified and experienced family law lawyer so that you can take every precaution possible to ensure that you preserve your legal entitlement to a relationship with your child, as well as do everything you can to maintain your child’s well-being. In addition, if you find that you are a parent suffering from alienation from your child, a lawyer can seek assistance in court on behalf of both you and your child.

At Gelman & Associates, our family and divorce lawyers strive to provide our clients with the information and resources necessary to make informed decisions about all family law matters. To support your mental well-being during this difficult period, we offer our clients a free consultation with a psychological professional if required. Please call us at 1-844-769-0737 or reach us online if you have a custody and access issue or any other type of family law matter you need assistance with.