Parental Alienation During COVID-19: Overview and Trends

Custodial parents must not use the pandemic as a means to keep the children away from the other parent or else they may face accusations of parental alienation. This is true especially if the non-custodial parent is complying with government guidelines to avoid exposing the children to infection.

Parental alienation describes a pattern of conduct by one parent which has the effect of causing a child to reject the other without justification. This is why courts give little weight to the preferences of alienated children in making child custody and access decisions. Instead, courts may rely on expert evidence but are not required to. The burden to prove the respondent’s alienating conduct is on the rejected parent.

Courts take parental alienation extremely seriously and consider it a form of child abuse. The negative consequences to the self-esteem, mental and developmental health of children who have been subjected to alienation is well-documented.

There are two types of parental alienation:

Pure alienation occurs when the child’s attitude toward the rejected parent is entirely due to the influence of the preferred parent’s wrongful conduct

 Mixed alienation occurs if the child’s rejection of a parent is a product of a variety of circumstances, including the rejected parent’s conduct prior to separation

 Evidence of alienating conduct during the pandemic may include:

  • badmouthing
  • creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous
  • providing the child with information that is personal or which relates to the litigation
  • asking the child to spy on the other parent
  • cultivating an atmosphere where the child is dependent on the preferred parent and the authority of the other is undermined

A child who has been alienated presents “symptoms” which can include:

  • an absence of rational reasons for rejection
  • lack of ambivalence concerning the rejected parent
  • spurning members of the rejected parent’s extended family
  • and reflexive support of the alienating parent

Trends in COVID-19 “Parental Alienation” Cases

  • It remains parental alienation even if parents are denying access based on the children’s wishes. Children do not get to make decisions about access – it is an adult decision.
  • Parental alienation cases continue to be highly fact-specific and determined on a case-by-case basis during the pandemic.
  • If parents do not currently have an existing order in place on custody and access, a motion which cites parental alienation among the issues is more likely to be deemed “urgent” and heard quickly.
  • It is extremely difficult for courts to determine if alienation exists through affidavit evidence alone (i.e. sworn written statements). In some cases, courts have chosen not to make a finding. In other cases, where insufficient evidence has been presented, the court has chosen not to consider parental alienation but has proceeded to decide the case on other issues.
  • It is not in the best interests of babies to have 50-50 equal parenting time, and courts will not consider it parental alienation for a mother to deny this.
  • Be cautious if you plan on introducing recordings which show the other parent’s alienating behaviour. Courts may exclude those recordings if they view them as evidence that is considered to be systemically prejudicial towards that parent.
  • Courts may order a Reunification Therapy Plan (RTP) for families in which parental alienation has been found. However, the RTP requires cooperation and good faith by both parents. It is unlikely to benefit the children if both parents are opposed to it.
  • The court does not appoint each parent as judge and jury of the other. Not every circumstance, event, or mistake by a parent that detrimentally affects a child will justify a court changing an existing custody or access order. In other words, parenting is assessed holistically and one mistake is unlikely to be fatal, although of course the court will consider the severity of the mistake.

Parental alienation is harmful to all parties involved. Instead of condoning a child’s resistance to access during the pandemic, custodial parents have a responsibility to encourage them to participate as it is in their best interests.

If you are looking for more information, do not hesitate to contact us and our specialist family lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202 or contact us through our website here.

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