‘Family Court retraumatises domestic abuse victims’

This is the conclusion of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales who has published a report about family courts. This conclusion will not be a surprising one for many women who have gone through the family courts and experienced utter anxiety, intimidation and feeling overwhelmed by the whole system that underpins continued abuse of women who are trying to protect themselves and their children.

Mums on the Run a powerful BBC documentary by Ed Thomas highlights the length women will go to to protect their children from the family courts 

A growing number of women who say their children were handed to abusive partners by England and Wales’ family courts have abducted them and fled to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. The BBC spoke to six of them to investigate some of their stories.

You can listen to the women’s stories on the iplayer link


Women do not chose to go to a place where they are isolated from everything they have known, and where they are looked upon as criminals for the abduction of their children. The cases are rising and the family courts need to have a good look in the mirror and ask the question why. Essentially, I believe the family courts have become a primary tool and mechanism for perpetrators of abuse to abuse.

A recent study found that dozens of children have been forced into contact with fathers accused of abuse.

All the fathers in the England-wide study, carried out by the University of Manchester and reported by the BBC, had responded in court to abuse allegations with the parental alienation concept – in which they claimed the mothers had turned the child against them without good reason. In all cases, fathers had used a disputed concept in court known as “parental alienation”.

So here we have that old chestnut again – accusations by the abusive father that the mother is turning the child or children against them – and off course we can never trust a child’s voice or listen to them closely enough to work out they are speaking in their own words and within the context of their lives!

Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno, who led the research, says the concept is a “handy tool for abusers” and its acceptance by courts is a “national scandal”.

Family law barrister, Lucy Reed KC, says the term is deployed “increasingly frequently” – but doesn’t always mean the same thing. “It’s quite often used by fathers to mean pretty much anything that is in opposition to their demand for a certain amount of contact.”

The 45 mothers of the children in the University of Manchester study all reported serious health problems which they believed were linked to the stress of family court proceedings – including miscarriages, heart attacks and suicidal thoughts.

For months, the BBC has also been examining stories of traumatised women as part of a wider investigation into the way the family courts handle domestic violence claims in disputes between parents.

Domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs says the “harrowing” cases uncovered by the BBC show there is a need for “urgent and wide-reaching reform” of family courts.

If you have been affected by allegations of parental alienation and would like support with your family court case, please get in touch with us. We are a trauma informed McKenzie Friend Services that covers the courts in Wiltshire including Swindon Family Court and those in West Surry covering Guildford family court and everything in between. Our McKenzie Friends are knowledgeable and experienced in supporting women and their children who have been subject to domestic abuse including coercive and controlling behaviour. We can offer reassurance, empathy, non-judgemental guidance and a woman only space. Here is a recent testimonial that highlights our support of women.

“Her in-depth knowledge of domestic abuse has been a breath of fresh air.”

“Mary has been my Rock though a very difficult time. The family court is a complicated and daunting process as a Litigant in Person. Mary has given me the emotional support that I needed. I am not on my own! Mary is a voice of reason and her in-depth knowledge of Domestic Abuse has been a breath of fresh air. I wish I had come across Mary at the beginning of proceedings but am very grateful to have her support and guidance now.” CV – Reading

Mary Cosker – Women’s McKenzie Friend.

“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”   Henry David Thoreau