In the previous part of this article, I talked about Richard Gardner's concept of parental alienation syndrome, some of the controversy Gardner's theory raised in the mental health community and the important contributions made by Joan Kelly and Janet Johnston when they distinguish cases of parental alienation from situations in which children have become justifiably estranged from a parent. According to Kelly and Johnston, children's relationship with a parent can break down for reasons other than the efforts of the other parent. Sometimes, a child's rejection of a parent is a reasonable consequence of the child's experience of that parent, as might be the case if the child witnesses family violence or the parent has issues with substance abuse that impair his or her parenting.
Alienation claims in court
Nicholas Bala, Suzanne Hunt and Carolyn McCarney reviewed 175 Canadian court decisions involving allegations of alienation between 1989 and 2008. Of the 40 decisions made between 1989 and 1998, 24 concluded that alienation had occurred, and of the 135 decisions made between 1999 and 2008, 82 concluded alienation had occurred. In the majority of the cases where alienation was not found, the court decided that the child was instead estranged from the rejected parent:
* in 7% of these cases, the court found justified estrangement resulting from abuse or violence;
* in 35% of cases, the court found justified estrangement resulting from poor parenting;
* in 20%, the court found that the child was disengaged but not alienated from the rejected parent; and,
* in the remaining 38% of cases, the court found insufficient evidence to establish that alienation had occurred.
The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family recently took a similar look at court decisions from Alberta. Between 2005 and 2015, we discovered 37 cases involving allegations of alienation that were relevant to the claims the court was being asked to consider:
* in 54% of these cases, alienation was alleged in argument but no finding was made;
* allegations of alienation were rejected in 16% of these cases;
* in 8% of cases, the court held that a risk of alienation had been established, but not alienation itself; and,
* in 22%, the court held that the allegation of alienation had been proven.
In these Alberta cases, as in the cases examined by Bala, Hunt and McCarney, mothers were more often accused of engaging in alienating behaviour than fathers and other family...