Editorial: Running with scissors

“I have been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years now. You have to go through this to understand,” actor Alec Baldwin said at one point during the highly publicized custody battle he waged with ex-wife Kim Basinger.

Actually, Baldwin has become the poster boy of parental alienation syndrome, delving into the subject in his book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce. Meanwhile, even Dr. Phil has devoted a show to the subject.

But, while it’s apparently becoming a trendy topic south of the border, we suspect it’s not such a new thing to those toiling in the family bar here. And now comes a decision that’s being hailed as a wake-up call, served up by the extremely capable Superior Court Justice Faye McWatt. Right here in Ontario.

McWatt has stripped a mother of custody of her three kids because of her “consistent and overwhelming” campaign to alienate the children from their dad. The case, A.G.I. v K.B.D., we hear has kept the water coolers hopping in family law offices; this ruling is a big deal.

And it’s probably as Harold Niman, the father’s lawyer, said to The Globe and Mail: “Hopefully, this decision will send a message to other parents of like mind that, if they alienate children, there is a huge price that will be paid at the end of it all.”

Niman further told The Toronto Star that McWatt’s judgment should be a warning to parents who, “for bitterness, anger, or whatever reason,” use their kids to punish their exes. “Maybe if they realize the courts will actually step in and do something and there is a risk of not only losing custody, but having no contact with their children, they’ll think twice about it.”

The children, aged 14, 11, and 9, were transferred to their father’s sole custody and are undergoing a special therapy program for kids affected by the syndrome. The mother is to have no access, except in conjunction with counselling, pending a review.

“The three children of the marriage have been alienated from the [father A.L.] over a long period because [the mother] K.D. is unable to accept that it is in the best interests of the children to have a relationship with their father,” wrote McWatt.

“She has been given several opportunities to change her behaviour over many years, and refuses to do so. I find that her unrelenting behaviour toward the children is tantamount to emotional abuse as described by Dr. [Barbara] Fidler. The views and preferences of the two older children are not their own. And for the children to have any further contact with the [mother], significant therapeutic intervention is necessary.”

McWatt noted the situation escalated to where K.D. cut off contact and refused to allow the father to see or speak with his children; he had to shout goodnight to them through the door of their home, not
knowing if they were even inside.

“It is remarkable that A.L. has not given in to [K.D.’s] persistence in keeping his children from him over the last 14 years and simply gone on with his life without the children as, no doubt, many other parents in the same situation would have and, indeed, have done,” said McWatt. “It is now time for his and the children’s fates to be free from K.D.’s control. She has shown that she cannot be entrusted with it.”

“I do think there’s been a shift,” Jeffrey H. Wilson says in a story in our family law focus section on page 10. “There was a time when a court felt that if a young person was internalizing hostile feelings against a parent there wasn’t much you could do about it.”

He adds that there’s more of a willingness on the part of the bench to be more proactive. “They’re active in case management, and they’re more involved generally,” he says. “I don’t want to use the word bold but they certainly are more predicated to intervene and take charge of a case than they were in the old days when perhaps they could be more passive.”

Well, we’ll use the word “bold” with respect to McWatt’s terrific decision.
And here’s a happy P.S.: Last week Baldwin walked the red carpet with his daughter and gave her a big kiss after he won a SAG award. It was the first time they’ve been seen in public together since April 2007.
- Gretchen Drummie

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