Mom Insists Kids Would “Never Be Okay With” Dad’s New Girlfriend; Court Finds Parental Alienation
The parents of two children, aged 9 and 6, split up after a rocky marriage lasting 11 years. After the separation the children stayed with the mother in the former family home.
In the ensuing battle over custody and access, one of the mother’s key themes was that the children had made a choice not to see or have anything to do with their father, and that this was beget by his conduct with a new girlfriend soon after the marriage ended in 2017, and possibly before. The court explained:
[The new girlfriend] and [the father] have been linked romantically since at least January 2018. Whenever that romance started, [the father’s] choice features prominently in the narrative. [The mother] has often blamed that relationship for the current chasm between father and children.
In the aftermath, the father’s access visits did not go smoothly; the children refused to separate from their mother, with whom they were “extraordinarily close”. At the end of the day, the children had not spent meaningful time with their father for almost two years. (The court also heard evidence that the older child had celebrated her 11th birthday during the course of the trial, but had refused to take her father’s call; she also declined the card he tried to deliver to her house the next day.)
Against this background, the mother wanted shared custody; the father wanted to be given sole custody, accusing the mother of making a “persistent and successful effort” to alienate him from the children. The court explained:
[The father] acknowledges that since March 2018, [the children] have expressed their desire not to see him repeatedly, loudly and at times profanely. The reason they do so, he says, is because [the mother’s] bitterness over the separation and [the father’s] choice of new partner has been passed onto and taken hold of the children. In other words, their expressions are not a product of their own thought process but a parroting of the feelings of their mother. This, he submits, constitutes parental alienation.
The [father] submits that the best interests of the children require that they be removed from the poisoned environment their mother has created and perpetuated. As mentioned, he asks for sole custody, no access to the respondent for a period of four months and a review of the access issue at the end of that period.
At trial, the mother denied alienating the children from their father. She claimed he was an absentee father even during the marriage, and that after 2017 he was away even more often, or was preoccupied with his phone when he was around. She also claimed that any connection the children did have with their father was destroyed when he lied about his relationship with the new girlfriend and abandoned the family home, the children and their mother. The mother said the children would “never be okay” with the new girlfriend, who would always be seen as the reason he left the family.
The court related the mother’s evidence about one holiday in particular:
Christmas Day came and went. The [mother] alleges the [father] treated the children with indifference. Instead of playing with them, he spent the day texting. The [father] did not deny the use of his phone on the holiday or that he had communicated with [the new girlfriend]. However, he said he was engaged with [the children] although unable to remember the events of the day in detail.
In a judgment to determine custody and access that spanned more than 450 paragraphs, the court started by noting it was always guided by the child’s best interests. The court added:
While it should be obvious, a parent who engages in tactics designed to unjustifiably turn a child against the other is not acting in the child’s best interests. In fact, such behaviour is detrimental to the child’s well-being.
Even prior to 2017, the father’s absences from time with the family were sometimes excessive, the court found. But in 2017 and after – when the new girlfriend possibly came on the scene – he was absent even more often, which affected the children. As a result, they had “loudly, unequivocally, and repeatedly declined to have any relationship with their father”.
Still, the children’s attitude toward the father was not a result of their own thought process – rather, it was a product of the mother’s “elaborate and well executed strategy”. She had persistently and systematically alienated them from their father, resulting in the destruction of the relationship between them. The court also found that if left to her own devices, she would continue to act as she had, adding:
That will result in [the children] continuing to reject a loving and committed father who they should have the benefit of knowing and judging for themselves. That is in their best interests. The treatment they have received at the hands of the [mother] is not.
After exploring numerous options that follow a finding of parental alienation, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court ruled the parents were to share custody of the children and would continue to reside primarily with the mother. However, the father was to have liberal access on a specified schedule. During those times, the mother and children were not to contact each other. The mother was also ordered to immediately seek therapy concerning her alienating behaviour in order to gain insight into her own conduct.
For the full text of the decision, see:
M.P.M. v. A.L.M., 2020 ONSC 1862