A Family Court judge in Canada threatens sanctions against an alienating parent, stating that this parent’s continued alienation may cause the court to reconsider whether the children should remain in their custody.
Alienated parents overwhelmingly say “yes”. However, the more common experience of alienated parents is that family law in Australia goes ‘MIA’ when a parent contravenes orders or alienates a child.
In my own reviews of family reports, few consultants recommend sanctions such as change of residence or even instituting shared care if a parent does not follow their recommendations or if a child’ s behavior towards a targeted or alienated parent does not change.
I suggest that one of the reasons why this is the case is that there are still family consultants and indeed elements of the Family Court that do not accept parental alienation as a plausible hypothesis. This is in stark contrast to allegations of sexual abuse, or family violence for which the Family Law Act 1975 requires specific action. Yet, international research on Parental Alienation suggests that it is at least as harmful to children as sexual abuse, and family violence.
Unfortunately, there is little or no relief from Section 60 of the Family Law Act 1975. Section 60CA Part VII of the Act requires that the Court must regard the best interests of a child as the paramount consideration. In particular, Section 60CC considers that it is beneficial for a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. However, precedence (McCall & Clark (2009) FLC 93-405) allows for the interpretation of a meaningful relationship based on the nature of the parent-child relationship at the date of the hearing. Here in lies support for the infamous ‘status quo’ that alienating parents are all too keen to establish for obvious reasons.
Furthermore, this precedent allows Section 60CC to consider the evidence at the date of the hearing (as distinct from the status of the parent-child relationship at the date of the hearing) to determine how, the child’s best interests can be formulated to ensure the child has a meaningful relationship with both parents.
Whilst this interpretation may offer some relief, there is nothing in Section 60 that specifically requires that interference with or compromise of a relationship between a child and a parent is not in the child’s best interest. This suggests that an alienating parent can determine the relationship for the court to consider-unless a family consultant recommends otherwise. However, there is nothing specifically in the act that requires a family consultant or the court to take an adverse view of alienation.
Imagine what legal, social and psychological acceptance Parental Alienation must have occurred within the Canadian social and legal system for this Canadian judge to take such a stand for an alienated child and be prepared to sanction an alienating parent! And without legislative changes!
What would it take for Australia to reach a similar understanding and acceptance that the deliberate compromise or rupture of a child’s relationship with a loving parent is child abuse and needs to be treated as seriously as family violence?
We are getting better but we still have a long way to go before we have social let alone legislative changes that at least hold alienating parents to account.