Untangling the Laws on Parental Alienation in BC

The laws on parental alienation in BC are created by a combination of common law and legislation. Legislation is created by our legislative bodies, the laws that are created by our Premier and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA’s). The primary legislation dealing with all parenting matters is the BC Family Law Act, however, there is another important part and that is the common law.

The BC Family Law Act does not mention parental alienation syndrome.

Common law is the body of law that is derived from what judges have said in cases that have come before them. The common law is how judges have interpreted how to apply the BC Family Law Act in separating and divorcing families. In common law, if a higher court says something about a case with similar facts, the lower courts are bound by what the higher court says when they make their decisions. 

So, when untangling the laws on parental alienation in BC, we have to look at both the common law decisions and the BC Family Law Act. An interesting fact is that the BC Family Law Act does not even mention the concept of parental alienation syndrome but focuses on children’s best interests. It is the judges view on parental alienation that guides us.

Family law parental alienation

The definition of parental alienation is when a parent, either purposefully or unconsciously, has a systematic campaign that undermines a child’s relationship with the other parent. It is a form of child abuse because it can have a lasting effect on the child and on their relationship with the other parent. The laws on parental alienation are clear that a child is entitled to have a relationship with both of their parents. Sole child custody occurs very rarely.

In this article, we shed light on the legal consequences of parental alienation.

Is parental alienation abuse? And is parental alienation a crime?
Let’s ask these questions first

Laws on parental alienation are based upon the assumption that when a parent undermines a child’s relationship with the other parent, it is not in the child’s best interest and is, in fact, a form of abuse.

The legal consequences of parental alienation are severe and so they should be. 

It is unfair to a child for a parent to turn that child against their other parent.

It increases the likelihood that the child will have a future damaged relationship with that parent, and will affect that child’s future adult relationships as well as relationships with their own children. 

Children should be allowed to enjoy and create their own relationships with each of their parents. If a child is told or taught to denigrate or reject one of their parents (despite the fact that it is highly likely that the child loves the other parent, it is profoundly unfair to the child). 

So, is parental alienation abuse? We say, yes, it is and many parenting experts agree. 

Now let’s turn to the legalities.

Is parental alienation illegal?

Young boy with confused facial expression

If you are reading this article, you might be interested because parental alienation is happening to your kid. If you are asking if parental alienation is illegal or if parental alienation is a crime, you are asking a good question. 

In the BC and Canadian legal context, something is “illegal” or a crime when it goes against legislation that has been created by governing authorities. For example, we all know that driving while intoxicated is illegal and a crime (it goes against the criminal code), parking in front of a fire hydrant is illegal (goes against our city bylaws), driving without a seatbelt is illegal, and cheating on your income taxes is illegal and if you do it severely enough, can be considered a crime. 

In order for something to be “illegal” or a crime it has to violate a law, that is law that has been written down in legislation that is readily available to the public. As a society we say certain behaviours are illegal or a crime for the betterment of our society. Individuals who violate such laws can end up facing certain penalties. In this case, an “offender” may be caught by a law enforcement officer and ultimately charged with the offence and potentially found guilty or penalized by having to pay a fine. 

Saying it another way, when something is “illegal” or a crime means that we, as a society, have decided that in order for our society to run properly, people have to follow certain rules and guidelines. We have people hired (like police officers, crown prosecutors, and parking commissionaires) to enforce such laws.

However, when it comes to the question of parental alienation charges, a police officer, crown counsel, or a parking commissionaire will not have jurisdiction to prosecute such an issue, nor is such an offence set out in any of our legislation. 

When it comes to the very significant problem of parental alienation, it is up to the parent fighting parental alienation to bring the issue forward and to protect their kids from parental alienation abuse. 

Unlike when something is deemed to be “illegal” or a crime and someone is punished for their actions when someone has proven parental alienation in court (against the other parent), the focus is not on punishing the other parent, but instead upon preserving the best interests of the child. 

When suing for parental alienation, the remedy a parent is looking for is focused on ensuring the child will be okay, not on the fact that the alienating parent was doing something “illegal” and needs to be punished for the betterment of society.

Parental alienation family law

Despite the fact that it is not “illegal” or a crime, the laws on parental alienation, the combination of the BC Family Law Act which focuses on the best interest of the child, and the common law, that is, judges view on parental alienation, is an area with many examples of parental alienation setting out the legal consequences of parental alienation. 

Because parental alienation is so serious and so damaging to kids, the legal consequences of parental alienation, and, more importantly, the personal consequences for children and parents are significant. 

After proving parental alienation in court, the alienating parent might end up having a much more limited relationship with their child. We have seen cases where the alienating parent’s parenting time has been drastically reduced. In some cases, their parenting time will have to be supervised by a friend or relative, while in other cases, they are required to be supervised by a paid professional supervisor.

In one case, the parental alienation of mother by the father was so severe and repeated despite many warnings by the court, that the parental alienation lawyer succeeded in getting a BC protection order against the father because the parental alienation abuse was so alarming.  The BC Protection Order was clear that if the father tried to contact or see the child, the father would be arrested (and he was arrested on numerous occasions) if he tried to contact the child. 

Summary of laws on parental alienation

The laws on parental alienation are complex and it takes a lot when proving parental alienation. It is a devastating thing for kids to be subjected to parental alienation abuse and that is why we take it so seriously. If you suspect that your child is being subjected to such behaviours, whether that be father parental alienation or mother parental alienation, consult with a parental alienation lawyer or parental alienation law firm to discover what your next steps are for protecting your child.