Family

Parental alienation can cause lasting emotional damage

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Early intervention is crucial in cases of suspected parental alienation, Toronto family lawyer Michael Stangarone tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Stangarone, partner with MacDonald & Partners LLP, says the phenomenon which involves one parent systematically turning their children against the other occurs in relatively common in high-conflict cases of the sort he frequently handles.

“There are many cases in which judges have made it clear that it’s a form of child abuse,” he says. “Early intervention is what’s needed because, if it persists over time, it can cause long-lasting emotional damage to children. Courts must act early to ensure there are sanctions for inappropriate behaviour.”

Stangarone recently handled a case in which a 12-year-old child sought to cut off access with her father after foreshadowing the move in a series of hateful letters and interactions with her parent over time.

“It was clear that her actions were heavily influenced and orchestrated by the mother, so we went to court to address the alienation,” he explains.

After the child’s assessment by a team of therapists and medical experts, the judge was convinced that alienation had occurred, and ordered it to stop.

“There were consequences for the alienating parent, which were necessary,” adds Stangarone. He welcomes the recent World Health Organization (WHO) proposal to add parental alienation to the accredited list of diseases and related health problems.

CTV News reports members will vote on the idea at a conference in May to mark the organization’s 11th revision of its International Classification of Diseases.

“This conference is very important considering the scientific literature confirms the potential for long-term emotional damage that can result from parental alienation,” Stangarone says.

The news story cites research labelling parental alienation an "unacknowledged form of family violence" with long-term mental health consequences for children on the receiving end of it, including “anxiety, lowered self-esteem and general quality of life,” and provides a list of some red flags that suggest it may be occurring:

  • Rejection and denigration of a parent for trivial reasons
  • Rigid refusal to consider alternative views
  • Repetition of the favoured parent's words
  • Rehearsed script
  • Relatives are included in the rejection (even pets)
  • Absence of guilt or regret over behaviour towards the rejected parent

Canada’s recent reform of the Divorce Act contained oblique references to parental alienation, acknowledging the importance of the child's relationship with each parent in the overview to Bill C-78 presented to Parliament in Ottawa.

"If a parent actively attempts to undermine their child's relationship with the other parent, courts may need to consider this in making a parenting order," the overview reads.

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