Section 15: What can I do if I’m accused of “parental alienation”.

Accusations of “parental alienation” are commonly used by violent fathers and social services to take children from their mothers. 

If you are in dispute with your child’s father over contact and/or residence, if your child has alleged being abused (sexually or otherwise) by the father, if your child doesn’t want to see the father (for whatever reason), and you try to protect your child by reporting this and/or refusing to force your child into contact with the violent father, you can be accused of “parental alienation”. That is, of “unreasonably” trying to prevent the father’s unsupervised contact with your child, or of “coaching” or “manipulating” your child to make false accusations of abuse against the father in order to get back at him. 

Instead of being seen as a mother trying to protect her child, you can be blamed for causing them “emotional harm” and accused of wanting to deprive them of their father. Professionals may line up to dismiss all your concerns citing parental alienation, rather than looking into the evidence that you or your children provide. The fathers are often portrayed as ‘charming’ and ‘reasonable’ while mothers are dismissed as ‘emotionally unstable’ and ‘unable to work with professionals’. 

Not surprisingly, many mothers feel caught in a “catch 22” – they are desperate to stop their children being abused, but know that if they raise their concerns, their children might be taken away and given to their abuser, or to strangers, making it even harder to protect them. Meanwhile the children continue to suffer, and in some cases (such as Claire Throssell’s two sons killed by their father during unsupervised contact) to be greatly harmed, even killed. Some judges have insisted on contact and even residence, dismissing what women and children were telling them about how dangerous the man was. Nineteen children and two mothers were killed between 2005 and 2015 following court orders to allow fathers unsupervised contact. 

Where has “parental alienation” come from? 

“Parental alienation” is the discredited theory of Dr Richard A Gardner [56] a US misogynist psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence, defended paedophilia, and argued that children who objected to seeing violent fathers should be forced to have contact. Soon after he gave “expert” evidence in a family case, where the children were forced to have contact with their father, one of the two teenage sons committed suicide.

The fathers’ lobby – groups of domestic violence deniers like Families Need Fathers and Fathers4Justice has been pushing “parental alienation”. They have been strengthened by the Children & Families Act 2014, which introduced the presumption that it is always in children’s best interest to have contact with both their parents, almost regardless of a father’s involvement or lack of it prior to separation and of the way he has treated you and/or the children. 

Families Need Fathers claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ They accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’. And they often make counter allegations against the mother in order to discredit her.

Shockingly, research published in 2017 in the US, where mothers face similar injustices, found that the family courts only believe a mother’s claim of a child’s sexual abuse in 1 out of 51 times (2%) and that mothers lose custody more than half the time (56%) when ‘parental alienation’ is mentioned!  

We don’t have comparable figures for the UK although the recently published MOJ Review referred to earlier, has valuable information which you could refer to.  We know from experience that fathers’ claims of “parental alienation”, based on the old sexist myth that women commonly lie about rape and domestic violence, are often backed by the family courts. This is largely because CAFCASS has been heavily influenced by the fathers’ lobby making such claims, blaming mothers for being too “anxious” when they raise concerns about former partners being a danger to their children. 

If you are accused of “parental alienation” and your children are strongly objecting to seeing their father the following may help. 

1. Try to get independent medical or other evidence that sexual or other abuse is taking place. This is really important as you are much more likely to be accused of making false allegations if you have no evidence backing your or your child’s claims. A sports centre worker, teacher or family friend can write a statement explaining anything they have noticed or witnessed. 

2. If you are in court proceedings, you can ask for an independent social worker for the children to speak to about their “wishes and feelings”. You or your lawyer can do this by submitting a Part 25 application [56] to court. If this application is denied you/they could either appeal this decision or find your own independent social worker (who will usually charge) and admit their evidence as part of your position statement. 

3. The children can ask to speak to the judge [57]. 

4. A child who is 10 or over can ask for an independent advocate, for example from Just For Kids Law [58], who can ensure their wishes and feelings are heard in court. 

5. Explain that “parental alienation” is the discredited theory of a misogynist US psychiatrist who defended paedophilia – Dr Richard Gardner see above. Refer to the MOJ Review which confirms that accusations of “parental alienation” are used to attack mothers, especially when the children are adamant that they don’t want to see their father 

6. If the court orders contact, insist that it must be supervised so that the children can be protected. 

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