Barbara Kay: Brainwashing the kids to spite the ex
In what has been called a "stunning and unusual family law decision" released
Jan. 16, a Toronto father was awarded sole custody of his three daughters, aged
nine to 14. The "persistent and overwhelming" campaign by the mother over the
course of more than a decade was recognized as emotional abuse by Ontario
Superior Court Justice Faye McWatt, and the children have been sent to a
California therapeutic recovery centre for treatment.
The couple, known as A. L. and K. D., have had a volatile relationship since
they met 15 years ago. In spite of K. D. falsely alleging that A. L. sexually
abused their first child, the couple had two more children between bouts of
disaffection. K. D. -- herself dominated by a vindictive mother who had beaten
her in childhood-- repeatedly called police after provoking physical
confrontations with A. L., and frequently bad-mouthed him in front of the
According to the judgment against K. D., she is denied all contact with the
girls, even by telephone or text messages She has been ordered not to come
closer to them than 300 metres. A. L. has been given the right to confiscate
their computers and cellphones. This is necessary, Justice McWatt said, because
the mother had so poisoned her children's feelings toward their father that they
had lost their capacity for independent judgment in relating to him.
The father's lawyer, Harold Niman, said the decision is a wake-up call to
vengeful parents. The message: They cannot punish their former spouses through
their children with impunity. "Maybe if they realize the courts will actually
step in and do something and there is a risk of not only losing custody, but
having no contact with their children, they'll think twice about it," he said in
In fact, I don't share Mr. Niman's optimism that this represents a sea change
in the fortunes of the legions of alienated partners desperately seeking redress
for the baseless loss of their children's affection.
My files bulge with parental alienation stories in which this well-documented
form of child abuse is ignored by judges. In this case, even just from media
accounts, I note the following disturbing facts that suggest this judgment is an
exception, rather than the harbinger of a rule:
-In the case of the eldest child, the mother's obsessive demonization of the
father was flagged eight years ago by a Toronto mediator and clinical
psychologist who testified the mother would alienate the children from their
father: Where was "the court" eight years ago?
-The mother has been flouting the court-ordered visitation rights of the
father since their separation, to the point of refusing his court-permitted
thrice-weekly telephone calls (desperate for contact, he shouted good-night to
the children through the doors): Where were the police who should have enforced
-The Office of the Children's Lawyer, which alone decides which children it
will assess and/or represent, did not get involved until the process was so far
advanced that the damage was already done: Why did it take them so long?
-Even the judge noted that the father's unrelenting determination to see this
battle through was unique, and only possible to someone with an unusually high
income (A. L. is a vascular surgeon): How are ordinary people without resources
supposed to fight on their children's behalf ?
Sadly, what this case tells me is that only Herculean efforts by a
well-heeled non-custodial parent can break through the Kafkaesque family law
system. But at least it shines some light on Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS),
a term describing the often-irreversible damage done to children brainwashed by
an alienating parent into groundless hatred of the other parent.
An alienator can be a mother or a father. But, since high-conflict court
battles are almost always resolved with the mother having sole custody --
mothers are better placed to indulge this pathology without binding
Indeed, in a long-term 2007 study published by developmental psychologist and
PAS expert Amy Baker on adult survivors of PAS, the mother was the alienator in
36 of 40 cases. Baker's subjects reported that "their alienating parents behaved
like cult leaders ... withdrawing love and affection when the child showed any
positive feelings for the targeted parent."
PAS is as real a form of child abuse as any other, and one that witnesses
should report. The obvious sign is routine flouting of rightful access to the
non-custodial parent -- a clear sign of contempt for the other parent's role in
the children's lives.
It is a moral scandal that such visitation rights are virtually never
enforced, the violators never punished. Unless custodial parents who deny
rightful access start going to jail, this exceptional victory will likely be
remembered as a one-off before a return to the default "snooze" mode we are
accustomed to in Canadian family courts.
Re: Brainwashing The Kids To
Spite The Ex, Barbara Kay, Jan. 30.
Barbara Kay's column -- about a Toronto
father being awarded sole custody of his three daughters
after more than a decade of emotional abuse by the mother --
should be read by every person who interfaces with the
family court system, and by every separated parent.
I have been conducting custody-access
assessments since 1978 and have seen this phenomenon, which
I call "hostage children," many times. Alienating parents
learn quickly how to manipulate the system and prevailing
social concerns, such as domestic violence, to further their
cause. False allegations are the fuel that runs these
engines, and many professionals will privately admit that
they are afraid of these parents and end up finding some way
not to confront them.
Intimidation is a fact of life within
the family court system. I have risked complaints on several
occasions by identifying what I have come to see as a form
of Stockholm Syndrome. I worked on one case in which one
parent successfully alienated a child twice, the second time
being after a successful seven-year reconciliation in which
the child developed a strong bond with the rejected parent.
The power of a vengeful custodial
parent, backed up by the courts, the police and the
Children's Aid Society, is a virtually unstoppable force. So
kudos to Justice Faye McWatt for this decision and to Ms.
Kay for making this story public. The interventions need to
be sooner, though, before so much psychological damage is
Marty McKay, psychologist, Toronto.