The Battle Over ‘Parental Alienation’

by EditorK

(Photo by Caleb Oquendo/

Chandra Philip
By Chandra Philip 

Madison Welborne said it wasn’t until she heard the term “parental alienation” that what she had lived in her childhood came into focus.

“I went from being happy, outgoing, confident, and a strong-willed kid to having been diagnosed with childhood depression and anxiety disorder at the age of 9,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Welborne says she was alienated from her father by her mother for 20 years. She says she discovered this last year at the age of 28.

“When I learned the term parental alienation, it was like a light-bulb moment. I was able to put together what had happened,” she said. “Learning the truth has allowed me to heal, rebuild a relationship with my dad, and build a better life for myself.”

But there is a battle against the term that could banish it from the Canadian legal system. The theory of parental alienation holds that a child can become estranged from one parent as the result of psychological manipulation by another parent.

In January, 250 feminist organizations across Canada jointly called on the government to have “parental alienation” legislatively banished from courtrooms. They said some parents misuse the term in family court cases to “silence parents and children who report family violence,” by claiming, without clear proof or evidence, that the other parent is engaging in alienation tactics.

The groups said this puts children at risk of being ordered by the courts into the arms of abusive parents.

“Their abusive parent will say, ‘The other parent is alienating me.’ And these children are forced into situations where they are being sexually abused, physically abused, and psychologically terrorized,” advocate Tina Swithin, author of “Divorcing a Narcissist,” told The Epoch Times. “We can’t take that risk.”

Ms. Swithin adds that the term parental alienation has not been recognized by the World Health Organization or the American Medical Association.

However, those working to help families going through parental alienation say banning the term would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

“Every person that you describe this to says, ‘Oh, yeah, a friend of mine or a cousin of mine is going through this,’” Toronto lawyer Brian Ludmer said. “I think it’s everywhere. It’s a major, major social problem that needs a solution.”

Mr. Ludmer has been working on high-conflict court cases for over a decade and is an advisory member of the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization and the International Support Network for Alienated Families.

While not many statistics are available, a 2016 study by Colorado State University and High Point University scientists says over 22 million adults in the United States are “targets of parental alienation,” and 10 million are experiencing “severe alienation from their children.”

Ms. Welborne, who says she was alienated from her father as a child, says it’s very hard on the children as well.

“It’s really sad because when you’re a kid and you go through this, it’s like you’re mourning your parent, like they’ve died,” Ms. Welborne said. “So in your head, you’ve lost your parent. At least that’s how it was for me. I wrote my dad off.”

She notes that before she was 7 years old, her dad was her best friend.

“I was really really close with my dad before all this happened,” she said.

Opposing E-Petitions

Over the past several months, two opposing petitions have garnered enough signatures to get a response from Canada’s justice minister. The petitions raise the question of whether parental alienation is a form of child abuse or whether the term itself is being abused.

An e-petition, opened in August 2023 and supported by Liberal MP Pam Damoff, called on the government to act with regard to parental alienation in order to improve the justice system so that women and children can be protected. The petition had 1,140 signatures before it was closed in November 2023.

Justice Minister Arif Virani said in his response that the courts are responsible for determining what is in the child’s best interest.

“When a child’s rejection of a parent seems to be without justification, and it appears that the other parent has encouraged the child to turn against the rejected parent, the child may be referred to as ‘alienated,’” he wrote on March 20.

“In determining the best interests of the child in a case where there is an allegation that a child is resisting contact with a parent, the court will look at the circumstances of the case to determine whether the child is in fact resisting contact, and if so, why this is occurring,” he added. “In cases where family violence is also alleged, the court will also consider the specific criteria related to family violence in determining the child’s best interests under the Divorce Act.”

A counter-petition, started in October 2023 and supported by Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif, called for Ottawa to “make parental alienation a form of child abuse.” The petition garnered 649 signatures before it was closed in January.

In his response to this petition on March 18, Mr. Virani said the family courts are the best place to deal with the issue and that it is not a criminal matter.

“Family courts are also best placed to address situations where children resist or refuse parenting time with a parent after parental separation or divorce,” he said. “A child’s resistance or refusal to have contact with a parent should be examined within the context of family court orders and consideration of the best interest of the child, and not via the criminal courts.”

Battle Leads to Wellness Retreat Cancellation

Ms. Swithin’s fight against the theory of parental alienation has crossed borders from California into Canada. It recently resulted in the cancellation of a wellness retreat for parents and grandparents alienated from the children in their lives that was to be held in British Columbia in April.

“I had no idea that it had been cancelled,” Ms. Swithin said. “I speak out about these things, but I definitely did not galvanize efforts to shut it down.”

Lawyer Mr. Ludmer is listed as one of the three “parental alienation experts” who would have led the retreat, along with organizer Kathleen Reay. Ms. Reay’s published doctoral dissertation was on the long-term effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome, according to her biography.

Ms. Reay told The Epoch Times in an email that she decided to cancel the retreat after the facility manager said the facility had been receiving emails and phone calls that were “disruptive and emotionally traumatizing to their team.”

“After considering all the factors involved, my team and I decided it was not prudent to hold the retreat on that weekend,” she said.

‘Wake Up Other Alienated Kids’

Ms. Welborne says that, through the Anti-Alienation Project, which she founded, she is using her experience to try and reach other kids who may be going through the same thing.

“I felt this duty to try to wake up other alienated kids because, my gosh, I’ve been able to really turn my life right now,” she said.

“There are a lot of kids right now who are actually alienated from their parents and they don’t know that they are alienated. If society is saying it’s not real, people are never going to figure it out.”

Chandra Philip is a news reporter with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times. 

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