Children’s voices, their experiences and their realities should never be ignored. The issue of perpetrators of abuse using the concept of Parental Alienation is one of the most toxic developments in family law and a significant barrier to children’s real experiences and voices being acknowledge.
The concept stems from the theory of “parental alienation syndrome” coined in the 1980s by US child psychiatrist Richard Gardner. The “syndrome” went on to be largely rejected. But the idea of parental alienation as a pattern of behaviour gained traction and has become complex legal territory in English and Welsh family courts. The argument of parental alienation has created muddy waters, confusion and a space in which perpetrators of domestic abuse can continue to create distress for women and children and use the court as a vehicle of post separation coercive control.
The barrister, Charlotte Proudman has stated that parental alienation has become a “go-to tactic” used by alleged or found perpetrators of domestic abuse.
I have supported a number of women whose ex husbands and partners have applied to the court claiming parental alienation of the mother as the reason to children not wishing to have contact with the father or the right kind of contact. It infiltrates a system that is used as a vehicle to punish a non-abusive parent further, and to inhibit a parent from applying for child arrangements due to the fear of these allegations being raised.
It is interesting to note that when a finding of alienation is made, a PA expert can recommend all contact is cut with the “alienating” parent while therapy is undertaken. A parent can be prevented from seeing or speaking to their children for several months.
In particular, there has been growing anxiety about the potential conflict of interest presented where an expert could be financially incentivised to make a finding of PA in a system that allows them to recommend their own therapy or that of colleagues. The Family Justice Council has just published a document about expert witnesses in cases where there are allegations of alienating behaviour and conflicts of interest. It points out that the court should be alert to “when a psychologist expert recommends an intervention or therapy that they or an associate would benefit financially from delivering”
In some recent published judgments, names of experts have been redacted, prompting concerns about transparency. More recently, the president of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, issued a document on court-appointed experts stating that “pseudo-science” would be “inadmissible” in court. In a speech the same month, McFarlane said: “Where the issue of parental alienation is raised and it is suggested to the court that an expert should be instructed, the court must be careful only to authorise such instruction where the individual expert has relevant expertise.”
Women’s McKenzie Friend has understanding and knowledge of the family courts and allegations of Parental Alienation. We understand how it can create anxiety and trigger trauma. Please get in touch with us if you need support and assistance in the family courts. We attend the courts of Swindon, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Salisbury, Guildford and Basingstoke. We provide online assistance throughout England.