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.

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

8 thoughts on “Parental Alienation: The Theory that Exposes Children to Violence

  1. Reading this article is like reading my experience of the family courts. We are 3.5years into proceedings and have our next court case in 2 weeks. My ex husband is an expert charmer and narcissist who has used the parent alienation card several times. Because I’ve come out strong after years of coercive control and domestic abuse and have made a success of my life the courts don’t seem able to believe I’m the victim as I hate playing the victim role. He has now also split with the woman he left me for, I have not contacted her but she’s text me to say that she was in the same type of relationship that I’ve experienced and the courts won’t even look at the texts. When I first met our Cafcass officer nearly 2yrs ago I gave her a report and risk assessment that Women’s aid did about me, I have only just found out that Cafcass have never included that in any of our paper work. My ex husband has now admitted to being an alcoholic, in between homes and that he has never had a good relationship with the mothers of his children and the children himself but Cafcass want my son to start overnight stays with him in 4 weeks time! No ones listening and I don’t know what to do anymore


    1. Sorry to hear this Anneka, it is such an unfair system at the moment and children are suffering the consequences of it. All you can do is ‘manage’ the situation to the best you can and learn how to communicate with both your ex and the courts in a manner which shows your true character and not the character your ex will portray you as. They provoke and try and get an emotional reaction out of you to use it against you in court, often successfully. If you know this you can take steps to ensure you don’t give them the reaction they seek. There are blogs on my RW website which will help you and The Court Confidence course also is excellent for victims who are dealing with CAFCASS. All the best to you


  2. It’s unfortunate that most women are being put in the same position as Anneka. Lawyers and mediators instil such fear that even if you can afford to advocate for your child’s rights, the fear of losing custody forces you to give up. Parental alienation is a win only for narcissists who are looking out for their own best interests, not the child’s. I applaud you, Rachel for speaking out!


  3. Hello Rachel, thank you for you exquisite article, could you please send the reference of The United Nations comment that you are mentioning in your article


  4. I’ve also experienced this after 14 years of coercive control and my ex having minimal interaction with the children unless we were in public. I’ve not stopped contact and continued to encourage it even where it was difficult. I think there was a failure on the part of the court to send cafcass the c1a, so I only got 5 minutes with cafcass on the morning of the first hearing, who recommended a Spip. I was discouraged from pursuing fact finding by the judge on basis of cost and time. The final hearing was based on statements only and it was his word against mine; he’s been given contact 50:50 and I’m terrified for my children, and I. What do I do?


    1. Im sorry to hear this – discouraging the fact finding allows it to move from a ‘risk’ case to a series of ‘contact disputes’ over the years. I have a heap of blogs on my Rachel Watson website that may help you.


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