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

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

Connie Lupichuk of Aspire Too Counselling and Professional Services spoke to the StarPhoenix about the issue that is gaining attention among Canadian lawyers and judges and giving hope to effected parents and children.

SP: What is parental alienation?

C.L.: It’s a distinctive family response to divorce in which one parent forms an alliance with the child or children against the other parent through a campaign of hatred and denigration.

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

One parent, referred to as the favoured parent, relentlessly recruits the children to believe that the other parent, referred to as the targeted parent, is unsafe or unworthy. The favoured 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 said to make their lives better if the other parent is out of the child’s life. The favoured parent is often over-indulgent and permissive toward children.

You can tell that the children have become active participants because they go from loving relationships with both parents to absolutely hating one parent. They give illogical, weak or frivolous reasons that do not justify their hatred. Children describe one parent as a sinner and one as 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 is parental alienation addressed by family courts?

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.

The program teaches age-appropriate critical thinking skills rather than counselling. The favoured parent is also offered training to understand their role in the alienation and learn healthy parenting. There’s a moratorium on talking about the past. It’s going forward and developing a new family paradigm. They adopt a parallel parenting model in which they don’t communicate but support the child and use similar parenting skills taught in the program to maintain healthy communication and relationships with their children.

By the end of day one you can see improvement. Children are relieved if they can restore the relationship with both parents. 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.