Judge Steven Clark expressed optimism that his precedent-setting move may help shame the parents into recognizing the destruction that they have brought upon their family.
“Perhaps by adding P.F. as a party, the parents may come to realize that through their intransigence, their eldest child has now had to forsake some of his own adolescence and take on the mantle of a possible parent to the children, where they have both, arguably, failed,” Judge Clark said. “Having regard to the high conflict in this case, it may well be in the best interests of the children to become more invested in their own process by seeing that their brother has been named as a party.”
P.F. injected himself into the parental alienation case after his brothers – 12 and 14 – were bounced from a hospital psychiatric ward into a foster home in December because they refused to participate in a court-ordered therapy program.
Jeffery Wilson, a lawyer for P.F., told Judge Clark at a hearing last month that his client's plan to raise his brothers on welfare – augmented by support payments from their parents – is feasible.
However, in his judgment Thursday, Judge Clark also said he was afraid he may have created an “unsound” precedent that can be used in future cases by multiple family members who are intent on interfering in emotionally freighted family dramas.
Marvin Kurz, a lawyer for the mother, maintained that the woman's ex-husband is using her eldest son as a puppet in an attempt to get his two youngest sons back.
The startling chain of events highlighted a growing controversy over parental alienation and the therapies used to reverse it. A handful of U.S. therapists have touted their deprogramming clinics in Canada, resulting in at least three judicial treatment orders.
“P.F. is essentially seeking to rescue his brothers from the professionals who are trying to deprogram them and, if necessary, to wrest them from the parents who are battling for control of them,” Judge Clark said Thursday.
He said that, while his decision could lengthen or derail the case and potentially allow P.F. to “confuse or even stupefy the other parties,” it was worth the risk.
Judge Clark also remarked that, “part of the reason why the children were brought into care included that fact that they felt trapped in the legal system, and they felt forced to be in a therapeutic setting which fostered a sense of despair and accentuated feelings of helplessness in them.”
He said the real difficulty that bedevils the case is that for whatever reason, the children are distrustful of their mother and believe that any attempt by therapists to repair the relationships amounts to an abusive experiment.
“In the final analysis, this court finds that it owes this family the opportunity to see if something can be salvaged, and whether the family unit can be rehabilitated and reunified,” Judge Clark said.
The hearing to determine custody of the children is expected to resume in the near future.
Kirk Makin is The Globe and Mail's Justice Reporter