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Parental Alienation - When Divorce Goes From Bad To Ugly

Harsh words, raw feelings - they're pretty standard fare when a family breaks apart. But one recent Canadian divorce case shows what happens when a dispute turns acid and ends up poisoning kids along the way.

The story shines the spotlight on a phenomenon which lawmakers and experts identify as parental alienation. The concept goes beyond that of estrangement, in which a child rejects a parent for an objectively good reason. Alienation occurs when a child unjustifiably rejects one parent, typically at the instigation of the other parent. It's serious stuff, with words such as brainwashing and psychological abuse often thrown into the mix when the topic arises.

At the centre of the case in point is a 16-year-old boy, referred to simply as X. After 10 years of marriage, his father A.J. and mother C.J.J. called it quits, separating 2009 and divorcing in 2012. C.J.J. claimed that she had previously enjoyed a close relationship with her son. But by June 2011, X - only twelve years old at the time-- left to visit his father and never returned.

Evidence presented during the trial included a mélange of nasty tidbits revealing A.J.'s systematic campaign to undermine X's relationship with his mother. Bad-mouthing, recruiting X to spy on his mother, attempts to portray C.J.J. as dangerous, suggestions that she didn't love X - the whole nine yards. Even A.J.'s mother took part, removing over 30 hung photos of C.J.J. and fabricating reports about her to the authorities.

The effects were not lost on X. After moving out, the teen accused his mother of "technically stalking" him, threatened to permanently end his relationship with her if she didn't pay his cell phone bill, and in one of the most egregious examples, took selfies with his father as the pair anticipated a court victory over the mother.

Justice Murray Blok found X to be an alienated child and ordered the family into a reunification program designed to reintroduce X to his mother while the father receives therapy.

It's a stark case that illustrates how simmering discord has the potential to boil into a full-blown stew of abuse that takes children down with it.

Spotting the signs and making the distinction between estrangement and alienation is tricky business.

Suspect your family conflict may be going down a wrong path?

Seek us out.

We can help.

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