The United Nations have commented that the extent and intensity of violence exerted on children is alarming. Children have been exposed to violence by abusers in the privacy of their homes, and churches. They have also been exposed to violence by the state; in care homes, police custody, schools, and justice institutions. Distorted beliefs and values and self-entitlement, confidence and charm have empowered, enabled, and protected coercively controlling perpetrators for years. Dominance over children in the family courts globally has resulted in significant harm, torture and death.
Children, historically, were seen and not heard. Governments now recognise that children have the basic human right to dignity. They have the right to a voice and the right to protection from mental and physical violence.
Professionals and state actors in the family courts have used parental alienation theory to exert power and control over children for the last three decades. A lack of understanding of coercive control combined with professional misconduct by social workers, lawyers, parenting coordinators, court reporters and judges has allowed the theory to advance to its powerful position in the family courts today. Parental alienation was a theory created in the family court system, by the family court system and for the family court system with the sole purpose of punishing and silencing the vulnerable and concealing the sexual abuse of children.
Worryingly, after true experts exposed Gardner’s theory for what it was, the family courts did not end the practice – they fully adopted the practice and used it to their benefit. It offered an opportunity to unscrupulous professionals and state actors, and the parental alienation industry emerged and rolled out globally, through the family courts networking association. The deception veiled, they caused catastrophic harm.
Proponents still attempt, in desperation, to get the disturbing theory into legislation. Today, they distance themselves from Gardner and attempt to reframe parental alienation as a relational phenomenon and a specific form of Coercive Control or Family Violence. They might have repackaged it, but they fail to tell policymakers that they continue to use the same unethical interventions and treatments that Gardner did. Only a credible expert can determine if a pattern of behaviour amounts to coercive control and is a risk of harm to children. Only a parental alienation expert considers an abused mother’s nurturing or protective behaviour more harmful and abusive than a violent father’s behaviour and labels it coercive control.
Perpetrators of horrific abuse continue to use the family courts to wield power and control and exert violence on children, with the court’s help. The parents and children are viewed as commodities. The family courts have become the laundromat; perpetrators enter the family courts posing a risk to their children, parental alienation theory gets applied to wash away allegations and evidence of criminal activity, and the perpetrator exits the court system clean. Contact or custody can then get awarded to the often wealthier client who is willing to pay whatever it takes to win the child to harm their victim. Most perpetrators awarded custody go on to harm the child.
The professionals and state actors in the family courts who continue to expose children to violence using parental alienation are relentless in their ambitions to maintain the status quo. They lobby governments alongside those they have found common ground with – fundamentalists, members of the religious right and those who seek to defend patriarchy. Many parental alienation ‘experts’ and lawyers have become very wealthy; is it a wonder the family courts are bursting at their seams?
The extent of the exposure of children to violence in homes, churches and state institutions has horrified many and has recently fallen under the spotlight. The family court system cannot escape scrutiny and continue to adopt a bogus theory that demands evidence of abuse gets concealed. They cannot continue to deny and ignore the peer-reviewed research on the theory’s effect in domestic abuse cases.
As the world awakens to state institutions’ methods of concealing violence to children, they must also see through narcissistic charm and deception and any adaptation to the presentation of parental alienation. Those who abuse their power and breach their code of conduct will not voluntarily cease and desist. The disturbing family court culture is deeply entrenched. Some working in the family courts have misunderstood coercive control and are willing to hold a mirror up and self-reflect, but many are stubborn, set in their ways and will not.
When considering family court reform, governments must give a voice to child and adult survivors of coercive control and their advocates, along with credible experts in domestic violence and child abuse. They should take caution when giving a voice to the proponents of a biased theory, which continues to be applied in forensic practice with the consequence that children are not heard or believed, and the victim and the real abuser are confused. To give any weight to the concept of parental alienation in legislation would defeat the purpose of well-intentioned Domestic Abuse legislation and would breach Governments’ United Nations obligations to protect children from all forms of violence.