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.

Published by Rachel Watson

Rachel Watson is an author and writer who offers support through her blogs to women who are struggling with an abusive ex in the family court process. She raises awareness on the harm the family courts do to the vulnerable. Rachel tweets and writes about coercive control, psychological abuse and family court matters and writes to support #TheCourtSaid cause. You can find Rachel on Twitter @RWatson_insight and Facebook @Rachel.Watson.Insight

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