Justice Brownstone on parental alienation
"While some mean by 'parental alienation' only the misconduct of custodial
parents, we judges often see high-conflict cases where both parents badmouth
each other to the children, cruelly placing them in conflicts of loyalty.
Moreover, such conduct is not in the exclusive domain of mothers or fathers;
both engage in it.
"In my view, the term 'parental alienation' incorrectly identifies the target
parent as the victim.
"The true victims are the children, who are innocent in parental break-ups.
Every child has a right to enjoy a loving relationship with both parents. Since
it is the child's right that is being violated by a parent's alienating
behaviour, it is the child who is being alienated from the other parent.
"However you name it, there is no doubt that children are at risk of
emotional harm when they become weapons, pawns and spies for bitter, angry,
vengeance-seeking parents who turn custody disputes into battles for power and
control — battles that often focus entirely on the parents' needs and not at all
on the children's."
"There is widespread dissatisfaction among parents with the family justice
system. Among the most angry are non-custodial parents desperately seeking to
enforce access to their children.
"Judges hear daily from heartbroken parents who say that the legal system
vigorously enforces child support but does not care about enforcing access. I
see their point, but it troubles me when people liken the enforcement of a
parent-child relationship to the collection of a debt.
"Children are not pieces of property that can be 'seized' or 'garnisheed.
They are vulnerable human beings.
"Decisions affecting a child's emotional well-being must be carefully made,
always with a view to making a child's life better, not worse . . .
Justice Brownstone concludes: "Parents can have new partners, but no child
gets a second childhood.
"Children learn about relationships and parenting from observing their own
parents. No one should forget this."
Whether you agree or not, it's a provocative essay, so we at globeandmail.com
are pleased that Justice Brownstone will be online Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.
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When Justice Brownstone was appointed to the bench in Ontario in 1985, he
came with a rich understanding of the family law area.
After graduating from Queen's University in 1980, he worked as a legal aid
lawyer and later joined the Ontario Legal Aid research facility, where he
focused on family law.
He later joined the Minister of the Attorney-General as director of the
Family Support Plan, a branch which is responsible for administering child
support and spousal custody orders.
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Darren Yourk, editor, globeandmail.com: Thanks so much for joining us
today Justice Brownstone. We have plenty of reader questions, so we'll get right
John Dunn from Ottawa Canada writes: What can parents do when those
engaging in parental alienation are the child protection authorities and/or
their staff members as opposed to actual parents?