The new Family Law Act has changed the words we use to describe how parents share their children after separation. We no longer refer to custody and access but instead parents have parental responsibilities, parenting time and contact time. Most parents are able to work out how to share their children but if they are not able to do so a court will determine how children will be shared based only on the best interest of the children. The court is now required to take into account the views of the child unless it would be inappropriate to do so.
Problems arise when the separation is so bitter that one parent believes that it is not in the best interest of a child to continue to see the other parent. That parent believes for whatever reason that they are protecting the child from the other parent and goes to great lengths to convince the child that they should have no contact whatsoever with the other parent. If the child accepts this and refuses to see or even speak to their parent this is called parental alienation.
There are many stages or degrees of parental alienation. These stages are measured by the time a child spends with the alienated parent and it can range from occasional or sporadic contact to complete alienation in the final stage.
There is an abundance of research which states that unless a child is being harmed by a parent it is very important for a child to feel that they are loved by both of their parents and to have contact with both parents. When a child is alienated this contact does not occur and it can seriously hamper the psychological development and wellbeing of the child.
There is no easy way to resolve this situation and to unalienate a child. The court can order the parents and the child to attend counselling and in extreme cases the court can order the child to live primarily with the alienated parent and to have limited contact with the alienating parent. The problem arises that after a certain age a child will live where they choose regardless of any court order.
The last way to resolve this situation is to help the alienating parent understand that their beliefs no matter how strongly held are causing their child more harm than allowing and encouraging their child to have at least some contact with the alienated parent. Once initial contact is established, hopefully more contact will follow and the child can establish their own criteria for a relationship with that parent.