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Children of divorced or divorcing parties may be exposed to some form of Parental Alienation. One parent (or sometimes a third party in a child’s life) may attempt to undermine an in-tact parent-child relationship and turn a child against the other parent.  The practice is often seen when there are disputes between parents about decision-making responsibility and parenting.  The alienated parent may feel helpless to combat the assault on their relationship with their child, but there are actions you may take both in your own home as well as through Ontario’s legal system with the help of a compassionate and experienced family and divorce lawyer.

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation is a behavior in which a parent will undermine a parent-child relationship and turn the child against the other parent.  The alienating parent will encourage the child to reject the other parent by manipulating the child to fear, hate or disrespect the other parent.  Parental Alienation comes in different forms – it may present through denigrating the other parent, making false claims about the other parent, or even interfering with or denying the other parent their parenting time with the child.  Behaviors of an alienating parent may include: 

  • Removing photos of the other parent.
  • Not encouraging calls to the other parent.
  • Describing fun activities that the child may have missed when they were with the other parent. 
  • Showing a lack of concern for missed visits with the other parent and letting the child make decisions about their contact with the other parent. 
  • Rejecting gifts, letters, and messages from the other parent without giving them to the child.
  • Refusing to invite the other parent to school events and activities.
  • Refusing to speak to the other parent and requiring child to act as go-between/messenger.
  • Excessively talking about negative qualities of the other parent in front of the child.
  • Subtly or overtly implying that their own love is contingent on the child’s rejection of the other parent.
  • Claiming the other parent “left” the family and does not love them.
  • Leading the child to believe the other parent is dangerous.

A child suffering from parental alienation may appear to fear the other parent, may treat the other parent with hostility, or disrespect while at the same time demonstrating loyalty, unconditional trust, and empathy towards the other.  

It is possible that parental alienation is occurring unintentionally, and one parent simply cannot stop themselves from denigrating the other parent in front of their child, but with no specific end in mind. Unfortunately, however, it is a practice commonly seen when the parents are engaged in a dispute about parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.  Canadian law looks unfavorably on the practice of parental alienation and the Federal Divorce Act was amended in 2020 to remove the “maximum contact” principal which, in the past, had sought to maximize a child’s time with each parent so long as it was in the child’s best interest.  The act now states in section 16(3) that when determining the best interests of a child, “each spouse’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other spouse” must be considered. Divorce Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. 3, Section 16(3) (2nd Supp.)). Further, a well known Ontario case on parental alienation, Bruni v. Bruni, saw a mother’s efforts at parental alienation punished in the form of a severe reduction of her spousal support to $1.00 per month after having her efforts condemned by the court as “evil.” Bruni v. Bruni, 2010 ONSC 6568 (CANLII).  Therefore the Ontario court system is designed and ready to assist you in remedying a situation where parental alienation is being imposed on your child.

Signs of Parental Alienation

If you suspect that parental alienation is being practiced on your child there are key signs you may look for inside your child’s own behaviors including: 

  • Vilifying you, the other parent, and rejecting your affection. 
  • Using derogatory terms against you that are uncommon for children of their age.
  • Viewing parents as either all good or all bad. 
  • Justifications their hatred of you with small or unreasonable answers and hatred that may extend to other family members or pets. 
  • Displaying anger at you and claiming you abandoned them. 
  • Displaying unwarranted fear towards you.
  • Telling others about your negative qualities. 
  • Having a stronger bond with alienating parent and an unnatural concern for alienating parent. 
  • Displaying a lack of care about missed visits or phone calls. 

How To Prevent Parental Alienation

If your child is displaying patterns of behavior that lead you to believe the other parent may be subjecting them to parental alienation, the most important thing you can do is to maintain as much contact with your child as possible. You should strive to keep your interactions as positive as you can and resist employing alienating tactics against the other parent as doing so could potentially cause further damage to your parent-child relationship.  You should seek to make your time together enjoyable – spend time playing with your child, show interest in their hobbies and activities and above all, listen to your child and show them love and patience.  You should create time for your child to vent and communicate with you without punishment, expectation, or pressure.  

Your next step should be consulting with a psychologist or other mental health professional who can assist you in repairing your relationship.  There are those that specialize in parental alienation syndrome that can help you to connect with your child once again.  You may want to consider keeping a log of the behaviors that worry you that you can present to the psychologist who can help you determine whether they are consistent with alienation.  

Finally, you should contact an Ontario family law lawyer to assist you in bringing court proceedings.  The court system places a strong emphasis on maintaining all parent-child relationships and can provide you with the recourse to undo parental alienation by revisiting your parenting agreement. 

Steps to Take if Your Former Spouse Has Interfered With Your Parent-Child Relationship

Maintain contact with your child as much as possible. Stick to your parenting and contact schedule and try to keep your interactions positive and low pressure.
Contact a psychologist who specializes in parental alienation syndrome A qualified psychologist or mental health professional can help you identify parental alienation syndrome and provide tools for restoring your parent-child relationship.
Keep a log of information as evidence. It can be helpful to keep a log of the behaviors, comments and occurrences that worry you.   This may be useful for the psychologist as well as your family law lawyer in restoring your relationship.
Contact an Ontario family law lawyer to initiate court proceedings. An experienced and compassionate family law lawyer can initiate court proceedings on your behalf to provide recourse for stopping the parental alienation.


Pro Tip

“If you suspect some type of parental alienation, keeping a log of information for your purposes only is advisable. This will help to remind you of past comments, concerns, or connections that seem inappropriate or off.”

-Lisa Gelman


Learn How Our Family Law Lawyers Can Help!

Canada believes strongly that children should not be a part of their parents’ conflict.  If your child is displaying concerning behaviors consistent with parental alienation, the Ontario court system can help you put a stop to the practice.  Contact the lawyers at Gelman & Associates to lead you through Ontario’s family law system.  The lawyers at Gelman & Associates can provide compassionate guidance while aggressively protecting your parental rights.  Parental alienation is not appropriate and a parent who ignores a parenting or contact schedule outlined in a court order can suffer legal consequences including a possible loss of parenting time.  Call (416) 736-0200 to speak to one of our qualified and caring lawyers about your family today.

How To Prevent Parental Alienation FAQs –

Keep a log of concerning behaviors and verify your suspicions with a psychologist who specializes in parental alienation syndrome.

If your child is experiencing parental alienation, you should maintain as much contact with your child as possible, contact a qualified psychologist and an experienced Ontario family law lawyer who can assist you in restoring your relationship.

Ontario places great value on maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship.  If your co-parent is engaging in parental alienation the court system can subject them to fines or a potential loss of parenting time.

Alienation causes mental and physical disturbances that can include pyschological pain such as anger and depression.

When you communicate with an alienated child, always speak with love and kindness. Stay calm and never react. Do not bombard them with communications. Most importantly, do not invalidate if the child does not respond. Wait for them.

Maintain a positive, loving relationship with the child so that the child feels safe with you to prevent parental alienation. Consider discussing your observations with the other parent. If the alienation persists, consider parenting classes, therapy, and seeking assistance from the Court.

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