Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome Family Law Toronto

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Gary Direnfeld

Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome

Back in 1985, psychiatrist Dr. Richard Gardner, noticed the reluctance of some children to see or even have a reasonable relationship with a parent after their guardians separated. Given that it was mostly mothers who maintained care of the children three decades ago, it was usually the fathers who experienced problems maintaining relationships with their children. Gardner’s thinking was that these mothers, either deliberately or incidentally, were behaving in ways that undermined the father-child relationship.

Although there is a long list of behaviours a parent can engage in to undermine a child’s relationship with the other parent, what was described is usually referred to as a campaign of denigration. The parent engaging in such behaviour is said to be practicing “parental alienation” to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child.

Although a parent may seek to undermine a child’s behaviour to the other parent through a campaign of denigration, it was found that not all children would succumb to the negative influence. Some would carry on a reasonable relationship with the targeted parent, some would carry on the relationship, albeit in a problematic fashion, and some would lose the relationship with the targeted parent altogether.

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If the degree to which a child internalized the denigration of the targeted parent was severe enough that the child continued the campaign of denigration on their own, then that child was said to be suffering “parental alienation syndrome”.

Since 1985, there has been a shift in terms of the care and residence of children between their separated parents. More men are seeking greater to equal amounts of responsibility and time with their kids. As such, what was first described as the behaviour of mostly women alienating children from their fathers, this is now seen as a concern initiated by both genders, as well as between parents of the same sex. In other words, any parent may be seen to be undermining the children’s relationship with the other parent.

To complicate matters, this has become a hotly politicized problem with parents on both sides arguing that this unsubstantiated syndrome is used to undermine and obscure issues of actual violence by blaming the other of parental alienation.

Given the history and complexity of PA and PAS, if this is a concern or alleged to be a factor in your situation, you may need the services of well-trained and experienced clinicians and family lawyers to determine what may be at issue, and how to best address it.

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