In a rare and perhaps significant case in Toronto this month, a father was awarded full custody of his three daughters on the basis of “alienation” techniques used by the mother. Justice Kaye McWatt of the Superior Court of Justice decided that the mother, a foot doctor, had “consistently and overwhelmingly” thwarted her ex-husband’s attempts to maintain a relationship with his daughters over the course of several years. She had, for instance, hung up the phone on him when he called to say goodnight, or slammed the door in his face when he tried to pick the girls up for court-permitted visitation. On the basis of professional testimony about “parental alienation syndrome” Judge McWatt made the unusual move of inverting the custody rights.
I doubt this will set a definitive precedent for other courts to follow. While this case seemed more clear-cut, how is one supposed to distinguish between common (and ubiquitous) alienating language which ex’s use in front of their children and an actual “syndrome”? And aren’t there plenty of cases in which mothers are protecting from parental irregularities and abuses from the father?
That being said, I’m happy that fathers are beginning to see some hope in the court system. Men’s rights groups have been crying foul on this very point for decades, that fathers are systematically discriminated against in custody cases and that mothers are able to get away with court violations with almost no repercussions. If one admits that there is a de facto hole in women’s economic and political rights, then one must grant the same about men when it comes to de jure rights in the home. The domestic sphere still belongs to the woman in the public mind, and this results in greater clout for mothers in court battles. There are exceptions, as this case shows. Though isn’t it telling that the father, a vascular surgeon, managed to win the case only after a lengthy and expensive court battle?
Maybe attitudes are changing, even as the alienation is passed around liberally. The Greeks had Chronos and Rhea. We have Kevin Federline and Britney Spears. Anyone else feel a little queasy?