Viewpoint—Democracy Denied

“We have no right to happiness, only an obligation to do our duty.”

C.S. Lewis



Parliament responded to the Justice Minister’s three-year delay and her obvious denial that the current divorce law regime was in urgent need of change.

The Honourable Anne Cools challenged the Minister’s decision with the truth: “ That the Senate asserts that the recommendations of a committee of Parliament, the highest court of the land, the Grand Inquest of the Nation, is the highest recommendation of the land, and that such advice and counsel of Parliament is the most complete, representative, constitutional, and the most efficient form of advice a government can heed; and that the Senate asserts that the responsible Minister and the Ministry owe a moral, a political, and a constitutional duty to Parliament to accept and follow the advice of Parliament.

“That the Senate asserts that the Parliament of Canada, by its own study, examination, and conclusions, is now seized of the knowledge, that the divorce law regime currently in force in Canada is defective, insufficient, and even harmful, to the needs of children of divorce, their parents, and their families; and that the Senate being seized of this knowledge of the inadequate state of the divorce law regime, has a moral imperative and a bounden parliamentary duty to correct the situation forthwith, because possessing the knowledge of the children’s plight and ongoing damage to them, Parliament’s continued inaction and neglect is unconscionable.

“Honourable Senators, I have studied the incalculable pain and suffering of thousands of children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and other family members. Disturbed by the disinclination of Parliament and the courts to vindicate the emotional needs of children for both parents, for both mothers and fathers, I have been shocked by this collective recklessness with children’s lives. For years I have been inspired and deluged by thousands of letters and requests as burdened and anguished Canadian families appealed for my help, all questioning how governments of their beloved country can allow these injustices to continue.

“I have studied this issue, its injustice, and its consequences for the children of divorce and their families. I have studied the legal documents of hundreds of fathers falsely accused during divorce and custody proceedings by mothers of sexually abusing their children. This phenomenon is a heart of darkness. Such false accusations are soul-destroying to those afflicted fathers and families.

“On such false allegations, I welcome Professor Nicholas Bala’s and John Schuman’s recently released study “Allegations of Sexual Abuse When Parents Have Separated.” I feel vindicated.
I note that in their study they cite many cases and judgements that I have brought to the attention of the Senate and that I have quoted, including the cases of Reverend Dorian Baxter v.

The Children’s Aid Society of Durham Region, Barbosa v. Dadd, The Law Society of Upper Canada v. Carole Curtis , Metzner v. Metzner, Plesh v. Plesh and others. These false accusations are a strategy to obtain sole custody and to defeat the other parent legally, emotionally, and financially. It is a potent and destructive use of legal process by one parent to dispossess the other parent of a parental relationship with their children.” (Debated June 8, 1999)

“Honourable Senators, the other issues include parental alienation, grandparent alienation, and access denial.

“On custody, children, and the courts’ disinclination to enforce its orders, Lord Hartley Shawcross, in his famous 1959 work, “Contempt of Court,” wrote, on page 35:

“The Court of Appeal pointed out in Gordon v, Gordon the unsatisfactory state of the law In which the unfortunate infant might not gain the protection intended by the court, owing to a lack of effective action to enforce the order of the court.

“I repeat, these unfortunate children are denied the court’s protection.

‘It is scandalous that parents, mostly fathers, must spend inordinate — hundreds of thousands of dollars – to maintain contact with their children. I repeat, the disinclination of Parliament and the courts to vindicate the needs of children of divorce is an injustice.”However, the Senate upholds the needs of the children of divorce and urges the minister to act.”

“However, the Senate upholds the needs of the children of divorce and urges the minister to act.”

“The Minister will have asked for five years to correct a regime that the Senate has clearly
told her was defective and harmful to children of divorce. We told her then that the divorce law regime was defective. A Joint Parliamentary Committee has told her. The public has told her. Further, May 1, 2002, is beyond this government’s term of office, and beyond this Minister’s watch.”


“Newspaper editorials have been unanimous in their condemnation of the Minister’s proposed delay. Their editorial headlines are instructive, and some read as follows:

  • The headline in the May 12 issue of The Globe and Mail read, “Who is acting for the children? The Justice Minister is curiously reluctant to amend the Divorce Act.”
  • The headline in the May 12 issue of The Gazette of Montreal read, “The courage to act.”
  • The headline in the May 12 issue of The Toronto Star was, “Disappointing delay.”
  • The headline in The Vancouver Sun of the same date was, “Legislative dodging hurts the children of divorce.”
  • The May 13 edition of the National Post read, “Fathers under fire.”




For the sake of the children—Parliament’s decision thwarted (cont’d)

In her maiden speech on Dec. 4, 1984, Senator Anne C. Cools stated: “I intend to work towards ensuring that the new legislation will include, or at least that an attempt will be made, to have it include the new concept of shared parenting, joint custody, so that one spouse is not isolated from parenting at the wish and whim of the other. I hope the new legislation will reduce the deleterious effects on children of these marital disputes.”

Since then over her many years as a Senator, the Hon. Anne C, Cools has continued to speak
for children of divorce and their families in her Senate debates. In fact in 1996 and 1997 on
Bill C-41 amending the Divorce Act to implement the federal child support guidelines, she states: “ I asserted that the children of divorce deserve the financial. emotional, and psychological support of both parents. I have asserted repeatedly that children of divorce deserve the love and support of both their parents, both mother and father, and that it is the duty of Parliament to vindicate the need of the children of divorce for both their parents.”

And again: “ Honourable Senators, my point of view is well supported by the public. This was ably demonstrated by the very recent Southam News-Compas poll conducted in October and reported in The Ottawa Citizen’s front page article, November 23, 1998, headlined, ”Public backs father’s rights: Astonishing majority wants change to laws on access to children, Compas Poll Shows.

“That same poll told us that, of the respondents, 70 per cent of Canadians believe the children of divorce receive too little attention and 62 per cent said that fathers receive too little attention.
Eighty per cent of those surveyed felt it was very important for children of divorced parents to maintain an ongoing relationship with the non-custodial parent. When one looked at younger Canadians, those 30 years and under, that number rose to 86 per cent. That poll very clearly told us that there is a growing commitment among younger Canadians to parenting and family life.

“These poll results show very clearly the Canadian public opinion is in tune with the finest of this Committee’s recommendations, which are the recommendations for shared parenting.

“Honourable Senators, I have travelled the width and breadth of this country on these issues. I have spoken to thousands of Canadians in person and to millions in media interviews. They, the public, have spoken to me; their support is enormous and, I would add, very humbling. The public mind of this land and the public heart have spoken. In fact, the public will of this land has overtaken the committee’s report. The report of the committee has been overtaken by the developments in the public mind and the public realm. The public of this land wants the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, to act speedily, without delay, to bring a new Divorce Act to reflect contemporary Canadian values of fairness, balance, and equality for children, parents,

and families in divorce. Canadians want our government to adopt aggressive policies and values on family and family life. Change is necessary.”

Senator Cools went on to say: “That the Senate affirms that on May 10, 1999, six months after the Committee’s Report to both Houses of Parliament, more than two years after the passage of Bill C-41 in February 1997, the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, gave her ministerial response to the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations in her paper entitled Government of Canada’s Response to the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access: Strategy for Reform; having fully accepted the Committee’s major recommendations, and having accepted that the divorce law regime currently in force is wanting and needing correction, she then proposed a THREE YEAR DELAY to MAY 1, 2002, for her legislative action to correct the obviously wanting divorce law regime.

“MAY 1, 2002 is beyond this government’s term of office, and beyond this Minister’s watch.”

Reflections from an MP:
If we are going to be able to work in the direction of creating a feeling of roots and self-worth, then the grandparents have a very, very important place in that. Children have to have a feeling of ownership, that they are part of something. Children have to be able to develop a feeling of self-worth.

Jim Abbot (Former MP)


For the sake of the children—Parliament’s decision thwarted!

Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Norman Vincent Peale


When the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access released their Report,
For the Sake of the Children, recognizing the need for and making 48 recommendations
to change the Divorce Act, thousands of excited grandparents, parents, and children across Canada waited with anticipation for the new legislation.

The first of 48 recommendations:
1. This Committee recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to include a Preamble alluding to the relevant Principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989. Canada signed on 28 May 1990. After the requisite 30 nations had ratified the Convention, it came into force on 2 September 1990. Canada ratified it in December 1991 and submitted its initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June 1994. This Convention, which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, sets minimum legal and moral standards for the protection of children’s human rights, including civil rights and freedoms, rights related to the provision of optimal conditions for growth and development (health care, education, economic security, recreation), and the right to protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect and unnecessary harm. The Convention expressly recognizes the special role of the family in the nurture of the child.

The key provisions of the Convention relating to the subject matter of this study include article 3, which states that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration; article 9, which includes the right of the child to contact with both parents if separated from one of them; and article 12, which provides that children have the right to express their views freely in matters affecting them.

2. This Committee recognizes that parents’ relationships with their children do not end upon separation or divorce and therefore recommends that the Divorce Act be amended to add a Preamble containing the principle that divorced parents and their children are entitled to a close and continuous relationship with one another.

Comment: Isn’t it interesting, that after one year of open meetings with Canadians on Custody and Access, the conclusion decided upon by the Special Committee paraphrased the words of Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan, 1984.

“A child should have maximum access to both parents. Whatever the parent’s reasons for divorce, the child has an interest in maintaining a normal relationship with each parent … any animosity the parents may feel for each other should not be allowed to interfere with this interest… the court should consider the best interests of the child, particularly the child’s interest in having maximum access to both parents.”

The recommendations spoke of many issues and subsequent changes. Perhaps the most important was shared parenting becoming the cornerstone for the proposed new Divorce Act. When both parents are equally involved in all decisions, the children will be well.

As well, including grandparents and the extended family members allows for minimum change and more encouragement for the children. The terms custody and access will no longer be used. The court will have the power to appoint help for the children, and children will be more involved in family decisions. The federal government will work more closely with provinces and territories within the courts and justice system. The recommended changes are positive and will allow Canadian families to move forward.

The Canadian public was ready for the announcement for change. The journalists and newspapers were waiting for the announcement, and the Members of the House of Commons and the Senate were waiting for the announcement.

The Parliament of Canada had made their decision; the Special Committee had accepted that the current divorce law regime needed correction; the Canadian public agreed with the Committee’s findings. And the Minister of Justice?

Viewpoint—For the sake of the children cont’d

All 48 recommendations were welcomed by family groups all over Canada.
Shared parenting was to be the cornerstone of the new Divorce Act. (I wonder
how many of our Parliamentarians are aware that we had a very active shared parenting neighborhood in residential Ottawa during the early 90’s and is still active today.)

The following excerpts are from the People’s Report: For the Sake of the Children. Witnesses came from fathers’ groups, lawyers, therapists, mediators, grandparents, and many others who understood the necessity of children having real access to both parents. The exception, of course, is where there is proof of abuse.

“Some men’s groups and fathers asked that the Committee consider recommending a presumption in favour of shared parenting or joint custody. They argued that such a presumption was the only way to ensure that both parents negotiated or participated
in mediation in good faith and with the children’s best interests as the main focus.
Without a presumption of joint custody, these witnesses argued, mothers would not participate in mediation, and the perceived gender bias in the courts would perpetuate the predominance of mothers as the custodial parents.

“The Committee heard testimony from psychologists and social workers who stated that children benefit from maintaining a relationship with both parents after divorce. These clinical impressions were supported by many research studies showing that children’s emotional development is enhanced if both parents are involved after divorce. Parents denied a significant role in the life of a child might withdraw gradually, to the detriment of the child. By ensuring that each parent has a major child care and decision-making role, as the new regime proposed by this Committee would do, shared parenting can maximize the involvement of two parents in the child’s life.

“The advantages of shared parenting are that there’s a win-win situation. The children will continue to be with both parents and have loving and nurturing parents. When there’s a divorce, the children have more need for both members of the family. They have a need for more influence and more affection and love from both parents. If they have just one parent, the insecurity makes them feel stressed … What I would like to share with you today is that there should be a continuance, a presumption of shared parenting. When sole custody is awarded and the children’s father is relegated to that of the uncle dad or the Disneyland dad, the children lose … Kids don’t suffer from too much parenting. They need as much love and affection from both parents as absolutely possible.”

And the actual words from the Summary of Recommendations:
3. 2. The Committee recommends that it is in the best interests of children that: those whose parents divorce have the opportunity to express their views to a skilled professional, whose duty it would be to make those views known to any judge, assessor, or mediator making or facilitating a shared parenting determination.

And Recommendation 16: The Committee recommends that decision makers, including parents and judges, consider a list of criteria in determining the best interests of the child, and that list shall include: 16. 7, The importance of relationships between the child and the child’s siblings, GRANDPARENTS and other extended family members:

The Report For the Sake of the Children was read December 1998, and it brought joy and happiness to thousands of parents, especially fathers, and grandparents. Finally, the government of the day was going to help families. Grandparents were finally recognized as being part of family. Action and change was to be the order of the day.

The Volunteers of CGRA had been working for over 14 years (from 1984) to hear the words that the federal government recognized grandparents as family members.

Reflections from an M.P.:
Grandparents do play an integral role in this process of healing. Grandparents give a real sense of security and continuity. They provide a sense of being wanted and loved. A grandparent’s love is unconditional.

Beryl Gaffney (Former MP)

Viewpoint—For the sake of the children


“It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.”
Albert Einstein

By the 1980’s, those who were in the system and in the divorce courts were aware that a divorce settlement had nothing to do with fairness or justice.

In spite of the “gender neutral language of the Divorce Act, its actual implementation in the areas of child custody and child support have continued to be marked by an entrenched systemic gender bias that mother knows best, father pays best.” ( QC Bruce Haines)

For over 30 years, the norm has been that one parent has been fighting for regular access to his/her children. Thousands of grandparents have signed petitions that asked Parliament to grant them standing in the court simply to ask for access to their grandchildren at such a difficult time. Grandparents understood that a divorce could possibly be very upsetting for children who thought they might be to blame for mom and dad getting a divorce and could provide needed love and reassurance at this uncertain time.

The non-custodial parent sometimes was subject to unethical practice in divorce proceedings. Due process of law, which in criminal law is considered a necessity, was not always followed in the divorce proceedings. This meant that the non-custodial parent’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms appear to have been denied.

Divorce proceedings do not belong in an adversarial process, where certain court decisions can do irreparable harm to the family and mean children can lose a parent forever. Why has it taken so long for the courts to acknowledge that divorce requires third-party mediation or an alternative dispute resolution mechanism when developing child access?

The past 30 years have been marred by the fact that many non-custodial parents, usually fathers, were penalized in the courts financially, and drained emotionally, with a resultant loss of self-respect. They may suffer depression and other issues and wonder where to turn next or even whether to go on. They’ve lost access to their children; the future is empty.

For a long time, non-custodial parents asked for the Divorce Act to be changed, for the government to look closely at access and custody, to open the door and hear from the victims. Grandparents have been lobbying their MP’s to change the Divorce Act and to recognize grandparents as necessary members of the family.

Committee established in 1997

When the government of the day in Dec. 1997 set up the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, which consisted of 23 Senators and Members of the House of Commons, this was a very positive step. This Committee was appointed to examine and analyze issues relating to custody and access arrangements after separation and divorce. In particular, its role was to assess the need for a more child-centered approach to family law policies and practices that would emphasis joint parental responsibilities and child-focused parenting arrangements, based on the “needs and best interests” of children.

Report delivered in 1998

After 12 months of open meetings across Canada, the Joint Committee in 1998 presented its report, For the Sake of the Children, which included 48 recommendations to amend the Divorce Act. The people of Canada had spoken directly to their elected representatives, and those members of the House of Commons and the Senate had acted on their testimony, listened, made decisions, and published a Report not only declaring those decisions but explaining each recommendation for Canadians to read. These Canadians actually took part in a direct democratic process. The public hearing process had reflected the nature of the subject matter. Custody and access following divorce was a very important and highly emotional issue; the number of people who had attended the hearings in every centre confirmed this.

This should not have come as a surprise to the Committee members. Thousands of petition names over the previous 10 years, and the presentation of private members’ bills to address grandparents’ and non-custodial parent’s rights should have sent alarm bells through the House of Commons. Custody and access abuse over those years had been the cause of serious distress in many Canadian families. At last, it appeared that the government cared and was about to make legislation. Although they could not erase past tragedies, they could change the future.










Viewpoint—Expanding the Parameters of Parental Alienation Syndrome (cont’d)

Reprinted with the kind permission of Glenn F. Cartwright/Part 2.

7. Excessive alienation may trigger mental illness in the child.

Johnston, Campbell, and Mayers (1985) reported that one response of latency children (6-12 years) to parental conflict was to act in a diffusely disturbed manner exhibiting anxiety, tension, depression, and psychosomatic illness. Consideration needs to be given to the question of what happens in the long run to children who are alienated. Is the problem self-limiting in that even alienation-caused wounds will heal as the child reaches adulthood? Unfortunately, alienation can become so powerful as to trigger other forms of mental and emotional illness with resultant maladaptive behavior. In one instance, an alienated son tried to poison his father by slipping air freshener into his stomach medicine. The boy later ran away during a non-custodial visit and the police had to be called. The likelihood of such disintegrating behavior during non-custodial visits increases in direct proportion to the amount of alienation experienced by the child at home.

8. Little is known about the medium and long term effects of parental alienation syndrome on its victims.

Perhaps the greatest gap in our understanding of the syndrome remains our lack of knowledge of what happens to the victims of PAS over the medium and long term. The short term consequences are known and obvious. The alienator experiences the sweetness of revenge and the thrill of “victory.” The non-custodial parent experiences the anguish of the loss of a child, or worse, children. One set of grandparents, relatives, and friends are similarly affected and summarily dismissed. Far more serious is the effect on the child who experiences a great loss, the magnitude of which is akin to the death of a parent, two grandparents, and all the lost parent’s relatives and friends, all at once! It can readily be seen that this represents a staggering loss for a child even greater than the actual death of one parent. Moreover, since the child is unable to acknowledge the loss, much less mourn it, it becomes a major tragedy of monumental proportions in the life of the child, the seriousness of which cannot be overestimated.

These are the known and relatively short term consequences. What about medium term effects? The medium term effects concern the continued absence (as opposed to initial loss) of the lost parent (and grandparents, relatives, and friends) and the effect this has on the child’s development. Ordinary children who have grown up without a parent or grandparent often report “something missing” in their childhood. What is lost, of course, is the day-to-day interaction, the learning, the support, and the love that normally flows from parents and grandparents. While in the case of a death such loss is unavoidable, in the case of PAS such a loss is entirely avoidable and therefore inexcusable.

What about the long term effects? Everyone involved in PAS suffers some degree of distress over the long term. Hopefully, this includes the alienator who, despite the initial exhilaration of “winning,” should hardly find the entire experience pleasurable. In later years, even if alienators do not experience some guilt or regret over their actions, they may develop some sympathy for their children of whom they deprived of a parent.

The non-custodial parent experiences both loss and yet continuing concern for the child. The anguish is akin to that felt by parents when a child goes missing. Since the lack of contact with the child may continue for years, the sense of loss can continue for a similar period. Grandparents suffer needlessly and often seriously. Gardner (1992) reports the cases of at least two grandmothers, in otherwise good health, who died of broken hearts, figuratively, over the loss of their grandchildren.

Of course, it is the child who suffers most. In the early stage, the child experiences not only loss of a parent, but the continual barrage of denigration of the lost parent, grandparents, relatives, and friends. Bad enough to lose a parent; worse still to have the good memories of that parent, relatives, and friends deliberately and systematically destroyed.

In the second stage, perhaps years later, the child begins to comprehend what has really happened. The realization of having believed the alienator, of having wrongly rejected the lost parent, and worse, of having been a pliable accomplice and willing contributor, can produce powerful feelings of guilt. The unfortunate consequences of these feelings may be a backlash against the alienating parent. Says Goldwater (1991, p. 128):

When such a child becomes an adult, the awareness of the enforced absence of the alienated parent for those many years may have a devastating impact and leave long-term feelings of guilt and loss. The alienating parent may then suffer the wrath his adult child feels for having precipitated this loss, and be in turn shut out of the child’s life.

Serious emotional problems may ensue. For children to make a successful adjustment, an enormous task faces them: avoiding the tendency of the backlash response to the alienating parent, forgiving that parent, and maintaining a good relationship with that parent; and restoring good memories of the lost parent (which are often wiped out in PAS) and resuming a normal relationship with the lost parent if that parent is still alive, available, and willing. The re-establishment of the relationship with the lost parent is, naturally, a huge task. It involves making up for lost time and experiences, understanding cognitively and emotionally what has happened during the alienation process, re-learning how to interact with the lost parent, restoring a loving relationship, and planning the continuance of the relationship in the future. Therapy for both child and lost parent may be required. On top of this, the child must learn at this late date how to “juggle” the perhaps still feuding parents–a skill which most children of divorced parents usually learn much earlier. These are no small tasks and all this presupposes the child survives the teenage years without other serious emotional, mental, or behavioral problems which often accompany adolescence.

All being well, one would hope that eventual adjustment for these children would be possible. Negative factors which mediate against successful adjustment include the unwillingness or emotional inability of the lost parent to become reinvolved, the absence or death of the lost parent, and the passing on of the grandparents and other relatives and friends leaving an unfillable void in the life of the child.

9. Further research is needed.

While longitudinal studies have related child and adolescent adjustment following parental separation to a variety of variables such as age, gender, frequency and regularity of visitation (cf. Healy, Malley, & Stewart, 1990), what is so terribly lacking in the literature is any kind of longitudinal study to follow PAS children to ascertain what happens to them. What are the long term effects on these children as they enter adulthood? To what degree can their relationship with their lost parent be re-established? Is their relationship with the alienating parent permanently harmed in later adulthood? What happens to PAS children who permanently lose their non-custodial parent through death without ever re-establishing a relationship? Is their guilt intensified and if so, how do they handle it? Can their relationship with their lost parent, and for that matter with their alienating parent, ever approach normalcy? What does this do to their own parenting skills and how does it affect their bringing up their own children? If their relationship with their lost parent is not re-established, then the lost parent may eventually become a lost grandparent. What impact will this have on the grandchildren?

10. The problem of parental alienation syndrome is much more serious than previously imagined.

Viewed in this light, the problem of PAS appears to be extremely serious. We often speak of the preserving family values, but even disintegrated nuclear families have values and rights (like child visitation) which must be preserved and respected to prevent further disintegration and total collapse. To do less, is to sacrifice entire generations of children on the altar of alienation, condemning them to familial maladjustment and inflicting on them lifelong parental loss.


Frost, A.K. & Pakiz, B. (1990). The effects of marital disruption on adolescents: time as a dynamic. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60(4), 544-555.

Goldwater, A. (1991). Le syndrome d’aliénation parentale (in English). Développements récents en droit familial (1991). Cowansville, QC: Les Éditions Yvon Blais. pp. 121­145.

Gardner, R. (1985). Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation. Academy Forum, 29(2): 3-7.

Gardner, R. (1989). Psychotherapeutic and legal approaches to the three types of parental alienation syndrome families. In Family evaluation in child custody mediation, arbitration, and litigation. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R. (1991). Parental alienation syndrome and the differentiation between fabricated and genuine child sex abuse. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R. (1992). Parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and legal professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Healy, J., Malley, J., & Stewart, A. (1990). Children and their fathers after parental separation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60(4), 531-543.

Johnston, J., Campbell, L., & Mayers, S. (1985). Latency children in post separation and divorce disputes. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 563-574.

Levy, D. (1992). [Review of Parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and legal professionals.] American Journal of Family Therapy, 20(3), 276-277.

Palmer, N. (1988). Legal recognition of the parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 16(4), 360-363.

Watson, A.S. (1970). The children of Armageddon: Problems of custody following divorce. Syracuse Law Review, 21, 55-86.

Viewpoint—Expanding the Parameters of Parental Alienation Syndrome

This article by Glenn F. Cartwright originally appeared in The American Journal of Family Therapy and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

Part One:

The newness of the parental alienation syndrome (PAS) compels its redefinition and refinement as new cases are observed and the phenomenon becomes better understood. New evidence suggests that alienation may be provoked by other than custodial matters, that cases of alleged sexual abuse may be virtual, that slow judgements by courts exacerbate the problem, that prolonged alienation of the child may trigger other forms of mental illness, and that too little remains known of the long term consequences to alienated children and their families.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), first defined by Gardner (1985), results from the attempt by one parent (usually the custodial parent and usually but not always the mother) to behave in such a way as to alienate the child or children from the other parent. It includes a series of conscious programming techniques like “brainwashing” as well as subconscious and unconscious processes by the alienating parent combined with the child’s own contribution denigrating the allegedly hated parent (Gardner, 1992).

Gardner (1992) lists eight, broad manifestations indicative of PAS. First, there is a campaign of denigration in which there is the continuing profession of hatred of the absent parent by the child. This litany is easily evoked by teachers, lawyers, judges, or social workers and is often most strong in the presence of the “hated” parent. The child begins to withdraw from the lost parent, speaks indirectly (“You tell Daddy I don’t want to see him”), and avoids taking clothes or toys home from the lost parent to avoid “contaminating” the favored parent. Chameleon-like (Johnston, Campbell, & Mayers, 1985), the child may initially experiment, denigrating each parent while with the other, covering his or her tracks by extracting promises from each not to tell the other. However, as the years go by, the child learns that what “sells” best is whatever tale is told in the custodial home–the home base where most of the child’s time is spent. Children quickly learn on which side their bread is buttered.

Second, there are weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations given by the child for deprecating the lost parent. “He makes noise when he eats.” “He took me to Disneyland when I didn’t want to go.” “He always talks about moon rockets.” “He makes me take out the trash.” This is the child’s expression of a parallel phenomenon seen by lawyers in alienating parents:

…in parental alienation syndrome, the hostility of the alienating client just never seems to be reasonably linked to the seriousness of the incidents alleged. The alienating client often relies blithely on his child’s professed refusal to see the other parent as evidence of the inadequacy of the other parent (Goldwater, 1991, p. 125).

Coupled with this is a complete lack of ambivalence in both the alienating parent and the child which normally typifies all human relationships. Lawyers see it in their alienating clients:

The insistence upon the negative aspects of the spouse’s character and behaviour coupled with the inability to see existing or even potential positive traits in the spouse are manifestations of an alienating attitude. Such a client appears to objectify his spouse as an evil thing, no longer a person with at least a few redeeming qualities. There is a loss of the ambivalence which characterizes healthy human relationships. Indeed, such objectification of the spouse as “all bad” should be taken to be a sign of significant disorder in the client himself (Goldwater, 1991, pp. 125-126).

Similarly, PAS children …express themselves like perfect little photocopies of the alienating parent (Goldwater, 1991, p. 126) and can see no good in the lost parent and no bad in the loved parent. Given a list of “good” things the child did with the lost parent, the child will explain a few as being unenjoyable, others as being forced, still others as “all Dad’s idea”, and claim no memory of the rest. The process resembles amnesia wherein the child’s good memories appear to be completely destroyed.

Fourth, there is the contention that the decisions to reject the parent are the child’s. This is referred to by Gardner (1992) as the “Independent Thinker” phenomenon and is often invoked by alienating parents in courtroom testimony. “I want him to see his father but if he doesn’t want to, I will fight to the end to ensure his decision is respected.” However, as Goldwater (1991, p. 133) has argued:

No custodial parent would expect a judge to accept that the child be permitted not to attend school because he didn’t feel like going. Why then should a judge accept that a child not visit his other parent for the same reason?

Children who claim to be their own thinkers often use words and phrases of the alienating parent which belie their claim. Similarly, alienating parents often act in ways as that indicate the idea to reject a parent was not the child’s own. Says Gardner (1992):

Children are not born with genes that program them to reject a father. Such hatred is environmentally induced, and the most likely person to have brought about the alienation is the mother (p. 75).

Fifth, there is an almost automatic, reflexive support by the child for the loved parent. Understandably, this reflexive support may flow either from a belief that the loved parent is an ideal person who can do no wrong or from the child’s perception of the loved parent as the weaker of the two parents who needs defending.

Sixth, there is an almost complete absence of guilt regarding the feelings of the lost parent. “He doesn’t deserve to see me.” Gratitude for gifts, favors, or child support is non-existent. believes thatGardner (1992):

The lack of guilt here is not simply explained by cognitive immaturity (often the case of very young children), but is a statement of the degree to which children can be programmed to such points of cruelty that they are totally oblivious to the effects of their sadism on innocent victims (p. 77).

Seventh, is the presence of borrowed scenarios. The litanies the children produce have a rehearsed, coached quality to them and often include expressions and phrases of the loved parent. “Daddy’s new girlfriend is a whore!” Are these the words of a five-year-old?

Finally, there is an obvious spread of the animosity to the hated parent’s extended family. “His mother called me a brat.” Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all tarred with the same brush as the child argues that all they do is try to get him or her to “like” the lost parent.

Though these are the classic manifestations PAS, the newly recognized nature of the syndrome compels its definitional refinement and enlargement as new parameters are discovered. This is especially important given the contention that the problem is growing in our society and now affects 90% of all children in custody litigation (Gardner, 1992). The following observations suggest that the parameters of PAS may be wider than previously believed.

1. Parental alienation syndrome may be precipitated by parental disagreements on matters other than custody.

It was originally suggested that PAS was a relatively new disorder emanating principally from changes in the criteria by which custody was decided. These criteria basically concerned the court’s shift toward the best-interests-of-the-child presumption (favoring the placement of the child with the parent who would best meet the child’s needs) at the expense of the tender-years presumption (always favoring the placement of the child with the mother), and the court’s increasing preference for joint custody rather than sole custody placements. Since PAS is of a serious nature, it seemed reasonable to suppose that it would be provoked only by an equally serious emotional dispute, such as the question of custody is for most parents. However, while disagreement over custody remains implicated as the chief cause of PAS, it now appears that other, non-custodial disagreements on such matters as finance, property division, or child support may also trigger the syndrome by inducing an emotional climate conducive to PAS. This suggests that the etiology of PAS may be much broader than previously believed. If it is really the intensity of the emotional conflict between the estranged spouses which provokes PAS, then it must be wondered whether virtually any disagreement, serious or frivolous, may be a potential trigger. Similar parallels are found in other examples of human behavior: neighbors who stab each other over a noisy lawn mower and motorists who shoot each other over an illegal turn. To an observer, such consequent behavior is clearly out of proportion to the precipitating event. An illegal turn does not cause murder, but it may trigger an emotional state which does. So it may be with PAS. Whatever the precipitating disagreement, it may be just enough to trigger an irrational emotional state conducive to PAS.

Unfortunately, because PAS results from the interaction of the alienating parent with the child, wherein each reinforces the other, once the vicious circle has begun, it becomes self-reinforcing, complex to diagnose, and difficult to terminate. Complicating matters is the fact that PAS may be encouraged by third parties: a new spouse, new in-laws, or even unscrupulous lawyers whose wish it may be to extend rather than resolve the litigation.

2. Allegations of fabricated sexual abuse may be virtual.

Since the designation of PAS is inappropriate in cases where abuse is real, it has been customary (and necessary for the good of the child) first to distinguish between allegations of abuse that are real and those that are fabricated. Gardner (1991) has outlined how fabricated abuse may be detected. However, in the cases of fabricated abuse, a new and more subtle variety of allegation is beginning to appear. I have called these virtual allegations.They refer to those cases in which the abuse is only hinted, its real purpose being to cast aspersions on the character of the noncustodial parent in a continuing program of denigration. For the alienator, virtual allegations avoid the need to fabricate incidents of alleged abuse with their attendant possibility of detection and probability of punishment for perjury. For example, in one case, though no sexual abuse was ever alleged, it was hinted at in the allegation by the mother that the father had shown the child a rented videotape containing pornography. Though the videotape was a Hollywood comedy starring Chevy Chase rented from a family video store and chosen by the child, the mother asserted in court that the child was disappointed in the movie because it was suggestive, erotic, and pornographic. After interviewing the child extensively, the judge disagreed that the movie was pornographic and said that while the child was indeed disappointed with the film, it was not because the film was pornographic but because it wasn’t funny. The number of virtual allegations of abuse may be expected to increase in the future because of their more subtle nature, the greater difficulty in disproving them, and because judges and lawyers familiar with PAS are becoming increasingly skilled at detecting outright fabrications.

3. Time heals all wounds, except alienation.

There is some evidence that adolescents who experienced parental separation most recently were most likely to be affected adversely (Frost & Pakiz, 1990). While this tends to support the old adage that time heals all wounds, such is not the case with PAS, where the passage of time worsens rather than heals the affliction. This is not to say that time is unimportant: on the contrary, time remains a vital variable for all the players. To heal the relationship, the child requires quality time with the lost parent to continue and repair the meaningful association that may have existed since birth. This continued communication also serves as a reality check for the child to counter the effects of ongoing alienation at home. Likewise, the lost parent needs time with the child to ensure that contact is not completely lost and to prevent the alienation from completely destroying what may be left of a normal, loving relationship. Time used in these ways helps to counter the negative effects of alienation.

The alienating parent, on the other hand, requires time to complete the brainwashing of the child without interference. The manipulation of time becomes the prime weapon in the hands of the alienator who uses it to structure, occupy, and usurp the child’s time to prevent “contaminating” contact with the lost parent, depriving both of their right to spend time together and furthering the goal of total alienation. Unlike cases of child abuse where time away from the abuser sometimes helps in repairing a damaged relationship, in PAS time away from the lost parent furthers the goal of alienation. The usual healing properties of time are lost when it is used as the primary weapon to inflict injury on the lost parent by alienating the child.

There is another reason why time is so important a weapon in the hands of the alienator. With the passage of time, the child grows to be staunch collaborator. A judge who might not listen to a nine-year-old pleading not to see his or her father, might be more disposed to listen to an older, “wiser”, and more articulate thirteen-year-old. Spreading out the court proceedings over time not only aids in the brainwashing and contributes to the wearing down of the petitioner but ensures for the alienator a stronger child ally when a final court date is set.

So it is that time is often “bought” through false allegations, by assertions the child is in danger from contact with the lost parent, and by requests to the court for delays, continuances, and postponements. Sometimes even psychological assessment and psychiatric evaluation are pressed into service as part of the delaying tactic, then dropped when the sought-after delay has been achieved. On other occasions psycho-legal expertise is advanced…with the psychologist cast as the hired gun engaged to put forth to the court the negative opinion of the contesting parent under the guise of an “expertise” (Goldwater, 1991, p. 123). The goal of the alienator is crystalline: deprive the lost parent, not only of the child’s time, but of the time of childhood.

4. The degree of alienation in the child is directly proportional to the time spent alienating.

Alienation does not occur overnight. It is a gradual and consistent process that is directly related to the time spent alienating. The longer the child or children spend with the alienator, the more severe will be their alienation. Their supposed hatred of the lost parent does not lessen with time away from that parent but rather grows stronger, precisely because in the hands of the alienator they are continually taught hatred, have unlimited opportunity to practice that hatred, and have no time at all to learn an alternate response. This is one of the reasons why, in serious cases, Gardner (1992) recommends complete removal of the child from the alienating parent, with supervised visitation reinstated gradually.

5. Courts slow to render judgements may unwittingly further the alienating parent’s scheme of alienation.

The court needs time too, to assess each case. Taking the best interests of the child to be paramount, and always moving cautiously, the court must ensure that the child is in no danger and determine if the case is truly one of parental alienation. But once the determination of PAS has been made, speedy judgement must be rendered to stop the alienation process immediately. Both the child and the petitioning parent deserve no less. Unfortunately, court postponements and continuances are more often the rule than the exception. Proceedings which are dragged out after a determination of PAS has been made, judgements which fail to take into account fully the rights of the non-custodial parent, and unnecessary interim judgements and delays, however well-intentioned, sadly tend to favor the continuation of the custodial parent’s alienating behavior.

The judicial wish to maintain the status quo in the lives of children pending the outcome of hotly contested litigation may work in favour of an alienating custodial parent. The longer the children are in a non-supportive environment, the further they will drift away from their non-custodial parent (Goldwater, 1991, p. 130).

While there is no denying that courts have a difficult job at best, on balance it would appear that the prevailing tendency has been toward delaying judgement in the hope that the problem will go away, solve itself, or at the very least prove that no judgement is preferable to a wrong judgement. Courts must resist this tendency which doubtless is harmful to PAS children in the long run. More than two decades ago, Watson (1970, p.64) wrote of the court’s slowness in rendering decisions:

The most serious aspect of these vacillating and dilatory tactics is the effect they have on the children. As will be noted, one of the critical aspects of a child’s development is the need for stability in order to develop a sense of identity. When a child is kept suspended, never quite knowing what will happen to him next, he must likewise suspend the shaping of his personality. This is a devastating result and probably represents one of the greatest risks which current procedures pose for children.

Little seems to have changed: where PAS is concerned, it remains a case of “Justice delayed is lost parent denied.”

6. Forceful judgement is required to counter the force of alienation.

The role of the court in cases of PAS goes beyond simply deciding custody issues. First, the precedent of clear, forceful judgement may deter some parents from beginning the alienation of their children. As Levy (1992, p. 277)has noted:

If parents who engage in PAS know that aware judges may give custody to the innocent parent, and perhaps even apply sanctions against parents who use a child to prevent the other parent’s access to the child, the PAS, which is itself a form of child abuse, may suffer a fatal and well-deserved setback.

Second, clear and forceful judgements serve to put an immediate stop to the alienating practices (Palmer, 1988). Family courts can often be of great service in helping to work out a variety of family problems. However, in cases of PAS, courts which try to act as social workers using a “let’s-talk-this-over-and-come-to-some-agreement” approach inevitably fail when one of the feuding parties is insincere and has little wish to solve the problem. The reason is that insincerity, conscious or unconscious, is one of the hallmarks of the alienating parent. While negotiation is often the solution in other forms of litigation, it tends not to work in cases of PAS. In these circumstances, the lack of a swift, clear, forceful judgment is often perceived by the alienator as denoting approval of the alienating behavior. This tends to reinforce the behavior and renders a great disservice to both the child and the petitioning parent. Courts must do more to help; they must not fall victim to the alienator’s scheme of stalling for time in order to continue the program of vilification.

Abstract by Glenn F. Cartwright/The American Journal of Family Therapy, 21(3), 205-215, 1993,
Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling, McGill University

Viewpoint—Divorce and the Non-Custodial Parent

Live each day as if your life had just begun.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Unfortunately in Canada, in a divorce or separation where there are children, the non-custodial parent is usually the father. Although for many years, shared or equal parenting has been a popular suggestion, most divorce court judges still order sole custody of the children to the mother.

When the Minister of Justice Mark MacGuigan introduced the words “best interests of the child” as part of his 1984 position document Divorce Law in Canada; Proposals for Change, he stated: “A child should have maximum access to both parents. Whatever the parent’s reasons for divorce, the child has an interest in maintaining a normal relationship with each parent… any animosity the parents might feel for each other should not be allowed to interfere with this interest … the court should consider the best interests of the child, particularly the child’s interest in having maximum access to both parents.”

It is most unfortunate that successive Ministers of Justice ignored his words and that this failure contributed to many situations of what is sometimes considered to be a form of child abuse that occurs after divorce or separation of partners when the children are denied ongoing continuing access to the non-custodial parent and the extended family. Too often,
members of the justice system only paid and continue to pay lip service to the phrase “in the
best interests of the child.”




Our judges and decision-makers must recognize the rights of the child to his or her family, and the rights of the parents and grandparents to their children and grandchildren.

The UK’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith both realized, in February 2012, that it was necessary to make changes. “Courts will have to ensure that children have an equal right to a proper relationship with both parents, and there will be no inbuilt bias towards father and mother—this principle will become law.”

Canada can do no less. Our justice system has been paying lip service to ‘the best interests of the child.’ Now, we must achieve this reality.

When divorce, separation, or death occurs in families, CGRA and many provinces in Canada recommends mediation rather than relying entirely on the courts in the custody process. Take the decisions out of the adversarial atmosphere; use discussion and compromise and involve the children.

Include the topic of Parental Alienation as a major part of Family Studies in our school curriculum. There are many DVD’s on this topic—including Parental Alienation Awareness that will be useful— and discussion with knowledgeable counsellors will help to reduce instances of this destructive behaviour.

Pre-marriage counselling of this extremely serious issue would also be advisable, in view of Canada’s divorce rate.

The problems created by Parental Alienation are extremely serious. We often speak of the importance of family values. Even disintegrated nuclear families have values and rights (i.e., child visitation), which must be preserved and respected to prevent further total collapse of family networks. To do less is to sacrifice even more generations of children on the altar of alienation, condemning them to familial maladjustment and what often results, for the children and non-custodial parents and their relatives,  lifelong loss. ( from Dr. Gardner 1992)




Viewpoint—Parental Alienation

This chapter is dedicated to all the victims of child abuse and elder abuse caused by an alienating parent. This often results on the death or divorce of a married (or partnered) parent of the child.


What is Parental Alienation?

Parental Alienation, as defined by Dr. Richard Gardner, 1985, “results from the attempt by one parent after divorce or separation (usually the custodial parent) to behave in such a way as to alienate the child or children from the other parent.”

Alienation does not occur overnight. It is a gradual and consistent process that is directly related to the time spent in the alienation process. The longer the child spends with the ‘alienator,’ the more severe will be their alienation. Their supposed dislike of the lost parent does not lessen with time away from that parent. It grows stronger, precisely because this attitude is continuously encouraged by the alienator, who has unlimited opportunity to sustain the child’s negative feelings. The child may need a lifetime to learn an alternate response.

During the October 1997 Senate debates on custody and access, Senators spoke of parental alienation by the custodial parent as a means used to restrict access to the children of divorce by the non-custodial parent. The end result, down the road, is that this elimination or restriction of access of the non-custodial parent becomes permanent. As Britain’s then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg determined: “It is vital to change the law in the face of heartbreaking evidence that huge numbers of children, after separation, lose contact with one parent forever.” Canadian non-custodial parents often suffer the same fate.

Who are the victims of Parental Alienation?

The children of divorce and broken partnerships, the non-custodial parent, and the parents of the non-custodial parent (the children’s grandparents), plus extended family are all victims.

Dr. Glenn Cartwright, a psychology professor at McGill University, studied the matter and noted, ”an alienating parent requires time to enlist the child’s compliance without interference.” In a 1993 paper, he said, “the manipulation of time becomes the main weapon in the hands of the alienator,” as long as the custodial parent can keep the non-custodial parent and the grandparents from access to the children.

When a family member is unwell, we try to help. No custodial parent who loves his/her child should teach them to dislike or ignore another human being, let alone a parent. Nor should a parent who loves this child tell lies about the non-custodial parent, or try to erase that child’s happy memories of the non-custodial parent or other family members. When this does occur within our families, we must remember these custodial parents are the mothers and fathers of our grandchildren and continue to care about them. They may be unaware that this kind of destructive behaviour can be abusive to children and create lifelong issues.


To heal the relationship, the child requires quality time with the lost parent to continue and repair the meaningful association that may have existed since birth. This continued communication also serves as a reality check for the child to counter the ongoing alienation at home. Unfortunately, the child doesn’t usually get the quality time to heal the lost relationship with the lost parent and grandparent.  Consequently: “The non-custodial parent experiences the anguish of the loss of a child or children. Grandparents, relatives, and friends are similarly affected and summarily dismissed. Far more serious is the effect on the child, who experiences a great loss, the magnitude of which is akin to the death of a parent, two grandparents, and all the lost parent’s relatives and friends, all at once.“

What is the cause of Parental Alienation?

If the court judge does not recognize the importance of “a child having maximum access to both parents, and maintaining a normal relationship with both parents,” and instead grants sole custody to one, the climate is set for parental alienation. Since PA behaviour is of a serious nature, “it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be provoked only by an equally serious emotional dispute, as the questtion of custody is for most parents. … and disagreement over custody remains implicated as the chief cause of PA behaviour. (Gardner 1992)

Alienation of a parent from a child is a form of child abuse. In thousands of homes across Canada, when the custodial parent is determined to end any association with the ex and with their family, and initiates action within the custodial parent’s home to alienate the child from the non-custodial parent, this is often the start of a long struggle. The non-custodial parent faces one setback after another trying to see his or her child. And one set of grandparents loses access to their grandchild, and often never sees that child again. That is grandparent (elder) abuse.

What happens to these children when they grow up?

Many say time heals all wounds; such is not the case with Parental Alienation (or indeed, with any form of child abuse). Perhaps, years later, the child begins to comprehend what has happened. The realization they were persuaded to believe what they were told by the alienator and wrongly rejected the lost parent and (worse) were a pliable accomplice and willing contributor can produce powerful feelings of guilt. (Goldwater, 1991)

Serious emotional problems may ensue. The reestablishment with the lost parent is a huge task, naturally. When the child becomes an adult and realizes that he/she has not only lost a parent, but also grandparents and even one side of their extended family, they are in shock. It is too late for the justice system to apologize or change what happened.

The Parental Alienation Awareness Organization is the creation of young victims of parental alienation growing up and facing what happened to them and trying to understand how they could have lost a parent and grandparents. By meeting with others who were also victims, they offer support for the pain they experienced and the unexplained loss of family. Recovering from the effects of the custodial parent’s actions is a long and painful process.