Written Submission to the Scottish Parliament: Parental Alienation in the Context of Domestic Abuse and the Regulation of Child Advocates

Public Petitions Committee

The Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh

EH99 1SP

15th February 2021

The Court Said Submission: Petition PE01838 (Regulation of non-statutory child advocacy services)

The submission we give does not relate to petitioners particular court case but addresses their petition. Family court involvement can be extremely distressing for parents, children and grandparents. We agree generally speaking that there must be more regulation and accountability in the system. However, it is crucial that the parties who, in line with academic research, have abused their power and acted outwith the remit of their appointment get regulated, not the parties who work tirelessly to protect the vulnerable from harm.

We base our submission on the lived experience of survivors of domestic violence in Scotland whose children are experiencing unsafe family court contact arrangements. We support the Government’s progressive legislation which will help give children a voice in family court proceedings and advance their human rights. Victims of egregious domestic violence have consistently reported that when raising allegations of harmful and abusive behaviour in the family courts, they face counter-allegations of parental alienation. This non-scientific theory has the power to confuse matters, and it has the power to silence the vulnerable when applied in child contact and custody disputes that involve domestic abuse.

Research published in Scotland in 2020 by the University of Edinburgh details how children’s participation rights are adversely affected when domestic abuse victims face accusations of ‘manipulation’. (Dr Fiona Morrison, Professor Kay Tisdall, Professor Jane Callaghan). While no one can doubt that false allegations occur in harrowing circumstances, academic research shows that false allegations of domestic abuse are rare. (Ministry of Justice Harm Report 2020, Literature Review).

An abundance of recent academic research shows that allegations of parental alienation in domestic abuse cases are incredibly harmful. (Professor Joan Meier, Dr Adrienne Barnett, Dr Julie Doughty, Dr Joyanna Silberg, Professor Simon Lapierre, Zoe Rathus AM, Gloria Casas Villa). The majority of cases in the family courts are domestic abuse cases. The application of the theory by family courts obscures the elements of risk thus paving the way for contact to take place. When children are silenced and forced into unsafe contact against their will, it further traumatises vulnerable children.

Therefore, the concept of parental alienation is dangerous when considering any legislation intent on protecting the vulnerable from harm, such as the Children Scotland Act 2020. Proponents of the theory now claim it to be coercive control and a specific form of domestic abuse; this should raise a red flag when considering legislation to advance children’s rights. A good understanding of perpetrators’ tactics is vital when considering legislation for this Act. Consultation with domestic abuse experts such as Women’s Aid is essential on anything purported to be coercive control and a form of domestic abuse.

We must commend non-statutory child advocates for the important work they do in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. We support the Child Advocacy Services provision in the Children Scotland Act 2020, which will help give children a voice in family court proceedings. It is imperative that Child Advocates from the legal profession, like Child Welfare Reporters (CWR’s), must be regulated and held accountable. Victims of court reporter’s misconduct have told us they currently face difficulties when making a complaint. Legal professionals who offer services of CWR also offer Child Advocacy Services.

When acting in a family court role, the route to complain about a legal professional’s conduct is through the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). (Guide to Child Welfare Reports, 2016). When victims of misconduct raise a complaint with the SLCC, obstacles arise due to the report’s status – the report is considered evidence to the court and therefore privileged. The role of CWR can result in the SLCC applying the rules differently when deciding if a complaint is eligible. This can lead to an expensive appeal in the Court of Session, which can lengthen the complaints process for already vulnerable users and result in a barrier to justice for those harmed, thus harming them further. The Government must note this when considering regulation of Child Advocates.

Any regulation should provide a simple, and cost-effective path to justice for users of the family courts who experience misconduct. Transparency and accountability are necessary and will help restore the user’s confidence in the family justice system; however, the Government must target the regulation towards the professionals in the system who have, in academic research, shown to harm the users of the system. Targeting the regulation will help uphold parents’ human rights to a fair trial, children’s human rights to a voice, and their rights to be protected from mental and physical violence. Transparency and accountability will help make the process fairer and keep children safe from harm.  

The Court Said (Scotland)

The Campaign for Survivor Family Justice

Manipulation and Domestic Abuse in Contested Contact – Threats to Children’s Participation Rights

Ministry of Justice Harm Report

U.S. child custody outcomes in cases involving parental alienation and abuse allegations: what do the data show?

A genealogy of hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales

Abusers gaining custody in family courts: A case series of overturned decisions

Professional responses to ‘parental alienation’: research-informed practice

A history of the use of the concept of parental alienation in the Australian family law system: contradictions, collisions and their consequences

The legitimization and institutionalization of ‘parental alienation’ in the Province of Quebec

Parental Alienation Syndrome in Spain: opposed by the Government but accepted in the Courts

Professor Joan Meier Rebuts Unprofessional Attacks on her Groundbreaking Research

Professor Joan Meier’s groundbreaking study was published in 2020, showing the outcomes of family court cases involving parental alienation and how it affects custody. Her study firmly shone the spotlight on the catastrophic gender-specific harm the theory of parental alienation does and, in particular, the harm it does to child victims of physical and sexual abuse.

Her study became influential in the UK and kickstarted a wave of global research on parental alienation in the context of domestic abuse. Dr Adrienne Barnett who published further research and a literature review on the harm report for the Ministry of Justice in the UK also became a target, and a vicious backlash unleashed on those who have worked their entire professional lives advocating for the vulnerable.

As the research of Professor Meier and Dr Barnett hit the headlines, and governments and judges started to take notice, the parental alienation lobby continued to launch missiles, generally in the direction of domestic abuse victims, charities, services, and academics. The façade started to crumble.

Harman & Lorandos released a spurious study to challenge and ‘replicate’ Professor Meier’s study, which many parental alienation proponents unprofessionally critiqued. In Karen Woodall’s blog Professor Meier’s study was labelled misleading, confusing, unsupported, untrustworthy, unreliable, a woozle, intent on manipulating readers and attempting to shift the narrative away from the alienated child. Others labelled Professor Meiers study badly done, shoddy, low-rent, proceedurally flawed and full of false assumptions. The behaviour and tactics of the parental alienation ‘experts’ and proponents did not fall far from that of the domestic violence perpetrator who cross-claims parental alienation in the courtroom.

Professor Meier has issued a rebuttal to the Harman & Lorandos challenge which can be read below. Those who benefit ideologically and financially from the status quo in the family courts were never going to self-reflect on, accept, or apologise for, the catastrophic harm they have done to women and children globally. The backlash is intense and it is vicious, but the will to end the harm to women and children in the family courts, globally, is steadfast.


MEIER ET AL. BRIEF REBUTTAL OF HARMAN/LORANDOS PAPER

Joan Meier, Sean Dickson, Chris O’Sullivan & Leora Rosen

Jan. 21, 2021

  • MEIER ET AL FCO STUDY METHODOLOGY WAS THOROUGH AND CONSCIENTIOUS.

The Family Court Outcomes Study was subjected to peer review before federal funding was approved.  Our methods are thoroughly documented in the DOJ’s Archives and in regularly required reports to DOJ.  In contrast, H/L’s study had no pre-review.  Posting on an Open Science website is frankly irrelevant to quality, and failed to identify a multitude of serious flaws in their dataset, coding and analyses. 

a.    H/L appear ignorant of federally funded research procedures and treated our final study report as though it was a scholarly paper; in fact it met particular federal requirements. For no known reason they did not review the published article describing the FCO study. 

  • FCO’s dataset and codings are both transparent and meticulously objective. Contrary to H/L’s assertion, rather than “cherry-picking” our comprehensive 11-line search string ensured we identified all relevant cases within the most recent ten-year period. Our search produced 15,000 cases, which were triaged down to 4388 cases that met our criteria (parental alienation and/or abuse allegations between private custody litigants).  Coding was thorough, careful, objective, and repeatedly double-checked, and intelligent explanations for our codes, dataset, and categories are detailed in the Study documentation.  In contrast, H/L offer no explanations for their frankly bizarre choices of codings and analyses (see below).
  • H/L declined to use our comprehensive search string (stating it was too big) and just collected cases (appellate only) involving parental alienation, using only simple search terms. H/L’s search went back 34 years (while using a far narrower search string), meaning their data include changing practices in courts since 1984.  Rather than screening out cases that confound the core questions about impact of abuse or alienation claims, such as child welfare/state cases and neglect claims (neither reflective of private custody), they created a “fruit salad” dataset – containing such varying types of cases and issues that it is impossible to know whether their outcomes were driven by alienation, abuse or any number of other significant factors they mixed into their dataset.
  • H/L appear to have misunderstood that they did not and could not “test” our study by only collecting alienation cases.  The FCO Study has both alienation and non-alienation cases, which allowed us to analyze the impact of the alienation defense.  They may have mixed up our final study with our published pilot study (which only analyzed alienation cases). 
  • H/L’s own study conclusions are deeply flawed and likely wrong, for numerous reasons.  Here are a few:

a.    They use contradictory and gender-biased codings and analysesFor instance, they treat men’s losses of visitation as equivalent to women’s losses of custody.  A series of additional coding/analytic inconsistencies combine to create a gender-biased and incorrect analysis of “custody losses.”

b.    Their analyses of “founded alienation” actually prioritizes evaluators’ opinions over judges’ opinions about whether alienation is true; it treats even those cases where judges disagreed with the evaluator as “founded” alienation.

c.    Their empirical analyses conflate appellate and trial court opinions, without accounting for the obvious differences in posture, determination, and meaning.

d.    Their conclusion that, contrary to the FCO Study’s finding, GALs and Evaluators do not tilt outcomes, is intrinsically defective. First, for no apparent reason they analyzed only cases where the neutral professional found alienation.  Second, without comparing these to cases without GALs/Evaluators, as the FCO Study does, they cannot draw this conclusion. 

e.    They misinterpret statistical significance from their own regressions, stating outcomes are significant when they are not.

  • Two of H/L’s findings actually converge with ours:  First, while their own anti-woman rhetoric may have confused them, their finding that mothers’ abuse allegations are considered false more often than fathers’ is consistent with ours (and with their own hypothesis, which they incorrectly state was not supported).  Second, their finding that credited alienation trumps credited abuse for both genders was an explicit finding in the FCO Study.  They falsely state that it contradicts the latter.  These findings also support the abuse field’s critiques of family courts, regarding giving known abusers unfettered access to children and of PA claims being an effective strategy for abusive fathers.  H/L refused to acknowledge these convergences, even when one was pointed out.
  • Whose study is infected by confirmation bias? Meier is an academic and the rest of the team consists of established social scientists; we do not stretch or distort the evidence.  In fact, we coded and analyzed everything as conservatively as possible to ensure that no bias to support our hypotheses crept in.  Lorandos’s attack on Meier’s research “credibility” (in webinar) because she is a domestic violence lawyer or cites to those who report family court problems is, to put it kindly, laughable.  He himself is a notorious parental alienation lawyer who specializes in defending against “false claims” of sexual abuse.  He repeatedly sued a highly regarded child sexual abuse clinic.  He has been sanctioned for unethical conduct as a lawyer and psychologist and is known for leveling ad hominem attacks on female abuse scholars. For her part, Harman has acknowledged that her own interest in parental alienation stems from personal experience.  (Documentation of these statements is available.)

a.        The objectivity of the FCO Study is supported by the Study’s inclusion of two findings that support alienation proponents’ positions, stemming from recognition that alienation claims are brought by mothers against fathers in a significant minority of cases.  These are:

–  That when a court deems a parent an alienator mothers and fathers lose custody at comparable rates (71%) – as noted above; and

– That when alienation is alleged and abuse is not alleged, outcomes appear to be roughly gender-equal. 

In contrast to the FCO Study’s even-handed presentation of findings, H/L decline to recognize that any of their findings are similar to the FCO Study or consistent with the abuse field’s concerns.  In this, as in many other things, they are a “pot calling the kettle black.”

Briefing Statement on the House of Lords Committee

  1. At the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill held on 5th January 2021, the issue of Parental Alienation was raised by a handful of peers.
  2. It has been tabled as an amendment that parental alienation should be formally included in the Bill, defined as a form of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse survivors with children (referred to within this briefing statement as ‘survivor families’) have grave concerns about the consequences of the inclusion of parental alienation within the definition of domestic abuse.
  3. To understand the dangers of including parental alienation as defined domestic abuse it is important to understand how this allegation is used, how frequently it is levelled at survivor families and the apparent purpose of these allegations in the context of family court. Just over 95%[1] of survivor families reporting domestic abuse, have a counter allegation of parental alienation levelled at them in court. It appears the purpose of many of these allegations of parental alienation in response to domestic abuse allegations, is that it is used as a deflection or a defence by perpetrators with alarming frequency.
  4. Dr Adrienne Barnett’s findings in Barnett, A. (2020) ‘A genealogy of hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales showed “A clear pattern emerged of, initially, parental alienation syndrome and subsequently PA being raised in family proceedings and in political and popular arenas in response to concerns about and measures to address domestic abuse. The case law revealed a high incidence of domestic abuse perpetrated by parents (principally fathers) who were claiming that the resident parents (principally mothers) had alienated the children against them, which raises questions about the purpose of PA”[2].
  5. Survivor families experience of parental alienation allegations in the family court are that it is routinely used to successfully deflect from the conduct of the perpetrator. It’s most often an allegation levelled at those bringing evidence of domestic abuse into court. In fact, just over 95%[3] of those bringing domestic abuse allegations into court report parental alienation being counter alleged, apparently in a bid to minimise or completely obscure evidence or allegations of abuse.
  6. Safeguarding survivor families must be paramount. Allowing parental alienation to be classified as domestic abuse is likely to cause a ‘checkmate’ for parents seeking to limit contact with an abusive parent for safeguarding reasons. The risk to children could not be effectively managed if there is evidence of abuse, but a counter allegation of parental alienation. It is an unmanageable level of risk for survivor family to have their hands effectively tied in seeking to reduce or limit contact with a person who has harmed them. By including parental alienation in the Bill’s definition of domestic abuse, it could leave state agencies and actors powerless to implement protective measures for children at risk of domestic abuse, as the act of limiting the abusing parent could be viewed as alienating (and therefore abusive), as per the proposed amended definition.
  7. Implementing protective measures for a child in accordance with their United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989 rights, and in particular their Article 19 rights, may require the state to reduce contact with an abusing parent. The state and relevant agencies must have mechanisms to allow them to minimise risk for those children, without the risk of a parental rights stalemate occurring on the issue of parental alienation. For agencies seeking to keep children safe, including parental alienation in the definition of abuse could prevent them implementing protective measures. If the state is seeking to limit contact between a child and a parent who has harmed, with parental alienation defined as a form of abuse, it could be upheld that the state is also abusive.
  8. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989 enshrines the rights of children to have their perspectives included and taken into account in legal proceedings that affect them. Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 requires that the courts consider “the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)” in children cases[4]. By including parental alienation in the definition of abuse, children will not be safe to report negative feelings about a parent who has harmed, as it could be construed as abusive and ‘alienating’ to do so.
  9. Further, the Ministry of Justice Harm Report found that ‘The weight of evidence from both research and submissions suggests that too often the voices of children go unheard in the court process or are muted in various ways[5]. #thecourtsaid surveyed over 900 families in December 2020 and found that 81% of children in cases involving a parent who has harmed, were frightened of that parent. 71% of children made it known that they were frightened, and 91% report their negative feelings were ignored by the family court. Further, 85% said that they were then forced or coerced into risky contact with the parent who had harmed. Just over 95% of survivor families have had allegations of parental alienation made against them, for seeking to limit children’s contact with a parent who has harmed.[6]
  10. The consequences for children can be catastrophic and can include being separated from their safe parent. Survivor families report that an allegation of parental alienation in the context of abuse has the effect of entirely obscuring the child’s voice. For example, once parental alienation has been alleged, if the child reports fear of the parent who has harmed, their voices can be translated rather than transmitted. The result of the application of parental alienation theory is risky because anything the child says in this context, can be viewed as being from the resident parent rather than the child’s own wishes and feelings. Professionals subscribing to the theory view a child’s voice as polluted, if the child is seeking to limit contact with a parent who has harmed. This creates an atmosphere where children are in danger of having their concerns minimised or entirely ignored.
  11. Around the world, this issue has been addressed by CEDAW. The Platform members addressed this issue during the conference on “Women’s rights at the Crossroads: strengthening international cooperation to close the gap between legal frameworks and their implementation” hosted by the Council of Europe on May 24th 2019 in Strasbourg. They call upon States “to pay particular attention to these patterns and to take the necessary measures to ensure implementation of international standards that require that intimate partner violence against women is thoroughly weighed in the determination of child custody”
  12. CEDAW outlines that the Istanbul Convention is ‘the only legally binding instrument on violence against women that has an explicit provision on child custody in such situations’.[7] Its article 31[8] requires States to “take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that, in the determination of custody and visitation rights of children, incidents of violence covered by the scope of this Convention are taken into account” and that “the exercise of any visitation or custody rights does not jeopardize the rights and safety of the victim or children”. The expert body monitoring the implementation of the Convention’s standards (GREVIO), has found evidence of gender bias towards women in custody decisions and lack of attention paid by courts to patterns of abuse by fathers in all 10 States parties monitored so far”[9]
  13. “The experts further discouraged the abuse of the “Parental Alienation” and of similar concepts and terms invoked to deny child custody to the mother and grant it to a father accused of domestic violence in a manner that totally disregards the possible risks for the child. In this regard, the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belem do Para Convention (MESECVI), in the 2014 Declaration on Violence against Women, Girls and Adolescents and their Sexual and Reproductive Rights, recommends to explicitly prohibit, during the investigations to determine the existence of violence, “evidence based on the discrediting testimony on the basis of alleged Parental Alienation Syndrome”. The experts also expressed concern for the recent inclusion of “parental alienation” as an index term in the new WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a “Caregiver-child relationship problem” that could be misused if applied without taking into consideration above-mentioned international standards that require that incidents of violence against women are taken into account and that the exercise of any visitation or custody rights does not jeopardize the rights and safety of the victim or children. Accusations of parental alienation by abusive fathers against mothers must be considered as a continuation of power and control by state agencies and actors, including those deciding on child custody.”[10]
  14. In light of these significant concerns, survivor families urge the committee to reject the following amendment:

[1] #thecourtsaid poll Jan 2021

[2]Barnett, A. (2020) ‘A genealogy of hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales

[3] #thecourtsaid survey January 2021

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/895173/assessing-risk-harm-children-parents-pl-childrens-cases-report_.pdf

[5] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/895173/assessing-risk-harm-children-parents-pl-childrens-cases-report_.pdf

[6] #thecourtsaid survey ‘Children at Risk’ December 2020

[7] (https://rm.coe.int/final-statement-vaw-and-custody/168094d880)

[8] https://rm.coe.int/168046031c pg 16 (Article 31, Istanbul Convention)

[9] (https://rm.coe.int/final-statement-vaw-and-custody/168094d880)

[10] (https://rm.coe.int/final-statement-vaw-and-custody/168094d880)

Parental Alienation: The Theory that Exposes Children to Violence

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.

Elite Judges Under Attack for Abuse Scandal

ELITE JUDGES UNDER ATTACK FOR ENABLING CHILDREN’S ABUSE

Revealed: 91% kids disclosing abuse are ignored by professionals

The Ministry of Justice stands by judges in justice scandal that has caused child murders in the UK and worldwide.

The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill is to be debated today, in the House of Lords, but fails to include enough provisions for children in family court.

The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill is passing through the House of Lords and is on it’s way to becoming law. The Bill includes provisions for domestic abuse survivors and the appointment of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, yet fails to address the heart-breaking predicament that families end up in when a domestic abuse case enters the family court. The Bill will outlaw perpetrator cross examination of victims and will ensure protections in court for victims giving evidence. This does not go far enough, if judges and professionals are not acting upon that evidence.

Kids are ordered to visit parents they fear – for example two weekends in the month. If they don’t, the judge can give that parent full custody. This leads to the Dickensian horror of a protective parent losing their child to a violent one, whilst all along trying to safeguard their child from further harm. In one case, the judge said: “It doesn’t matter what he’s done – he’s getting contact. If the mother mentions the abuse again, we may as well take the child now.”

Dr Charlotte Proudman, who is bringing a landmark appeal said: “Whilst the Domestic Abuse Bill is a positive step in the right direction, it does not go far enough in transforming how family courts address domestic abuse leaving women and children at risk of harm. All too many parents and children whom disclose abuse are ignored by the courts. Abuse is seen as ‘not an important issue’ because contact should happen at all costs. We know that children’s lives have been taken by abusive fathers after court ordered contact. The perception that parents and children might lie about abuse needs to change, professionals must listen and conduct thorough risk assessments before courts even consider ordering contact.”

The #thecourtsaid campaign surveyed 900 abused families and report that 71% of abused children are making their negative feelings known to professionals in the family court, about a parent who has harmed, but 91% of them are ignored by the professionals, who are supposedly tasked with acting in their best interests. On top of being ignored – 85% were forced or coerced into risky contact that they had expressed concerns about.

89% of families surveyed who had been in court with a parent who had harmed said that catastrophically they were put at risk of further harm by the Family Court, which families say should come with a health warning. The knock-on effects of experiencing abuse are so severe, it is an unacceptable level of risk that can affect children for the rest of their lives.

Despite witnesses, evidence and even disclosures of abuse from children, the judges are unmoved by the horrors of abuse. One judge even went as far to shout at a woman trying to protect her child: “I give contact to paedophiles and murderers, so domestic abuse isn’t that bad”.

Safelives have previously reported that 62% of domestic abusers go on to harm their children directly, on top of the damage inflicted by witnessing the abuse of another.

Families in abuse cases report worrying patterns of behaviour and not always direct violence – abuse can take many forms and risk indicators are ignored. During COVID-19, with skyrocketing domestic abuse rates, this is a ticking time bomb for vulnerable children.

Campaigners urged the Under Secretary of State, Alex Chalk, to tell family court judges to stop this abuse and to reverse poor decisions leaving children at risk of harm, but to no avail. “It would be undemocratic to intervene with judges independent decisions. We appreciate it will be too late for some”.

Make no mistake, failing to act upon disclosures of abuse is a criminal level of complacency. The fact is that family is not always your safe place, particularly for children who have lived with domestic abuse. Domestic abuse doesn’t stop when a relationship ends between parents, it continues through the child arrangements. Like in Dickensian times, children are now seen, but not heard – and they are often abused. Children’s rights are human rights. Everyone deserves to feel safe at home and live free from abuse. Especially, when they should be under the Queen’s protection.

But over 130,000 children live in households where there is high-risk domestic abuse. Figures show that 62% of abusive parents harm their children directly [safelives 2019]. Tragically, a quarter (25%) of children in high-risk domestic abuse households are under 4 years old.

The fact that kids suffer abuse from their parents is tragic, but it rarely makes the news. Life is hard for these children, who live ignored and on the margins.

It is the fact that this happens with the active endorsement of Judges – and British law. That is the scandal.

And the solution is so simple:

The problem is that the Children’s Act 1989 says that the kids of a divorce must have contact with both parents, and that this is in their best interests.

This is viewed by judges as more important than the child’s right to be safe from abuse. The #thecourtsaid campaign is lobbying to change the Children’s Act to “make children safe” by inserting a right not to be abused within the best interest principle.

It’s a much-needed caveat. Domestic abuse is a huge risk factor for child abuse. It is vital children from homes where are parent has harmed, are fully protected by the law. This provision is already in place, comprised in Article 19 of the UN Convention which the UK has signed and adopted along with every other country in the world. The campaign is lobbying for article 19, a child’s right not to be abused, to be included in the best interest principles in England and Wales, but elsewhere, too.

Narcissistic Ex means Hellish Holidays

I was married to a narcissist .… now it’s the holidays .… so here we go again ….

As children, we watched Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch or Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker. As we matured, those family-themed holly jolly films transitioned to Hallmark Christmas movies and classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas. For a few hours we escaped our dysfunctional childhoods, marked by chaos and conflict, and enjoyed unforgettable parties, mesmerizing fireworks, felt included in the unified family cohesion and feasted (in our minds) on traditional delights like we were kings and queens.

In marriage, however, reality set in. There was no sipping hot chocolate by a roasting fireplace, no sitting around a kitchen table constructing gingerbread homes and snacking on candy canes, no perfectly wrapped presents under a lavishly adorned Douglas Fir, no smells of homemade sugar cookies wafting in the air while listening to Christmas favourites playing on the radio. 

So how did things go from planning for a Mickey and Minnie magical Christmas to putting on a brave face and hiding the parts of ourselves we don’t want our children to see? Why is it that every year around this time we are triggered by our past trauma that somehow unpacks itself at the most inopportune time? We grew up hoping that nothing “bad” ever happens during the holiday season, in spite of the research studies highlighting how deadly a time of year this can be. https://www.cnn.com/2013/12/23/health/christmas-death-rate/index.html And yet, here we are, trying to carve out holiday traditions for ourselves and our children after having been married to someone who violently assaulted, dominated, verbally demeaned/ denigrated, financially-controlled and psychologically scarred us and our children. 

Co-parenting with a domestic violator can be difficult at the best of times. The holidays, however, often amplify those struggles. And now, in the midst of a pandemic, the volatility is at an all-time high. https://www.dw.com/en/lockdowns-christmas-holidays-and-domestic-violence-a-dangerous-mix/a-55762710  

As we navigate through the Court system post-separation we find that certain terms often get watered down due to overuse. At the core of our ex-partners’ existence is their lack of sensitivity for others (putting it politely!). Narcissism is a clinical term for a personality disorder that refers to “people [who] have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662#:~:text=Narcissistic%20personality%20disorder%20%E2%80%94%20one%20of,lack%20of%20empathy%20for%20others

Care and concern are virtues we seek to instill and our children.  When we read through the comments at The Court Said Canada, written by women who were in intimate partner relationships with narcissists, we quickly realize how many people walking amongst us face similar challenges over the holidays; women sharing joint custody and equal parenting time with a narcissist. 

How does co-parenting with a narcissist play itself out? 

Every situation is different. Some narcissists manipulate the residential rotation to suit their own needs without a fleeting concern for how their actions will impact the “other parent’s” celebrations. Some exert their control by returning the children late on transition days or failing to abide by communication protocols with their overt refusal to facilitate Facetime or phone calls. Others default in their child or spousal support or withhold reimbursing the protective parent for S7 expenses, thus adding insult to injury to the already-present financial abuse. While others may bombard the healthy parent with an onslaught of emails or OFW notifications as a means of distracting them from being “fully present” with their children. Sound like an everyday occurrence? Sure. But during the holidays when money is tight and emotions are running on overdrive, a narcissist’s intent to psychologically pulverize the loving parent can feel, well, overwhelming. 

Why does this keep happening? 

Narcissists are nothing more than empty vessels. Cowards. Bullies who inflict grave emotional harm to others to make themselves feel important and more empowered. They are psychological tormentors who thrive on seeing others suffer; their attachments can best be described as disorganized or insecure. Psychologists understand that attachment theory examines the early emotional connection between infants and carers, and how the quality of attachment affects our later development. It is generally proposed that parents and carers who offer a “secure base” (a style of caring that is responsive and in tune with the child’s state of mind) tend to become psychologically healthy children, who as adults can form good relationships, empathize with others and can modulate their own extreme emotions without losing control.

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Forty-four-juvenile-thieves%3A-their-characters-and-Bowlby/ecc5eeaef75614e4129f0088bb472c5de2a7800c

Conversely, a recent study that examined the inter-connectedness between attachment theory and offenders concluded that “attachment theory elaborates on the cognitive behavioural framework; it helps us speculate about what experiences might have led to such deficits, to appreciate them as deeply rooted rather than mere gaps in learning …. to have some understanding how empathy and self-regulation grows out of early attachment experiences gives us the “back-story” to the cognitive deficits that are recited in the cognitive behavioural literature.  We can understand that, whilst early experiences in no way excuses later offending, a tendency towards impulsivity and an inability to see others perspectives have deep-seated origins.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247755669_Using_attachment_theory_with_offenders 

Why do our narcissistic domestic violators insist on ruining the holidays? 

Simply put, this is due to their sense of entitlement. They resent the fact that our children are our focal point. During the holiday season, narcissists have difficulty in isolating, controlling and regulating people enough to get adequate narcissistic supply; the attention they need to feel ‘alive’. Narcissists are painfully reminded this time of year how they cannot feel the love and joy that others can, and to try to offset this with their sense of entitlement. Also, narcissists do not get pleasure from seeing other people happy, even if it is their own children. As a result, they will sabotage plans, especially those that fall on your residential time. A narcissist will do anything to squash plans that bring the loving parent joy. These domestic violators will do everything in their power to manipulate, dominate and coercively control the situation, especially during the holiday season because of their inability to feel empathy and lack of secure, healthy attachments. 

At the end of the day, what message should we send our children? 

At the Court Said Canada, we strike a balance between ardent advocacy which we pursue 100% of the time, and a belief that the holidays are about having faith in a healthier, safer life. We hope you enjoy the togetherness with your friends and family. Participate in random acts of kindness, which we know is the narcissist’s kryptonite.  And above all else, remain grateful that you have your children by your side. As we close out 2020, let us reflect on those families grieving the loss of their child, murdered at the hands of a parent because the Court ordered unsafe, unsupervised contact knowing the risk factors. We think about those protective parents who are separated from their babies either because of death or due to false allegations of parental alienation. We enter into the holiday season knowing that children do not remember from one year to the next what gifts they received, the decadence of the holiday meals or the extravagance of the decorations. What our children will remember is how we made them feel. Loved. Valued. Empowered. Respected. Heard. And seen. Those are gifts that cannot be bought with the deepest of pockets. 

Cheers to staying safe and keeping healthy, 

Ruth Cohen, M.S.W., R.S.W.

Co-Lead, The Court Said Canada

We Will End the Inhumane Treatment and Suffering of Children in the Family Courts

Dillon Roberts entered the Scottish family court system a healthy ten-month-old baby. The court would make important decisions dictating how Dillon’s childhood would unfold. Dillon left the system fifteen years later, psychologically harmed and suicidal. He was abused during child contact and emotionally harmed by the court process itself. Dillon’s story is not uncommon – so why are the family court’s getting it so wrong for so many children?

Dillon’s mother fled from a coercively controlling, violent relationship. She had no intention to cut Dillon’s father out his child’s life, but she craved any contact to be emotionally and physically safe. The family courts awarded her residence and put some safety measures in place in the contact order, but her ex repeatedly raised court action and soon the contact arrangements were no different from those handed down in a non-domestic abuse case.

The family courts set Dillon’s mother an impossible task; to communicate and co-parent with her dangerous ex encouragingly. He didn’t hide his glee as he vengefully plotted to make her pay for the crime of escaping his grasp in the middle of the night. A dark cloud loomed as she realised Dillon was no longer going to have the peaceful, healthy and safe childhood for which she had hoped and dreamed. 

The ideological revolution within the family courts has long been a serious cause for concern. When the best interests of the child get considered in domestic abuse cases, contact with a parent who has been psychologically, physically or sexually abusive often gets prioritised over the child’s safety. To achieve the preferred outcome of the family courts, evidence of egregious abuse must disappear. Perversely and cruelly, the family courts now do not just victim-blame, they victim-persecute, and the child consequently suffers through the contact or custody arrangements until they are set free from the system. Parental alienation has become a powerful weapon of choice to diminish and conceal evidence of abuse. It also has the power to reverse the victim and offender; a mother could then get punished in the family courts for raising concerns of abuse; this in itself deemed an act of alienation.

As Dillon grew older and his affections for his abusive father waned, he asked his mother to take action in the court and allow him to choose if and when he went for contact. Dillon’s mother knew this day would come; the family courts had repeatedly ignored her pleas and failed to recognise the pattern of coercive control and protect Dillon from harm. It was only a matter of time before he resisted and rejected his father. A month after fleeing a terrifying ordeal during contact, Dillon started locking his bedroom door and cutting himself with a knife. He ferociously banged his head off walls, punched doors and lashed out. His schoolwork and relationships suffered enormously; eventually, he started to threaten suicide.

Dillon’s mother again raised her concerns with the family court and pleaded for protection for him. Still, the judge persisted in labelling the case an ‘intractable contact dispute’ and sent a welfare reporter to take Dillon’s views, however, the welfare reporter manipulated his views and translated them to fit the courts preferred narrative;  The family courts blamed Dillon’s mother for the child’s rejection of his father. The judge ordered an urgent reunification and failed to investigate the evidence of abuse.

Dillon was under insurmountable pressure to comply with the court’s and his father’s demands, now intertwined. If Dillon’s mother failed to send Dillon to the reunification, she risked a charge of contempt of court and jail. The pressure put on Dillon by the courts emotionally overwhelmed him; he vomited almost daily, and his mental health spiralled downwards. Dillon was terrified; he had bravely opened and provided a detailed account of his father’s abusive behaviour, and now he feared the repercussions for doing so.

Those in the family court system who deny and ignore family violence, prefer to call these families ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome families’. These court reporters work outside the industry-standard guidelines and use strict and authoritarian methods; they coerce, punish and compel. They override the voice of the child, and their approach can cause long term psychological harm. By instructing these ‘experts’ in complex domestic abuse cases (most cases in the family courts), the family courts are betraying children like Dillon. When parental alienation gets raised in the context of domestic abuse, the root source of the child’s fear is not explored.

When the court forces a victim of domestic abuse to co-parent with an abusive ex, the child’s experience in the family court becomes an adverse one. Babies have their connection abruptly severed with breastfeeding mothers, so lengthy contact can take place. Children kick, scream, hide and run when contact dates come around; they bed wet and suffer from night terrors. Children get deprived the opportunity to heal from the abuse they have already been subjected to, and are sent back into contact where the parental child abuse will continue and, in some cases, intensify. During unsafe contact, children get touched inappropriately, burned by cigarettes, beaten, threatened, degraded, neglected, and violated. Children are forced into situations by the family courts where they must develop survival mechanisms, and this causes long term harm. Seeking professional help for a child’s suffering outside the family court system is also declared an act of alienation; the cruelty of the family court culture becomes apparent. Many children are getting murdered as a result.

Abundant research exists on childrens’ experiences of family violence and even on post-separation coercive control, yet the family courts continue to ignore it. They stubbornly refuse to accept that contact with an abusive parent is not beneficial to a child and is, in fact, traumatic.

Dillon Roberts had not been diagnosed with Parental Alienation Syndrome and his court reporter was not a parental alienation ‘expert’. Dillon’s court reporter was a lawyer. It is not just individual views that must change in the family court system; it is the entire culture of the system that must change.

Recent research published by Edinburgh University showed how the manipulation and exclusion of the views of the child by adults, namely child welfare reporters and judges, adversely affected the participation rights of the child in the court process. They reported on the court’s construction of children as inherently ‘vulnerable’ and said,

“These constructs produce an epistemic injustice (Fricker, 2007) that ignores their own accounts of their lives. This is a harm in its own right, but it also potentially raises children’s risks by excluding them from decisions about their own lives. This has become more apparent in recent years, as research and advocacy have led to a gradual (and sometimes reluctant) recognition that children are affected by domestic abuse.”

Historically in institutions, children were seen and not heard, and this allowed many in a position of power to abuse that power. A controlling parent bulldozes through life putting their deep-rooted, distorted beliefs of right and wrong before the human rights of others and paying no attention to the wake of tragedy and despair they leave behind. The family courts do the same.

Thankfully, there is a wind of change and institutions must now fall in line with the moral sense of the community. The resistance from those who abuse their power is strong, particularly in the family courts; however those fighting for children’s human rights are a mighty force, and they and children like Dillon, will continue to speak out until their voices get heard and justice prevails.


If your child has had their views ‘translated, not transmitted’, and has been put at risk in the family courts, please fill in this quick and easy survey as we continue our campaign for change. Thank you, Rachel.

https://thecourtsaid.org/children-at-risk/

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. A parent whose controlling ex is engaging in a pattern of harmful behaviour towards their child has 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 specific form of domestic abuse. Creating a specific 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. 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 domestic abuse 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 confusion and masks the real perpetrator. The Scottish Government realises that removing labels and focussing on behaviour is the solution to many problems.

Family Courts Fail To See Warning Signs and Protect Keira

 

The family courts don’t yet recognize narcissism or coercive control. They trivialize and diminish a domestic abuse case, labelling it ‘high conflict’, creating a narrative of warring parents and a vengeful, bitter or disruptive mother. Some media outlets make the same mistake; they victim blame, and they re-traumatize.

Family courts deem historical abuse irrelevant when, in fact, it is fundamental. By failing to understand domestic abuse and assess the risk of harm adequately, the courts put children like Keira Kagan in grave danger. Victims of egregious abuse get forced into shared parenting type agreements, leaving them in extremely vulnerable circumstances. As a result, abusive fathers like Robin Brown are emboldened and empowered by the family courts; they use their visitation to continue the post-separation abuse.

Family courts can prevent unsafe visitation and prevent homicide by comparing behavior to a checklist, analyzing it and recognizing the warning signs. Narcissistic, controlling individuals mask their behavior well. It takes a thorough risk assessment by a credible expert in behavior to see through the guise.

Warning Signs

Quickly developing relationship: Abusers present a false-self to their victims; they deceive their victims and portray themselves to be their ideal partner. They quickly trap their victim in a cycle of abuse.

The Façade: Narcissistic abusers appear to be charming, successful individuals and admirable parents, but the evidence usually shows otherwise. Their words do not match their actions. They grossly overstate their education or achievements. Their behavior is often cruel and volatile; they are bullies and compulsive liars.

Coercive Control & Narcissism: Abusers have an inflated sense of entitlement. They believe themselves to be superior, and they manipulate their victim’s emotions to trigger a reaction. They gaslight, humiliate and intimidate their victims to punish them and keep them in a constant state of confusion and fear. They respond to perceived criticism with anger or vengefulness; they degrade, threaten, and scare their victim. They warn,

“I will never stop; I will never leave you alone”, or “You will never see your child again.”

They dictate to, and shame their victims. Their coercion is intentional; they attempt to destroy their victim’s sense of self and transform their victim’s strength into weakness. Some abusers monitor their victim’s actions or deny them of their basic needs. They may take control of the finances to weaken their victim and attempt to force them into dependence.

Killing Animals: Many abusers will kill animals to demonstrate their superiority, power and control and extract an emotional reaction out of their victim. They are desensitized to the harm they do, a huge red flag.

Fantasies about Power & Domination, Infidelity: Abusers may have a hidden lifestyle, possibly spanning several years with multiple partners. They have an exploitative approach to their relationships; relationships are to benefit and serve them alone.

Weaponizing the Court System & Counter-parenting: Post-separation, abusers fail to reason or compromise and make unrealistic demands of the safe parent. Their victims often have no option but to defend or raise court action to protect their child’s welfare. Abusers repeatedly breach court orders, they raise numerous petty court actions, they frustrate visitation and even abduct their children. The system enables them by focusing on the victim’s behavior, not the perpetrator’s.

Failure to Acknowledge & Accept Responsibility for Behavior & Inability to Self-reflect or Demonstrate Remorse. Abusers have a deep-rooted belief and value system, they feel justified in their actions, and they feel entitled to abuse; they choose to. They accuse their victim of the very things they are guilty of – DARVO – Deny Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. They go to extreme lengths to deny their behavior, and blame and vilify their victim to gain sympathy and regain status and control.

Placing Needs Before the Child’s Needs, Lack Capacity to Parent: The abuser’s focus is on hurting their victim, not parenting their child; they are oblivious to the psychological harm they do to their child in the process. Abusers don’t give their child emotional permission to be content in their victim’s care; they coach their child to distort their views. Abusers attempt to sabotage their child’s relationships and isolate their child, particularly with the safe parent and any new partner or siblings. Abuser’s gaslight their children; they tell them they are sick or lying when they are not; they coerce their children into a state of confusion and fear to satisfy their own needs.

Responding to the Child’s Distress with Anger: Abusers may meet their child’s cries with frustration, anger and punishment, particularly if the child expresses that they miss or love their safe parent or siblings.  

Failing to Work Constructively with Professionals: Abuser’s often refuse to grant permission to the safe parent to get treatment for their child; they see it as a risk of exposure; they will insist on a health professional or court expert of their choosing and will demand someone they sense they can befriend and manipulate. If the professional is not to their choice, the abuser will fail to co-operate; they may instruct the child not to open up to a therapist or psychologist.

Failure to Accept the Responsibility for the Treatment of the Child & Capacity for Change: Narcissistic abusers fail to accept that their behavior is the problem. They fail to recognize the need to change their behavior for their child’s sake; they consistently deny and excuse their behavior towards the child and lay the blame on their victim.

Threatened control: When an abuser’s façade starts to crumble, and their ego takes a significant blow; their control over their victim gets threatened. This creates a ‘high alert’ situation. It can cause a change in thinking, which can prompt a move to the planning stage.

Tragedy

Keira Kagan’s story is a tragedy; the evidence showed Brown posed a clear and present danger. He had distorted views of himself and right and wrong. Jennifer Kagan-Viater could see that unsupervised visitation was not positive or beneficial to their daughter, Keira; it was confusing, upsetting, scary and harmful. Jennifer and her husband, Philip, desperately tried to get the family courts to recognize the warning signs, see the pattern and protect Keira. They begged a judge to see the escalation in Brown’s volatile behavior, another huge red flag; they pleaded to the court that he was ‘out of control’. Keira herself courageously opened up and reached out for help too. All their pleas got diminished in severity and importance by the family courts, and unsupervised contact remained in place.

When Brown received a damning report from child protection, it became clear he was likely to lose unsupervised visitation with Keira. The development undoubtedly caused a change in Brown’s thinking; he knew his game was up, and his public façade was about to fall. Brown knew that weekend was highly likely his last opportunity to be alone with Keira. He vindictively retaliated to his expected loss of power and control by hurting Jennifer and her family where he knew he could cause excruciating pain; he jumped with four-year-old Keira off a cliff, in what was clearly a murder-suicide.

Jennifer Kagan-Viater fought to the ends of the earth along with her husband Philip to protect Keira from danger; a danger which they could foresee but were rendered powerless to prevent. The Ontario family court system failed to recognize the warning signs or read the pattern, and when the alarm got raised, they failed to answer it. The system not only failed Jennifer, Philip, and Keira, but it also betrayed them. When an abusive father’s rights to visitation get prioritized over a child’s human rights, then deaths are inevitable. The Canadian Government must remedy this in Keira’s honor. They must radically reform the system and prevent deaths of heart-warming children who’s trust, childhood and lives are in their hands.

Ireland Must Not Be Fooled By The Parental Alienation Tricksters

Coercive control is the most insidious type of domestic abuse. A coercively controlling perpetrator denies their behaviour and often successfully blames it on their ex. It can be challenging for a judge to know which parent is the abusive parent and which one is the victim.

A coercively controlling parent, in the relationship, uses manipulation, gaslighting, intimidation and aggression to keep their victim in a constant state of confusion and fear. After separation, the child becomes a pawn, as the perpetrator uses the family courts to keep their victim in that same state of fear and under control.

The controlling parent manipulates the child’s thoughts and actions and attempts to get them on-side and turn them against the safe parent. (They try to alienate the child from the safe parent). When the victim of abuse (mostly mothers) claim in court that they are a victim of abusive, coercively controlling behaviour– the controlling parent uses DARVO techniques to deny their abusive behaviour and project it back onto their victim – they say in court;

“Im not the abusive one – they are – they are alienating the child from me. It’s parental alienation!”

Narcissistic abusers can often be charming and convincing. Mothers and children do not have equal rights to fathers in the family courts – patriarchy and misogyny exist; a father’s rights to contact tend to come before mother’s and children’s human rights.

Victims of domestic abuse and their children have suffered terribly in family courts globally as a result. Victims of domestic abuse, including coercive control (psychological manipulation), are often disbelieved, or the abusive behaviour does not get thoroughly investigated. When the abusive parent is successful in cross-claiming parental alienation, a custody transfer to the abusive parent from the apparently alienating parent is more likely; the Victim’s Commissioner in England described it as state-sanctioned abuse as these children often go on to get isolated from their loving, safe parent and get abused.

Academic research by Dr Adrienne Barnett shows that parental alienation, in the context of domestic abuse cases is a powerful weapon to deny and discredit real domestic abuse allegations. The only people that would benefit in Ireland from the criminalisation of parental alienation are coercively controlling perpetrators seeking to deny their abuse in a courtroom. ( Research by several experts worldwide ).

Mothers and fathers who suffer from a coercively controlling ex who pressures their child to reject them, already have a remedy in law in a Domestic Abuse Bill which recognises coercive control / psychological abuse. Those lobbying alongside abusive parents to have Gardner’s misogynistic parental alienation syndrome made a separate form of domestic abuse, will financially gain from parental alienation being it’s own ‘thing’ in law. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) are an American networking association of family court professionals whose members profit from the business they get through the family courts. The association also profits from the training they offer in the industry.

In America, victim-blaming has become big business. Domestic Abuse V Parental Alienation cases get dragged out for years, and protective parents are often left destitute and heartbroken. Children are dying at the hands of dangerous perpetrators at extraordinary rates. Parents are now suing the courts for sending their children into the custody of known abusers, to then get murdered.  

When fathers’ rights groups were climbing rooftops and gaining sympathy from the masses, they claimed to be unfairly treated in the family courts and to have been alienated from their children. Many of the members had criminal convictions for domestic abuse. One had to see through the charm and pseudo-heroism to get to the truth. These fathers’ rights groups helped disingenuous cross-claims of parental alienation gain traction in family courts.

Of course, some mothers are abusive, and some mothers do attempt to turn their child against the father post-separation. Many of these mothers who badmouth the father after separation are not pathological, or coercively controlling. They are unaware of a father’s parental rights and responsibilities, and this often gets sorted out by the time both parents have lawyers. Any psychologically abusive mother, who coercively controls and alienates, would be dealt with under the existing Domestic Abuse Act.

Sadly, female victims of domestic abuse are not being treated fairly under the Domestic Abuse Act, and as a result, their children are suffering from unsafe child contact. The reason is fundamentally the cross-claim of parental alienation used to conceal and deny the real abuse. The Irish government must have their wits about them and not get fooled into making parental alienation a crime for it then to be exploited in the family courts as a disingenuous cross-claim. Scotland foiled the plot. Ireland must do the same.