The Misuse of Alienation in Domestic Violence Cases in Family Court: Helping Court-Related Professionals to Sort Through Conflicting Allegations

Presenters: Loretta Frederick, Peter Jaffe, Joan Meier, Simon Lapierre, and Linda Neilson.
This Webinar was presented and recorded on March 23, 2021.

Alienation is found in the dictionary as a noun that means withdrawing or separation of a person or a person's affections from an object or position of former attachment. It is also found in family courts every day as an allegation against survivors of domestic violence who may be trying to protect themselves and their children. While there is no doubt that separating parents need to support their children’s relationships with the other parent, this outcome may not be possible in cases in which there are serious concerns about child abuse and/or domestic violence. Judges, lawyers and court-related professionals are faced with the challenge of properly assessing these allegations and their implications for future parenting plans.

This Webinar presented the current evolution of alienation to refuse-resist or gatekeeping dynamics and how these terms are used in the social science literature and the court through custody assessments and expert testimony. The webinar outlined this problem in Canadian and US Courts as well as practical guides to support family court practitioners in addressing abuse in a custody case, including its full nature and context, in order to ensure that the practitioner’s actions in the case are directly responsive to the actual implications of the abuse for the task at hand for this particular family.  

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loretta_resized_2.jpgLoretta Frederick is the Senior Legal and Policy Advisor for the Battered Women’s Justice Project, a national resource center on the legal system’s response to domestic violence. She is co-developer of the SAFeR approach to child custody cases involving abuse. For the 17 years before she joined BWJP in 1995, her family law practice focused on domestic violence cases and she was involved in founding several advocacy organizations. She has served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association as well as its Domestic Abuse Committee, has done training and consulting on the legal system’s response to domestic violence in the US and internationally for decades and serves on the faculty for the National Judicial Institutes on Domestic Violence. She can be reached at


Peter Jaffe is a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the Western University and the Academic Director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children. He is also the Director Emeritus of the London Family Court Clinic, which is a children's mental health centre specializing in issues which bring children and families into the justice system in London, Ontario. In that centre, he has been involved in over 2,000 custody assessments either directly or in a supervisory capacity over the past 40 years. He has co-authored eleven books, 40 chapters and over 90 articles related to violence and abuse involving children, adults, families and the justice system.  Since 1999, he has been on faculty for the US National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges for judicial education programs entitled “Enhancing Judicial Skills in Domestic Violence Cases." He was a founding member of Ontario's Chief Coroner’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee and has published extensively on risk assessment and domestic and child homicide prevention.    

Joan Portrait

Joan Meier is a Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the National Family Violence Law Center at the George Washington University Law School. Professor Meier has been a clinical law professor for 29 years at GW Law, where she founded three pioneering and nationally recognized interdisciplinary domestic violence clinical programs. She has published widely on domestic violence, custody, clinical teaching, criminal procedure, and various Supreme Court decisions. Her major study, “Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Parental Alienation and Abuse Allegations,” funded by the National Institute of Justice, was completed in 2019. Its findings have been written about in scholarship and multiple media outlets including  The Washington Post and  The New Yorker.  

simon_resized.jpg Simon Lapierre is a Full Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Ottawa, and a founding member of the Feminist Anti-Violence (FemAnVi) Research Collective. His work has focused on women’s and children’s experiences in the context of domestic violence, and on practices in domestic violence shelters, child protection services, family courts and the criminal justice system. He is currently conducting two SSHRC-funded research projects on domestic violence and parental alienation. He is also providing domestic violence training to child protection workers in the Province of Quebec. 


Linda Neilson Portrait Dr. Linda Neilson is a Professor Emerita at the University of New Brunswick.  Linda is a recognized academic authority on legal systems and domestic violence, as well as the impact of exposure to family violence on children. She serves regularly as academic advisor on domestic violence and court-related, cross-sector government committees. She is the author of the e-book, Responding to Domestic Violence in Family Law, Civil Protection and Child Protection Cases, published by the Canadian Legal Information Institute. Linda is also the co-author of Interpreting the New Divorce Act: Rules of Statutory Interpretation and Senate Observations.