The mother of the 16-year-old child, referred to as “X”, alleged that the father was alienating X from her.

The judge heard evidence from five experts.

Dr. Amy Baker

The court accepted the following theories of Dr. Baker:

  1. An “alienated child” unjustifiably rejects the “disfavoured parent” and aligns with the “favoured parent”.
  2. There are five factors indicating alienation:
    1. The disfavoured parent had an adequate relationship with the child before the child refused contact.
    2. There has been no abuse or neglect on the part of a disfavoured parent.
    3. The favoured parent engaged in intentional misrepresentation to professionals.
    4. Child-called-X1The favoured parent engaged in alienating behaviours:
      • badmouthing;
      • limiting contact;
      • interfering with communication;
      • withholding love and approval;
      • telling the child that the disfavoured parent does not love him or her;
      • allowing/forcing the child to choose;
      • creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous;
      • confiding in the child information causes the child to feel anger or shame towards the disfavoured parent;
      • forcing the child to reject the other parent;
      • asking the child to spy on the other parent;
      • asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent;
      • referring to the other parent by first name when speaking with the child or encouraging him or her to do the same; and
      • undermining the authority of the disfavoured parent.
    5. The child exhibits behaviours of alienation:
      • a “campaign of denigration” – being harsh, cold, rude rejection and denial of past positive experiences;
      • weak, frivolous and absurd reasons for the denigration;
      • lack of ambivalence towards both parents – idealization of the favoured parent despite his or her obvious flaws and demonization of the disfavoured parent despite his or her obvious assets;
      • the “independent thinker phenomenon” where the child insists that the favoured parent played no role in the rejection of the disfavoured parent;
      • lack of guilt regarding poor treatment of the disfavoured parent;
      • reflexive support for the favoured parent in all parental conflicts;
      • presence of “borrowed scenarios” – use of words, phrases and concepts that are not understood, cannot be defined and which can be readily attributable to the ideas and beliefs of the favoured parent;
      • the spread of animosity to friends and family of the disfavoured parent.
  1. There are ten reasons why the courts should intervene with respect to alienation:
    1. Parental alienation is child abuse.
    2. Parents are not replaceable.
    3. Children, even teenagers, do not have the cognitive maturity to choose to eliminate a parent from their lives.
    4. The child’s identity development could suffer.
    5. The formation of healthy adult relationships could be impaired because the absence of empathy towards a parent warps their understanding of how to get along in the world insofar as they do not deal with issues but instead cut people out of their lives.
    6. The children do not really want the relationship with the parent to end and will later regret the years they lost.
    7. It can cause self-esteem problems, depression, substance abuse, lack of trust, high rates in divorce and intergenerational transmission of alienation.
    8. Reconciliation may not occur naturally.
    9. There can be disadvantages to waiting for spontaneous reconciliation.
    10. Reconciliation intervention can be successful.
  1. Alienated children may appear happy and high-functioning, so courts should look beyond the claims and preferences of the children.
  1. “Enmeshment” is a concept that is useful for understanding the behaviours of the alienating parent and an alienated child, which involves a “dissolution of proper interpersonal boundaries between parent and child.”

Dr. Abe Worenklein

Dr. Worenklein’s opinion was also endorsed by the court. He interviewed the parents, all three children and other family members, and conducted home visits.

Dr. Worenklein said: “X is extremely angry at his mother, to whom he attributes the deterioration of the present situation, his father’s present situation, and the difficulty that he has spending time with his brother and sister […] the children are aware of too much and have been exposed to information that is not appropriate.”

Dr. Worenklein concluded that there was parental alienation. Dr. Worenklein noted that the long-term effects of parental alienation can be quite severe, including problems with self-esteem and identity, depression, problems with alcohol and drugs, and as adults they are more likely to have children who become alienated.

Dr. Steven Miller

Dr. Miller prepared a report based on his review of court documents and communications related to the proceeding, but had not interviewed family members aside from two conversations with the mother. Dr. Miller concluded that the primary clinical problem is severe parental alienation of X by his father toward his mother, that X met every one of the generally-accepted manifestations of an alienated child and X showed severe pathological enmeshment with his father. Dr. Miller noted that most mental health professionals fail to recognize alienation because they lack the clinical expertise to do so. The court was unable to form an impression of Dr. Miller as he did not attend the trial.

Dr. Keith Krull

Dr. Krull prepared a psychological evaluation of X. He interviewed X on three occasions.  In his report, he opined:

  1. X was experiencing depression.
  2. X is highly identified with his father.
  3. When with his father X is happy and relaxed, but with his mother he is withdrawn, uncooperative, angry and sullen.
  4. X’s depression revolves around the unresolved feelings he has toward his mother.

In Dr. Krull’s opinion, X’s hurt and anger toward his mother revolve around:

  1. Boundaries (his mother does not respect his personal space and privacy).
  2. His mother’s lying.
  3. His mother’s constant manipulation.
  4. His mother’s “clingy” behavior.
  5. His mother’s self-centred nature.
  6. His mother’s temper, which made him feel unsafe, and as a result, X feels he can no longer trust his mother and is afraid of her.

Dr. Krull opined that X feels safe and secure with his father who he looks up to and trusts.

Dr. Krull recommended that X should live with his father and should not be forced to spend time with his mother.

The court found that Dr. Krull “accepted everything X told him at face value” and that his report was “of very limited value”.

Dr. Kathleen Reay

Dr. Reay provides an intensive remedial intervention program for children who are seriously alienated, called the Family Reflections Reunification Program (“FRRP”). X had attended FRRP, where Dr. Reay noted that X “did not have anything positive to say about his mother, and he had nothing negative to say about his father.” She said the program was successful for X, but that success was not sustained because the father chose not to cooperate.

The Decision

The judge applied the alienation factors expounded by Dr. Baker and found the following examples of alienating behaviours on the part of the father:

  1. The father co-opted X and made him an agent or proxy of his father in the dispute between the parents, which was shown by communications where the children “lobbied their mother on his behalf” while the father refused to engage parent-to-parent, and “selfies” X took, one taken of the two of them as they prepared to fight the mother in court captioned “let’s do this” and the other while they were in the courtroom itself, followed by “high-fiving” one another after their perceived victory.
  1. The father set up X as his litigation ally and as a direct adversary of his mother.
  1. The father told the children things designed to have them side with him or feel sorry for him, and to believe that his situation was their mother’s fault, including telling them that he was lonely, he did not have money for food, he had to work excessively hard because the mother had all the money and was not working, and that was why he could not have the children 50-50 and why they had to eat at his parents’ house.
  1. The father’s communications with the mother showed that he has nothing but contempt for her and that the children knew that.
  1. The father restricted the mother’s contact with the children.
  1. The father discouraged the children from discussing anything positive that happened in the mother’s house.
  1. The father never once delivered X to the mother’s house, which reinforced in X the sense that there was no value in having a relationship with her.
  1. The father told the children that their mother does not love them with comments such as “Why isn’t your mom taking you on all the trips she has gone on?” and “Your mom should not be dating … I’m not dating.  I put you kids first”.
  1. The father forced X to choose between his parents when he was faced with a scheduling conflict regarding a trip, which signaled that the relationship with his mother is optional.
  1. The father created the impression that their mother is dangerous by sending texts to the children with “Are you ok?”, and by telling X he did not go to his Christmas concert because his mother would have had him arrested (which was untrue), alleging that the mother used drugs and that baked goods from the mother were “poisoned”, and linking the mother’s IP address to a stalker video so that it would play if she accessed his website, thereby making it clear to X that his mother should be regarded as a stalker.
  1. The father made it clear to the children that the mother was not allowed to set foot on the property of the father or his parents.
  1. The father inappropriately shared details of the legal disputes and confidential marital information with the children.
  1. The father encouraged the children to feel sorry for his plight and to believe his situation was their mother’s fault.
  1. The father asked the children to spy.
  1. The father asked the children to keep secrets from the mother, such as X not telling his mother that he went on a trip with his father and the other two children lying to their mother about it.
  1. The father was aware of X’s disrespectful communications with his mother including his referral to her by her first name in a disrespectful manner.
  1. The father withheld information about the children such as X’s medical or dental visits, or his social or non-school activities.

The court concluded that as X was found to be an alienated child. The court’s remedial orders included the following:

  1. X will be enrolled in the FRRP as soon as possible.
  1. X will continue in that program under the direction of Dr. Reay until Dr. Reay recommends otherwise, to a maximum of 12 months unless extended by court order.
  1. During that time, the parenting arrangement shall be as determined by Dr. Reay.
  1. On completion of each phase of the FRRP, Dr. Reay shall provide a report concerning X’s progress and current situation.
  1. The father shall participate in the FRRP as directed by Dr. Reay.
  1. Reay shall prepare a brief report outlining the counselling or other programming she recommends for family members other than X.
  1. The mother will pay the up-front cost of the FRRP with leave to address the ultimate responsibility for those costs at a later date.
  1. The father’s joint custody is suspended and sole custody is granted to the mother.
  1. Some of the father’s parenting responsibilities for X are suspended.
  1. The father and paternal grandparents are restrained from directly or indirectly communicating with X or with his siblings until a time specified by Dr. Reay as part of the treatment plan.
  1. The father and paternal grandparents are prohibited from attending at or near X’s residence, school, workplace or places of activity.
  1. If a police officer may take action to enforce the no-contact order.
  1. Neither party shall make any disparaging remarks about one another or about members of the other party’s family in the presence of the children, and neither party shall discuss this litigation with the children or with anyone else in their presence.
  1. Neither party shall make audio or video recordings of the children for any purposes relating to the litigation or the disputes between the parties.
  1. The longer-term custody, access and parenting arrangements will be dealt with by this judge at a later date, following X’s completion of the FRRP and upon receiving Dr. Reay’s recommendations.

C.J.J. v. A.J., 2016 BCSC 676 – Decision by the Honourable Mr. Justice Blok, pronounced April 15, 2016.