The Law on parental alienation
In a decision released earlier this year called Farrell-Wadden v. Mombourquette, 2023 NSSC 164, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia dealt with the issue of parental alienation.
In Farrell-Wadden v. Mombourquette, a nine-year-old boy had been living primarily with his maternal grandmother for the last six years. The boy would spend every second weekend and three evenings every week with his father. In September 2022, the boy began resisting parenting time with his father and essentially stopped spending time with him. The father believed the grandmother was alienating him and argued that the boy should be placed in his primary care. The grandmother denied this allegation and argued that the boy should remain in her primary care and be able to decide when he saw his father. The father had to prove he was being alienated on a balance of probabilities (meaning he had to prove it was more likely than not that he was being alienated).
In making its decision, the Court discussed the definition of parental alienation, and accepted the definition that was adopted in an earlier case called Williams v. Power, 2022 NSSC 156. In that case, the court agreed that parental alienation occurs when one parent “systematically reduces the value, love, commitment, relationship, involvement of the other parent by minimizing, criticizing, devaluing that parent’s role.” This must be done intentionally and for unjustified reasons, inducing the child to reject the other parent. The court also defined behaviour indicative of an alienated child, accepting that an alienated child is “one who expresses, freely and persistently, unreasonable negative feelings and beliefs (such as anger, hatred, rejection, and/or fear) toward a parent that are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent.”
In other words, for there to be alienation, there needs to be an existing positive and healthy relationship between the child and the alienated parent that is now being denied and/or manipulated by the other parent in order to turn the child against them.
However, the court explained that there are many different reasons why a child may reject a parent and resist or refuse visitation with them, and so a child’s rejection, refusal, or resistance is not in and of itself proof of alienation. For example, there may be “realistic estrangement” caused by the breakdown of the child’s relationship with the parent due to that parent’s own conduct. Realistic estrangement is not alienation. As a result, the Court held that it will not assume alienation simply where there are difficulties with parenting time.
The Court found that the father did not prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the grandmother was alienating him from his son. Not only were there issues with his credibility, but he was also unable to identify what proof there was that the grandmother was causing his son to reject him and offered no evidence to support this allegation. In fact, the grandmother had acted in a way contrary to alienation by making efforts to include the father in the child’s life and consulting with him to schedule parenting time.
Note: Evidence of parental alienation cannot be based on the estranged parent’s own opinion or on social literature.
What are signs of parental alienation?
Below are potential signs of parental alienation. Keep in mind that they do not necessarily mean alienation is occurring:
- The alienating parent tells the child that the alienated parent doesn’t love them
- The alienating parent tells the child to choose between parents
- The alienating parent limits or denies contact between the alienated parent and the child without a reasonable explanation
- The child constantly and unfairly criticizes the alienated parent
- The child has an irrational fear towards the alienated parent
- The child resents and rejects the alienated parent for no justified reason
- The child feels no guilt about their behaviour towards the parent, and sees no good in them
Parental alienation is a serious allegation which can have serious consequences. Lawyers at BOYNECLARKE LLP can help you navigate the legal issues to deal with your parenting disputes.
If you think you need assistance navigating a parenting dispute, or have any further questions about family law matters, please call 902-469-9500 to schedule your consultation with a member of our Family Law team.