Parental alienation and domestic abuse
As I have mentioned here numerous times, the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill is currently making its (somewhat bumpy) way through Parliament. The purpose of the Bill is to “raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on victims, to further improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice, and to strengthen the support for victims of abuse provided by other statutory agencies.”
As part of that, the Bill will introduce the first-ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, in order “to underpin other measures in the Bill.” The definition will specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse. This, the Government says, “will enable everyone, including victims themselves, to understand what constitutes abuse and will encourage more victims to come forward”.
But should the definition go further? The ManKind Initiative, a charity supporting male victims of domestic abuse, thinks that it should, and in a way that might not be obvious. They are calling for the Bill to include parental alienation “as a clearly defined act of domestic abuse against a parent.”
I came across this in a tweet by the charity, which referred to the parental alienation case I mentioned here last week, in which the father was forced to withdraw a contact application, due to the mother alienating the children against him. The charity said that the outcome of that case explained why it was ‘vital’ that parental alienation is included in the definition of abuse.
Fit the definition
Delving a little deeper, I found the Initiative’s submission to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Domestic Abuse from July 2018, which explains their position in a little more detail. They say:
“PAS [Parental Alienation Syndrome] has an impact on the alienated parent (ex-partner) that is clearly aimed at causing psychological, emotional and financial abuse against them. It is also clearly controlling and coercive behaviour and would fit under the government definition of domestic abuse”
And they go on:
“The psychological, emotional and financial abuse caused by PAS involves:
The deliberate nature and behaviour of manipulating a child against an ex-partner causing psychological and emotional harm;
The deliberate nature and behaviour of manipulating a child against an ex-partner is coercive and controlling behaviour;
The psychological and emotional harm against an ex-partner by the willful, deliberate and continual breach of Child Arrangement Orders;
The financial abuse by the wilful and continual breach of Child Arrangement Orders means the non-resident partner having to constantly seek further legal redress ultimately with financial burden of doing so.
In conclusion, Parental Alienation Syndrome would fit squarely with the government’s proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse and should be included as such.”
I must admit that their reasoning is quite persuasive. PAS does cause harm to the ‘victim’ (and of course to the children), and it can clearly be described as ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’.
To what effect?
But what would be the effect of including it within the definition? And would that, for example, have helped the father in the above case?
Specifically, the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill is for the purposes of Part 1 of the Bill (although the Government says that the definition “is expected to be adopted more generally, for example by public authorities and frontline practitioners”). Part 1 contains provisions mainly about the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and domestic abuse protection orders.
Is ManKind Initiative saying that such orders should be made against parents found to have alienated their children against the other parent? Isn’t that conflating two different areas of law, one dealing with arrangements for children, guided by what is best for their welfare, and the other intended to protect victims of abuse?
As for the case, the crucial matter was that parental alienation was not identified soon enough, with the result that it had become entrenched by the time the court attempted to deal with it. How would calling the mother an abuser have helped the father?
This is obviously just a very brief look at a complex subject (the primary purpose of this post is to put the idea ‘out there’, rather than to pass comment). I’m sure I may be missing something, but as it stands I remain to be convinced. Parental alienation is an awful thing, but I’m not sure that this is the answer.
You can read the ManKind Initiative’s submission to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Domestic Abuse here.
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