De-Parental Alienation: Filaber v. Filaber

Courts are becoming ever so cognizant about the damaging effects had on children caught in the battle of alienation. The case of Filaber v. Filaber is yet another court decision involving a change of custody from the alienating parent to the alienated parent. In this particular case, the children involved were 12 and 14 years old. From this case (and many others in the caselaw), it is quite evident that currently, courts are loathe to tell an alienated parent that it is too late for him/her to reverse his/her unfortunate circumstance of having been alienated. Instead, courts are much more willing to step in and implement drastic measures in an attempt to reverse the damaging effects of the alienation, regardless of the ages of the children involved.

The parties were married on January 27, 1987 and separated on May 23, 1998. They had three children of the marriage. The Husband issued an Application on February 1, 2007 and brought an urgent motion, without notice to the Wife, seeking custody of the three children. Prior to the Husband’s Application, the Wife was the Applicant in an action for divorce that she brought against the Husband in 1999. According to these proceedings, the judge ordered that the Wife was to have interim interim sole custody of the children, and the Husband was given specified access. In November 2006, the eldest child moved in with the Husband, and continued to reside there during these proceedings. Thereafter, on January 22, 2007, the remaining two sons began residing with their father at a shelter. Since January 22, 2007, there had been no meaningful contact between the children and their mother. Various orders by the court were made thereafter, among which, Justice Mossip ordered the matter to proceed to a two day motion.

The Wife in this case alleged severe parental alienation by her husband and therefore was seeking sole custody of her children. At the motion for custody, the Wife argued that the Husband had refused to allow her to have a meaningful relationship with her children, to the point that her children now fully refused any contact with her whatsoever.

In coming to its conclusion, the court relied heavily on a report prepared by a social worker. Although the court recognized that the Wife had contributed somewhat to the children’s avoidance of her through her strict parenting practices, and the son had contributed somewhat to the estrangement himself, the court also acknowledged that the Husband had contributed greatly to the estrangement and had taken no active steps to stop the estrangement from continuing. Resultantly, the court decided and thus ordered that an immediate change in custody would be in the children’s absolute best interests. The Husband’s access to the children was temporarily suspended by the court in order to allow the Wife to rekindle her relationship with the children. Furthermore, the court ordered that the Wife would have the sole authority to pursue whatever remedy she feels is necessary to enable a transition for her children of least conflict, including participation in a Family Workshop put on by Dr. Randy Rand in the United States. As such, the Wife was granted permission to transfer the children outside of Canada for purposes of treatment. Moreover, the court ordered that the Wife, children and Husband participate in counselling as recommended by Dr. Randy Rand. The court also mandated that there be a reassessment and a written report in three months time setting out the current situation for the children, and furthermore, ordered the matter to be brought back to court for reanalysis in three months. Costs were reserved by the Court until further review of the matter.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. After reading Justice Van Melle’s decision, I have mixed feelings about this case. I do however find some of the findings and procedures that were followed very interesting and noteworthy.

    No 1. What must have happened to these kids to leave their mother after 7 years to live with their father in a shelter?

    Could it have been abuse? The Assessor Ms. Vanbetlehem notes that “the children told various authorities that they have been “beaten” and “abused” which then ended up in them saying that they have been spanked”. There were several investigations dating several years back but physical abuse was never substantiated by any of the investigative agencies.

    In the end, Justice Van Melle did find that the Mother refused to acknowledge the truth to her children’s reality that she was strict and physical with them and that she needed to address this in order to repair the damage in the relationship between her and her children. Translation: own up to the fact that you hit your kids, that it wasn’t the way to go about disciplining them and apologize to them as part of getting your kids back into your life again.

    No 2 Estrangement vs. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
    While the judge did not go so far as to perhaps characterize these circumstances as a case of “parental alienation syndrome” , Justice Van Melle did find that there was no reason for the estrangement between Mom and her children. Maybe being really strict, even inflexible, yelling at your kids when you speak to them on the phone and resorting to physical discipline was a pretty good start.

    In reading the case I understood that the parties were in the court system when the estrangement was developing/occurring. On May 16, 2007, why was counselling not sought or ordered at the same time that it was ordered that the boys see their Mother every other weekend? Could the estrangement have been addressed at that point in time? Was the situation so bad at that time that counselling even needed to be considered? Was there a warning to the Father and his oldest son that if the estrangement was allowed to continue the court would have to step in? Or was the problem that those involved sat back and simply waited for the assessors to report back rather than take proactive action to address the estrangement.

    No 3 When Clients Don’t Help Themselves
    It does not appear as though the Father did anything to help himself and his position. There were several court attendances that were required to get Ms. Vanbetlehem to the point where she could even begin her Assessment. In fact, a judge had to sit the kids down to convince them to participate in the process. I would be interested in reading the materials from those attendances.

    Coming to court and saying “now I’m ready to do what I should have been doing all along (i.e. I’ll now facilitate access in the hopes that it will re-establish a relationship between Mother and our kids) did not help matters either. Too little too late.

    Justice Van Melle found that the Father had isolated the children from friends and family and had empowered them more than was appropriate for their age. Did the Father empower the kids because it suited his purposes or because he didn’t know what else to do in the face of kids who just didn’t want to see their mother? Again, I’d love to know what was going on before the kids decided to go and live with their father in the first place.

    No 4 Do the ends justify the means?
    Given the history of the relationship between the kids and their parents, did it justify Justice Van Melle ordering that the Mother have custody of the 2 boys, that police are to enforce the transfer of custody if necessary and that the boys are not to see their Father and older brother for at least 3 months? Maybe I’m missing something (like reading the OCL and Assessors reports). Having read JKL, I don’t see how the facts of that case are at all similar to those of this case. Without going into the details of JKL, the alienation was systematic, starting from birth, and over many many years.

    In this case, all 3 children had been living with the Mother up until November 2006, when the oldest son moved out.

    Was there not any other counselling that could have been recommended in Ontario to help these kids and their parents? I find it hard to believe that in cases of estrangement, there are not professionals in the GTA that do not assist this family.

    A more pressing issue is that it was clear that the Father could not afford to pay for counselling. How could he afford to participate in follow-up counselling as recommended? The judge’s comment that the Father perhaps have his family doctor help him find someone who could help him receive appropriate treatment, through OHIP, was a concern. Does the family doctor have the time to help him find a counsellor, what are the wait lists like for that person?

    While I am pleased to read the judge letting both parents know that they need to get their acts together for the benefit of their kids, I can’t help but feel that the resulting Order was too harsh and extreme.

  2. There seems to be an ever-growing body of case law where the courts are making the difficult but necessary decision to remove an alienated child from the custodial but alienating parent. Not an easy decision to make given the alienated child and even the parents will be forced into a difficult immediate situation; however, in the long term the hope is the alienated child’s best interests will be served by salvaging his or her relationship with the estranged parent.

    This type of decision in these alienation cases places a significant amount of hope in a reunification counselling program, a program which is not necessarily readily available or affordable to many parties facing alienation situations, and it is a program that will not necessarily succeed in reuniting the alienated parent and child. The Judge prudently addressed this by staying seized of the matter and ordering a follow-up assessment by the same custody and access assessor that was previously involved.

  3. Well done for Justice van Melle’s brave decision to give the alienated parent custody of her children. I hope that this is the beginning of a trend and a recognition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. At last. I have first hand experience of being a target parent myself and Dr Randy Rand was my expert forensic psychologist in my case. This was 12 years ago in New Mexico and he was very good – unfortunately we were up against too much opposition – not having it in the DSM 1V was not a help either. He tried his very best but nobody was prepared to listen and if anybody has seen severely alienated children – it is a very convincing act (for lack of a better word).
    The Judge, like most PAS cases washed his hands of it – having never seen a phenomenen like this before and passed it over to the hands of therapists to try and re-integrate the family. It was, of course, doomed to failure. As long as the children reside with the alienator there is no chance of reunification with target parent. I know, I tried many times and they didn’t want to see me and when they did were full of hatred and vilified me.
    Let’s hope this is the beginning of a change of courts attitudes towards PAS. Ordinary therapists just cannot deal with this and you really do need something as drastic as a change of custody and a reunification program with therapists/psychologists who understand PAS.
    By the way, children can be alienated very quickly – it does not take years and they can be most vulnerable to this between the ages of 9 and 12.
    I am pleased to see that there are more books on the subject for example ‘Breaking the Ties that Bind’ by Amy Baker. Also ‘A kidnapped Mind’ by Pamela Richardson – a tragic story of what damage alienation can result in.
    The more public awareness the better and PAS won’t be written off as a ‘junk science’ anymore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *