For me, one of the hardest issues to deal with as a family lawyer is parental alienation.
Parental alienation syndrome, a term coined in the mid 1980's by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner, occurs when one parent attempts to turn the couple's children against the other parent. A parent who is angry at the spouse or ex-spouse accomplishes this estrangement by painting a negative picture of the other parent via deprecating comments, blame and false accusations shared with the children. They will also do everything in their power to thwart the other parent's parenting time.
Lawyers, judges, the courts, we are poorly equipped to deal with parental alienation: It is difficult to prove; if and when a finding of parental alienation is made by a court, the damage to the relationship between the children and estranged parent is irreparable. Or, the alienated parent, browbeaten and dispirited—and probably so frustrated at the legal system’s apparent impotence to address the problem and effect change—gives up.
If a court does find that one parent has alienated the children from the other parent, it has four available options:
Possibly, the court might order costs against the blameworthy parent, but cost awards are cold comfort for parents who have lost a relationship with the children they love and cherish; parents who realize they are now anathema to their children. Furthermore, the cost award might amount to no more than a slap on the wrist because a huge cost award might affect the primary parent’s ability to provide for the children.
I am not a proponent of litigation: I believe recourse to the courts should be a last resort; I am an advocate of mediation or the collaborative family law process. But trying to destroy the relationship between the other parent and the children is execrable behavior. Somebody who engages in such behavior is most likely not going to be reasonable. Mediation, therefore, will most likely be ineffective.
[i] A blog dealing with ‘urgent motions’ is in the works.
Blake R. Lyngseth, Ottawa lawyer & mediator. Blogs primarily on issues of Ontario & Canadian family law & estate law.