Parental alienation involves a parent using the children as a weapon to hurt the other parent
(Canada) Children 'biggest losers' in Family Court, Says Judge
1 April 2009
Children 'biggest losers' in Family Court, Says Judge
By Joan Delaney, Epoch Times Staff
Adversarial family court system exacerbates animosity between parents
A contentious access battle playing out in family court made news last week when a B.C. Supreme Court judge made the highly unusual decision of barring a mother from seeing her daughter for one year.
The ruling, which the fathers lawyer called historic, was made after the mother, known only as Ms. A, alleged that the father had subjected the teenager to severe emotional abuse which she said endangered the childs safety.
Citing Ms. As extreme parental alienation toward the father, Justice Donna Martinson said she was satisfied that Ms. As allegations were unfounded and that the mother continued to undermine the relationship between M and her father and has acted in ways that are detrimental to Ms psychological healing.
Classed as a syndrome, parental alienation occurs when divorcing parents use their children as pawns and attempt to turn them against the other parent.
When we get into parental alienation, really what is happening is that the child becomes a weapon, says Justice Harvey Brownstone, a family court judge in Toronto.
Warring parents tearing their children apart is something Brownstone sees all too regularly. Brownstone believes family court is a terrible place for parents to use to resolve their custody and access issues.
The whole justice system, including the family court system, is adversarial and is based on a win-lose mentality. But in family court theres no winning, theres only different degrees of losing, and the biggest losers are the children.
This adversarial approach is designed to make war not peace says Brownstone, and more often than not parents come out of the family court system more angry with each other and more unhappy than they were when they started the court case.
Brownstone authored a recently published book, the first of its kind for a sitting family court judge, aimed at educating separating couples about the pitfalls of fighting their battles in court.
In Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court, Brownstone wants parents to understand that taking their fight to family court is not a decision that should be taken lightly - they should be prepared.
Family courts are clogged with people who watch Judge Judy. They see on Judge Judy how fast it is, how easy it looks, and they come running to court and then they find out that theyre in the middle of a real mess. Its very stressful, its costly, its time consuming, and there are rules and procedures, and rules of evidence you don't see on Judge Judy.
Brownstone says immature and self absorbed couples show up in his court to fight over issues as trivial as the length of the childs hair, who gets to take the child trick-or-treating, or which summer camp the child should attend. This endless wrangling takes an immeasurable toll on the children.
There are very, very many couples who are so wrapped up in their own pain and their own need for vengeance that they completely lose sight of what theyre doing to their children, he says.
The enmity can go so deep that Brownstone has had parents tell him they'd rather see their children dead or in foster care than with the other parent.
Justice Harvey Brownstone
Edward Kruk, a University of British Columbia sociology professor and Canadas foremost expert on custody issues, says family courts emphasis on sole custody rather than equal shared parenting fosters animosity between parents.
He says much controversy and disagreement exists in professional literature regarding the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome. He questions the wisdom of removing Ms. A from her daughters life in the absence of proof of abuse or serious neglect.
For one parent having been the primary caregiver to be suddenly removed, and the childs whole routine disrupted, just seems like a very harsh, very blunt instrument to say the least in dealing with a problem that is almost universal in child custody disputes because of the way the full custody system is set up.
Kruk says its common for both parents to engage in parental alienation, pushed into it by the knowledge that only one of them can get custody.
The court basically pits parents against each other … so they get into the pattern of denigrating each other while trying to prove to the court - and also dragging their children into it - that they are the superior parent; but more importantly that the other parent is untrustworthy, deficient, and incapable. The system is set up to promote that kind of behavior.
Kruk maintains equal shared parenting is the key to preventing parental alienation and preserving the integrity of the childs relationship with both parents. He says the time has come to get rid entirely of this dominant, full custody regime that we have where one parent is removed from the childs life via a sole custody order.
Its within this winner take all custody regime in which parents are threatened with the loss of their children that violence tends to occur, he says. Its a recipe for disaster.
Studies show that equal parenting is better and actually desired by children themselves. Proponents of equal parenting say it also reduces false allegations of assault and sexual abuse, a common occurrence that monopolizes the court system.
Kruk says equal parenting can work for couples who remain in conflict through parallel parenting, in which arrangements are made where the parents don't have direct contact with each other but can still co-parent independently.
Brownstone believes that by constantly returning to family court to fight over petty issues, couples are using the system as a platform to perpetuate a relationship that theyre not ready to let go.
Counseling and parenting coaching - provided free by the courts where needed - would go a long way in resolving this and helping feuding parents learn to get along, he says.
I think the courts need to provide mediation for free for people who can't access it. And I think that the legal profession, the family law lawyers, have to be very sensitive to the damage that the court can do and steer their clients to the kind of information I'm giving them in the book, he says.
I showed him the PAS websites which explained it much better than I could and as I have read in these forums that if anything the acceptable terminology currently in Australia is Alignment and that it must be remembered that his 2 children are the focus of the Alignment and not him. IMO PA and PAS will eventually be accepted as Australia seems to model the FLCoA on their Canadian counterpart (in most things anyway). Fingers Crossed
(Canada) Fathers 'reduced to ATM status' by the courts
Letter: Fathers 'reduced to ATM status' by the courts …The National Post (Canada)
7 April 2009
Re: No More Tug of War, Justice Harvey Brownstone, 3 April 2009. (Ref:
What Justice Brownstone fails to mention in his attack on separated parents is the extent to which they are merely responding rationally to the adversarial, winner-take-all system they face in court.
A survey of family court cases in Ontario since 2000 reveals that almost 80% of the time costs are awarded against the father. That gives a fair indication of a father's chances of success in family court. Nearly always, he is relegated to the status of a visitor in his child's life, and reduced to the psychological state of an ATM.
Justice Brownstone also admonishes parents to separate financial issues from parenting issues. Yet family court judges are so eager to award mothers exclusive use of the matrimonial home and begin the flow of "maintenance" that parenting issues usually get dealt with summarily on the basis of myths and stereotypes.
Judges create the unseemly focus on money matters, while refusing to take access denial and parental alienation seriously. (One judge, now on the Court of Appeal in Alberta, told me that it is not his job to "punish" mothers who deny access and alienate the children.)
Until family court judges clean up their own act by implementing a presumption of equal shared parenting and favouring the more co-operative parent in custody disputes, nothing is going to change significantly.
Grant A. Brown, DPhil (Oxon), LL.B, Edmonton.
Article: No more tug of war
The National Post (Canada)
3 April 2009
No more tug of war
Book excerpt: A judge with years of family-court experience offers 10 tips to parents facing separation or custody battles
By Harvey Brownstone
Parents must learn to love their children more than they dislike each other. Make your child's wellbeing the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner. Before taking a position on any issue, ask yourself, How will this affect my child? Never let a discussion with your ex-partner be about your needs or his/her needs; it should always be about your child's needs. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to always put your children's needs ahead of your own.
LEARN TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A BAD PARTNER AND A BAD PARENT
The fact that your ex-partner was a bad partner does not necessarily mean that he/she is a bad parent. The way that a person treats his/her spouse in an unhappy relationship when no children are present may not be a good indication of how that person treats his/her children. Your child is entitled to get to know the other parent in his/her own right and to have a relationship with the other parent that is independent from your own. If your feelings about the other parent are standing in the way of your child's relationship with him/her, you should seek help from a counsellor or therapist.
NEVER SPEAK NEGATIVELY TO THE CHILD ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT
Your child has a right to a loving relationship with each parent, free of any influence or brainwashing. It is unfair and cruel to place your child in a conflict of loyalties and make him/ her choose between you and your ex-partner, as this deprives the child of an important relationship. Never draw your child into your disputes with the other parent.
NEVER ARGUE OR FIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN
No exceptions. If you and your ex-partner cannot behave civilly in front of your child, then don't be together in front of your child. I cannot understand why so many parents have trouble pretending to get along with each other for the few minutes it takes to pick up or return a child at access exchanges. Why are parents able to behave well in a courtroom in front of a judge but not in front of their own children? There is absolutely no good reason for parents to expose their children to their conflict.
LISTEN TO THE OTHER PARENT'S POINT OF VIEW, EVEN IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH IT
If you are going to communicate directly with your ex-partner, remember that communicating with maturity starts with listening. In any disagreement, try repeating back to your ex-partner what his/her position is, and the reasons why he/ she is taking that position. I often do this in court and am frequently amazed by many people's inability to correctly repeat back to me what their ex-partners have just finished telling me only a few seconds before! You cannot decide whether you agree with someone if you have not clearly understood what he/she is saying. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to him/her that you have understood his/her point of view. Good listening skills are not acquired overnight, but post-separation counselling can be very helpful in speeding up the learning process.
CONSIDER MEDIATION BEFORE GIVING THE DECISION-MAKING POWER TO A JUDGE
Too many parents react in a knee-jerk way to each other's conduct by running to family court without first getting legal advice or considering the impact of starting a court case. It is essential to consult a family law lawyer before taking any steps to resolve a conflict with an ex-partner. It may not be necessary to turn the decision-making power over to a judge. Many thousands of parents have found mediation to be a beneficial problem-solving mechanism, so it is definitely worth exploring.
SEPARATE YOUR FINANCIAL ISSUES FROM YOUR PARENTING ISSUES
In any family breakdown, there are two types of issues to be resolved: financial issues and parenting issues. These are completely separate matters and should be dealt with that way.
Your relationship with your children should have nothing to do with financial transactions or property transfers. It can certainly be a challenge to behave civilly with someone whom you think is trying to cheat you financially, but the ability to keep parenting issues separate from financial matters is a hallmark of maturity.
YOUR CHILDREN STILL SEE YOU AS A FAMILY, SO COMMUNICATE
If you truly accept that your children are innocent and bear no responsibility for your separation, then you know that they are entitled to be part of a family and to have their parents behave like family members, even though they live apart.
I have had situations in which a child's health suffered because one parent didn't tell the other about the child's medical problem, so the child didn't get the proper medical attention in the other parent's care. This is unforgivable. When a child is going frequently from one parent's home to the other's, it is vital that each parent know about anything important that has happened to the child while in the other parent's care, especially an illness. Parents should have equal rights to obtain information about their children from schools, doctors and other service providers.
Both parents should be able to attend special events in the children's lives, such as religious ceremonies, school events, sports tournaments and music recitals. Even if there is a restraining order prohibiting contact, speak to your lawyer about the possibility of amending the order to permit at least some minimal form of communication regarding your child, even if it is in written form, or through a third-party intermediary. Your children need you to know what's happening in their lives even when they're with the other parent.
BE FLEXIBLE AND REASONABLE IN MAKING ACCESS ARRANGEMENTS
By far, the greatest area of conflict between separated parents is that of organizing, carrying out and enforcing access visits. Family courts everywhere are swamped with parents complaining of each other's frequent cancellations, lateness and a myriad of other misbehaviours. In a great many of these cases, a little common sense and fairness from both parents would have gone a long way toward resolving the problem. Be flexible and reasonable in accommodating your ex-partner's work schedule and travel concerns, as well as changes in your child's routines. Remember that access schedules must be adjusted to accommodate changes in the parents' and children's lives. This is not only normal but is to be expected, so go with the flow.
DON'T HESITATE TO GET HELP
Family breakdown is one of the most stressful and painful experiences anyone can go through. You do not have to do this alone. There are specialized counsellors and therapists who can help you. Many community organizations offer programs to help separated parents make the transition from ex-partner to co-parent. There are social workers and parenting coaches with the expertise to help you and your ex-partner develop a workable parenting plan.
Excerpted from Tug of War by Harvey Brownstone, published by ECW Press. Copyright Harvey Brownstone, 2009. Reprinted with permission.