Family Law Case Review – Parental Alienation and Appeals

Letourneau v Letourneau, 2014 ABCA 156

SUMMARY OF THE FACTS

The parties had two daughters.   In March 2010, the parties consented to an order directing a Practice Note 7 intervention in order to implement family restructuring therapy. In September 2010 the intervention team reported that the mother had alienated the daughters from the father to such a degree that family restructuring therapy was futile, and that the matter required Court intervention The intervention was suspended, but then reinstated in August 2011 and remained in place until the intervention team reported to the case management Justice in May 2012, although members of the team continued to attend case management meetings. In December 2012, the case management Justice ordered that the father would have daytime access every Sunday and evening access every Thursday, which prompted the mother to suggest that the parties resolve their differences through mediation. Access remained a source of conflict, however, and on November 27, 2013 the case management Justice heard viva voce evidence on the father’s application for increased access.

The case management Justice found that the mother alienated the children from the father and thwarted all efforts to rebuild those relationship.   The Court found that the father was a good person who loves his daughters but that the daughters show no affection towards him, have no communication with him and exhibit fear in his presence.

At the Alberta Court of Appeal the mother appealed a Court of Queen’s Bench Order granted by Justice S.M. Sanderman which increased access for the father of a 14 year old child with overnight access and summer access.   The Order also stipulated that the child would have no contact with the mother during her time with the father.   The mother’s appeal was based on the following two grounds:

  1. The Justice erred by failing to consider the best interest of the chid, and
  2. The Justice erred by relying on the intervention team’s 2010 report to the exclusion of other evidence.

DECISION

The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed the Appeal.  The Justice found clear evidence of parental alienation and relied on both expert evidence and viva voce (oral) evidence where the father’s counsel cross-examined the mother.   There was ample evidence that the mother continued to frustrate the father’s efforts to build a positive relationship with his daughter.   The Court of Appeal did not intervene with the Case Management Justice’s decision.

COMMENT

Custody, Access and Parenting Court Orders are highly fact-specific and discretionary, and considerable deference is owed by an Appeal Court, particularly when reviewing an order made by a case management Justice who, in this case, had been hearing evidence about this family’s dynamics for over three years. The standard of review of a parenting order allows for appellate intervention only where the judge below erred in law or made a material error in his or her appreciation of the facts.