We’re Told That This New Study Shows Moms Are More Likely to Be Parental Alienators but…

…I’m not sure if the data actually supports this. In the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Gender bias evident in parental alienation cases (3/28/09), we’re told:

A study of alienated children has found that mothers were significantly more likely to be the parent who emotionally poisoned their children than were fathers.

Toronto family lawyer Gene Colman told a Toronto symposium yesterday that of 74 court rulings that found parental alienation since 1987, the mother was the alienator in 50 cases. The father was the alienating parent in 24.

Given that the overwhelming majority of custodial parents are mothers, and thus mothers have far more opportunity to alienate children from their exes than fathers do, I don’t think the 2 to 1 ratio that Colman found is actually evidence that “mothers were significantly more likely to be the parent who emotionally poisoned their children than were fathers.” To me, the data instead suggests that, considering opportunity, mothers and fathers alienate equally.

The argument against this could be that the study understates anti-father PA because courts are more likely to act upon women’s victimization—including being the target parent of Parental Alienation—than on men’s. That is very likely, and the mere 2 to 1 ratio here could well be the result of that gender bias. Some of Colman’s other findings below do suggest anti-father gender bias. But while personally I do believe that, given equal opportunity, mothers are still more likely to alienate children than fathers are, I don’t see this study as being convincing evidence of it.

The Toronto Globe and Mail goes on to say:

Mr. Colman said that alienating fathers were twice as likely to be ordered to undergo counselling as were mothers in alienation cases – a finding that raises serious questions about whether judges are exhibiting gender biases.

Twelve of the 50 alienating mothers in his study were ordered into counselling, as compared with 13 of 24 fathers. “As social scientists will tell you, that is a high level of statistical significance in terms of differential treatment by gender,” Mr. Colman said.

“As lawyers and judges, we have to be vigilant to make sure that we … are not influenced by whether the mom is the alienator or the dad is the alienator. There should be no differential in how either gender is dealt with.”

The other findings in Mr. Colman’s study included:

The number of parental alienation cases has shot up from 21 between 1987 and 2000 to 53 between 2000 and 2008.

Fathers who had their alienated children switched from their homes were granted some form of access by the courts in a “much lower” percentage of cases than were mothers.

Fathers who alienate their children are somewhat more likely to have their children removed from their residence and relocated with the mother.

Mr. Colman said that of cases where the father was the alienator, children were ordered to switch to the mother’s residence in 78 per cent of cases. In contrast, 62 per cent of the mothers who alienated their children had them switched to the father’s home.

“It would seem that if you are the dad, you have a greater probability of having the residence changed on you,” said Mr. Colman, founding editor of the Canadian Journal of Family Law and founding member of the Canadian Equal Parenting Council.

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