Why Governments Are Rejecting The Label ‘Parental Alienation’

Post-separation, a coercively controlling abuser will do all they can to maintain power and control over the domestic abuse victim. They will conduct judicial terrorism and use the family courts to continue to cause pain. The abuser sees the court as a means to hurt their victim in several ways – through the contact arrangements and financially. If the abuser is successful in gaining custody, they take great pleasure in leaving their victim destitute, childless and with their reputation in tatters. It is the ultimate victory for the cruel parent who lacks empathy.

During contact or custody, the coercively controlling perpetrator will try to sabotage the relationship between the safe parent and the child. They will;

  • Monitor & record their phone/skype calls
  • Not give the child emotional permission to feel comfortable in the care of their ex
  • Prevent the child from talking to the safe parent during their parenting time, and withhold contact (isolate them)
  • Badmouth the safe parent
  • Manipulate and bribe the child to keep them ‘on side’
  • Encourage the child not to open up to people they trust such as grandparents or medical professionals
  • Coach the child to get them to align with their way of thinking
  • Abduct the child

The child is rendered into a state of confusion and fear by a coercively controlling parent and becomes anxious; a controlling parent doesn’t accept their child’s feelings or prioritise their needs. Only a credible expert in behaviour, particularly coercive control, can analyse the situation and determine if the behavioural patterns of a parent are having a negative mental impact on the child and can be defined as emotional and psychological abuse.

Many of you know and recognise the behaviour I have described above as ‘parental alienation’. I forgive you for being confused when I then say,

“Parental alienation is junk science!”

Richard Gardner, a disreputable court reporter, created the theory of parental alienation syndrome. His theory is junk science. Alienation is not a syndrome, it’s an effect of coercively controlling behaviour, and as such, it was removed by the World Health Organisation from their classification index.

The Scottish Government recognised that coercive control is a form of domestic abuse, and it is a crime under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act. They also recognise that behaviour to alienate a child from a safe, healthy parent is one of the many behaviours of a coercively controlling perpetrator. Therefore, parents whose controlling ex is engaging in behaviour that causes a child to reject them, now have a remedy in law.

There are currently several Domestic Abuse Bills going through parliaments globally, and many campaign and lobby to have parental alienation made a separate form of abuse. Creating a separate form of domestic abuse, one based on Gardner’s misogynistic parental alienation theory, would be regressive. Gardner was a very sick man; a huge red flag, and why his theory is still entertained in the family courts today is perplexing. It would be nothing short of legal victim-blaming.

When the cross-claim of parental alienation is entertained in a domestic abuse (coercive control) case, it diminishes the situation in court from one of domestic abuse to one of mutual conflict. Many parental alienation ‘experts’ hold the outdated views that domestic abuse does not harm children – that an abuser is not at fault for their behaviour; it gets induced by stress or alcohol, for example. An abundance of research tells us that this is not the case; abusers choose to abuse, and coercive control harms children. The expertise of these ‘experts’ has been called into serious question , particularly when it comes to proceedings involving allegations of coercive control.

The Scottish Government’s new coercive control laws are proving to be a success, although the education on coercive control still needs to make its way into the family courts. The Northern Ireland Committee for Justice recently decided to follow Scotland’s lead and not make parental alienation a specific form of domestic abuse. It also understands that alienation stems from coercively controlling behaviour. Their views can be read here.

A parent who’s ex partner’s behaviour causes their child to reject them, male or female, is suffering; it is one of the most insidious and unimaginably cruel things a controlling parent does to both their ex and their child. Parents can seek support from credible experts; domestic abuse charities, lawyers and mental health professionals (ones who understand coercive control and the need for a trauma-informed approach.)

The label ‘parental alienation’ is one that causes division. The Scottish Government realises that removing labels and focussing on behaviour is the solution to many problems.

Published by Rachel Watson

Rachel Watson is an author and an activist who strives to help victims of domestic abuse navigate the treacherous waters of the family justice system. The family courts can be shocking and harsh, particularly for those dealing with post-separation abuse. The problems victims and their children face in the family courts are clear and there are solutions available. Rachel runs The Court Said campaign (Scotland). If you would like to support Rachels efforts to bring about progressive reform to legislation in Scotland, to help protect victims of domestic abuse and children, then please follow, share and shout here! Twitter @thecourtsaidSCO Facebook @TheCourtSaidScotland #thecourtsaidScotland (You can also find Rachel's advice on narcissistic abuse and family court on twitter @RWatson_insight and Facebook @Rachel.Watson.Insight)

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