Originally published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix –  April 25, 2016

Two family law cases in Saskatoon have recognized the little-understood problem of parental alienation during marriage breakup. Monday was designated Parental Alienation Awareness Day in jurisdictions around the world.

Addressing the Little Understood Problem of Parental AlienationConnie Lupichuk of Aspire Too Counselling and Professional Services spoke to StarPhoenix about the issue that is gaining attention among Canadian lawyers and judges and giving hope to affected parents and children.

SP: What is parental alienation?

C.L.: It’s a unique divorce response in which one parent recruits the children to hate and denigrate the other.

This pattern of behavior by one parent constitutes a severe form of psychological abuse against the children. Child protection agencies don’t all recognize it at present.

The favored parent relentlessly persuades the children that the other parent is unworthy or dangerous. The favored parent vilifies the target parent and sometimes exerts force through intimidation or guilt. He or she may share a lot of information which portrays him or her as a victim. They might frighten the children, saying the targeted parent has abandoned them so the child fears loneliness and rejection. They may promise the child benefits to improve their lives if the other parent leaves. The favored parent is often over-indulgent and permissive toward children.

Children become active participants when they switch from loving both parents to absolutely hating one. Illogical, weak, or frivolous reasons justify their hatred. In children’s eyes, one parent is a sinner while the other is a saint.

The targeted parent feels frustrated but does not undermine the relationship with the favoured parent. They try to support it and often try to get the child and the other parent into counselling.

SP: How common is parental alienation?

C.L.: I’m not sure because we’re not seeing as many cases here as in jurisdictions where it has been recognized longer. The few parents I’ve worked with here tell me lawyers say they don’t know how to help them with this, that there’s no remedy. Some say psychologists and social workers have told them to wait until the children are 18 and maybe they’ll come around on their own.

SP: How do family courts deal with parental alienation?

C.L.: In each case where family courts have found parental alienation, custody was granted to the targeted parent for a specified time, during which they were ordered to participate in an intensive four-day reunification workshop with the child or children.

SP: What is the program?

C.L.: The Family Bridges program is led by trained facilitators.

Instead of counseling, the program teaches critical thinking skills that are right for each age group. The preferred parent gets training on how to be a good parent. No one is allowed to talk about the past. It’s moving forward and creating a new way of thinking about families. Parents use parenting techniques that are similar to those taught in the program. Instead of talking to their kids, they help them instead.

By the end of day one you can see improvement. Reconnecting with both parents relieves children. Research shows they have a preference to have both parents in their lives.

It’s really amazing to see the change. The transformation is just incredible.

If you have any clients or know a family that may benefit from the Family Bridges program, feel free to contact me at Incentive Counselling to see if a family is indeed a parental alienation case and the steps to address. 

 If you are a lawyer, clinician or other professional wishing to learn more about parental alienation and the research backed Family Bridges program, please contact me to arrange a training session for your organization.