Supporting Women Against Allegations of Parental Alienation (Session R)
Frontline workers frequently encounter women leaving abusive relationships whose former partners raise allegations of parental alienation (PA) in the course of custody and access proceedings. These claims are part of many abusers’ attempts to refute the evidence of violence presented by their former partner and to turn the attention of the court away from the family violence and towards the PA claim.
Legal responses to PA deny the gendered reality of most family violence and pathologize the necessarily protective parenting that many mothers engage in after leaving an abusive relationship. When a woman raises the issue of violence and denies allegations of PA, she is disbelieved and distrusted.
Outcomes can place mothers in situations of ongoing risk of harm and expose children to unsafe parenting by their fathers.
Canadian legislation, including the Divorce Act and provincial/territorial custody and access legislation, strongly encourages and, in some cases, requires the custodial parent to ensure that children have maximum contact with the other parent. These provisions place a woman with an abusive spouse in a very difficult position: despite concerns about her children’s well-being with their father, if she does not support liberal contact, she may not be awarded custody. When she takes steps to ensure the children’s safety, she is open to an allegation of PA by the father, who uses this as a threat to maintain his power and control long after the relationship has ended.
A gendered understanding of families and the roles within them as well as of family violence is needed if PA is to be responded to appropriately. Unfortunately, this is not always apparent in family court outcomes across the country.
Given the high rate of unrepresented parties in family court cases across Canada, it is important to empower women leaving abusive relationships and dealing with PA allegations with skills and knowledge to fight back. This interactive workshop will equip frontline workers to assist their clients by discussing:
- The importance of legal representation by a lawyer with an understanding of family violence
- Family violence training opportunities for lawyers
- The role of custody and access assessments and Voice of the Child reports
- The use of scientific evidence and expert witnesses
- Putting together strong evidence to support their claim of family violence while also refuting the PA allegations
- Whether criminal charges against the abuser can help refute PA allegations
- The importance of documentation
- The pros and cons of alternative dispute resolution and involving parenting coordinators in cases involving PA allegations