Alienated child of divorce ordered to attend 'family reunification' program
Judge finds father engaged in behaviour which drove icy wedge between his ex and their son
The boy is called X. He's 16, caught, like many children of divorce, between a warring father and mother.
Except that over the course of the past five years, X hasn't just been a victim of the battle between his parents; according to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling, his father essentially tried to enlist him as a sublieutenant.
In one of the most extreme examples, the teen took selfies of himself and his dad, known as A.J., as they prepared to fight the mother, C.J.D., in court.
The boy took another of father and son high-fiving in anticipation of a perceived victory.
Justice Murray Blok found A.J. bad-mouthed his ex-wife to his kids, asked his children to spy on her, created the impression she might be dangerous and told them things which suggested she didn't love them.
Blok found the man's mother was also part of a campaign of parental alienation, removing more than 30 photos of C.J.D from her walls, making baseless reports about her to authorities and warning her former daughter-in-law off her property.
"A.J. professes to have X's best interests at heart, but his actions seem entirely at odds with his words," Blok wrote in a lengthy analysis of the case.
"I therefore find that X is an alienated child and that he has been alienated from his mother by the words, actions and behaviour of his father."
'A form of emotional abuse'
Blok has ordered both X and A.J to attend an intense "family reunification" program with C.J.D. and her relatives.
The judge stopped short of ordering A.J.'s parents to attend — but the grandparents won't be granted access to X unless they do.
The decision pulls the curtain back on a hotly debated phenomenon — parental alienation — which can have devastating consequences for families. The court heard from experts in both the United States and Canada.
Part of Blok's job was to determine if X was a victim of alienation as opposed to estrangement. New York-based psychological researcher and social scientist Amy Baker described the difference.
"Dr. Baker defined an "alienated child" as one who unjustifiably rejects one parent (the 'disfavoured parent') and is aligned with the other parent (the 'favoured parent')," Blok wrote.
"This is distinct from the "realistic estrangement" of a child, who has rejected a parent but has done so for an objectively good reason."
In her report, Baker described parental alienation as "a form of emotional abuse. To do nothing is to participate in the continued abuse of children."
'All you do is screw him'
C.J.D. and A.J separated in 2009 after 10 years of marriage. They divorced in 2012. X is the eldest of their three children.
The pair have had a series of different parenting agreements over the years, but in June 2011, X left his mother's home for a visit with his father and never returned. The two younger children live with their mom and spend every second weekend with their dad.
C.J.D claimed she and X used to have a close relationship, but his attitude has ranged from icy to outright hostile in recent years. She started recording their conversations because she feared she wouldn't be believed.
After the teen moved out, he called her to say she was not welcome at his Grade 7 graduation saying: "You're technically stalking me."
You either pay my phone or bye bye our relationship forever.- X
On another instance he said: "I totally agree with my dad not communicating with you. All you do is screw him."
C.J.D. refused to pay for X's cell phone plan because of his rudeness. He texted her: "You either pay my phone or bye bye our relationship forever."
In 2014, the couple agreed to have X take a first stab at a family reunification program. After a few days, he tearfully acknowledged to his mother that he had been alienated.
The teen moved back in with his mother, but C.J.D. found evidence he was hatching a plan to "get out". He returned to his dad's home shortly thereafter.
Speak no evil?
A.J. also testified. He claimed his wife was jealous of the "easy relationship" he had with the kids when they were married. He also claimed to have encouraged C.J.D. to get counseling with X.
But contrary to A.J.'s claims, Blok found the father "had made no real attempt to resolve the fractured family situation."
Blok rejected the notion X was merely estranged from his mother, not only because of A.J.'s behaviour but because of the way the teen acted: denigrating his mom, seeing no flaws whatsoever with his father and making "weak, frivolous and absurd rationalizations" about his behaviour.
The judge has ordered X and A.J. into a Penticton-based family reunification program which begins with the child having no contact with either parent.
The mother will then be gradually reintroduced to the child while the father meets with a therapist.
Blok has also suspended A.J.'s custody of X for now and issued a ruling for police to enforce the terms of the court order.
Both parents are forbidden from making disparaging remarks about each other or their respective families in the presence of their children.