Court Cases & Orders Parenting Time & Decision Making

U.S. Judge Sends Kids to Jail for Snubbing Dad

bad boys

U.S. Judge Sends Kids to Jail for Snubbing Dad

We all know that the break-up of a family can be hard on children, partly because they may feel they are being unwillingly wrenched away from one of their parents, or because they may feel they have to “choose” between them. The situation gets even more fraught when the acrimony between parents gets transferred to the children, by way of one parent trying to “poison” the children against the other one.

In a Michigan case heard in late June of this year, the judge concluded that three children had been subject to this sort of “brainwashing” – better known in legal circles as “parental alienation” – by their mother against their father. Against the background of five full years of legal wrangling by the parents, the children (aged 9, 10, and 15, and living full-time with the mother) refused to have anything to do with the father, and would not even talk to him.

Despite placing the blame squarely on the mother for the children’s uncooperative conduct, the judge declared the kids in contempt, primarily for being completely unwilling to establish a healthy relationship with their father. She initially ordered all three to spend the rest of the summer in a juvenile detention facility and added that they would not be permitted to visit with their mother (who was herself in breach of several court orders). The detention order would be reviewed, the judge said, when the children indicated a willingness to at least dine with their father and be “normal human beings”.

The judge made this contentious order over the objections of both parents but noted that the children were each represented by lawyers who had no concerns about this admittedly unusual ruling.

Needless to say, the judge’s order garnered significant controversy and backlash in the media and among the legal community. The judge subsequently defended her decision to the press, pointing out that this was an unusual scenario and that all other avenues had been exhausted. She also noted that the children were housed in a short-term facility within the juvenile detention center, and not amongst the young criminal offenders.

(In a later development in early July, after the children had already spent a few weeks in juvenile detention, the judge reversed her initial order and had the children transferred to a summer camp instead).

Do you think that the judge went too far in this case? Should kids be strong-armed into maintaining a relationship with one or both of their parents?

For a sampling of some of the media coverage of this story, see these links:

media coverage 1

media coverage 2


Stay in Touch

Keep learning about the latest issues in Ontario family law! Subscribe to our newsletter, have our latest articles delivered to your inbox, or listen to our Podcast Family Law Now.

Be sure to find out more about the "new normal", by visiting our Covid-19 and Divorce Information Centre.

About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues, including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Oshawa, Concord, Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.