Should parental alienation be included in the definition of domestic abuse?

Children | 1 Nov 2019 3

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.”

Statutory definition 

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.

Get in touch

If you would like any advice on domestic abuse and your legal situation, you can find further articles here or please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist domestic abuse lawyers here. 

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Stitchedup says:

    I really don’t know where to start with this….. when it comes to non physical abuse it really is difficult to think of anything more abusive to a parent (usually father) and child than parental alienation. The effects are quite simply devastating, often leading to life long emotional damage and suicide.

    You talk of conflating two areas of law… this happens all the time in family law… but it’s usually men that find themselves entering the criminal justice system through the back door as result of petty breaches of dodgy no-mols that are dished out in the civil courts like smarties.

    So it’s OK to convict a man for voicing an opinion about the selling price of the family home and label him a violent domestic abuser yet not OK to label a woman that brainwashes a child into thinking a loving father doesn’t love his child and is a dangerous monster who should be cut off from the child’s live??? that’s not to mention the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins that are also frequently extinguished from the child’s life.

    Seriously John, you need to rethink this one.

  2. PCB says:

    I admit I agree with “Stitchedup” that parental alienation is absolutely domestic abuse that has a long-reaching effect that is equal to physical abuse. But I get that because we cannot see the abuse it is so much harder to identify and incredibly maybe impossible to really deal with the effects properly.

    But what I would ask you to think about John is in my experience I have found that an abusive parent who carries out parental alienation is simply not abusing the child(ren) exclusively in relation to the father, but is usually quite a psychologically abusive and controlling mother when it comes to every other aspect of the child(ren)’s life. As I have often said the father may be at the top of the mother’s list but is by no means the only relationship the mother works to control or destroy for the child. Therefore it should be classed as abuse and the child(ren) removed from this abuse, regardless. It may be a simplistic approach, and I am fully aware that one size does not fit all, but I think it is best to pull off the bandaid (removal) and then spend time on healing the child(ren) while there is some chance to stop them from losing hope of ever experiencing a non-toxic life. A toxic life breeds toxic adults who then go on to have their own toxic relationships and grow their own toxic children. The cycle just continues.

    N.B. I am very aware that this happens the other way around, i.e. abusive controlling father against a mother, but just used the typical mother/father paradigm for expediency.

  3. saddened father says:

    Hi John,
    I totally agree with the comments of Stitchedup and PCB, above.
    I have been a victim of PAS for the past 13 years – in that time I have struggled to get the Family Court, Childrens Social Services and CAFCASS to recognise this syndrome.
    I have had numerous family court orders breached by my ex-partner in that time with added false allegations.
    Each time I raised it with the respective DJ’s I was invariably ignored.
    For fathers, the Family Court system does not work, it is like a game of snakes and ladders.
    Your aim is to reach the top of the ladder that is parity of shared contact with the other parent for your children . However, such acts of PAS and Family Court ineffectiveness mean that fathers constantly find themselves sliding down the snake of the contact process, resulting in them having to regularly renew the whole contact application process from start.
    I say that with 1st hand knowledge.
    Each time I submitted an application for such parity and notified my ex-partner, it would be met by the other party with breaches of orders, false allegations and ramped up acts of PAS by the mother.
    The culmination of this was allegations of sexual inappropriate behaviour against my child that resulted in a criminal trial and the prospect of 5 – 10 years imprisonment.
    The police and social services failed to fully investigate the mothers false allegations, nor did they follow the legal procedures that they were supposed to.
    Fr instance, the police allowed the mother to dictate a statement in the presence of my child, the investigative detective subsequently put it to me that the statement she read to me was that of my child, ignoring that it had been supplied by the mother.
    Social services failed to liaise with the police, nor did they interview me (my contact with the so-called “professional” social worker was merely a 5 minute phone call in which she rang me whilst I was at work and told me I was guilty and that I could not see my child again).
    A harrowing experience for me.
    However, at my trial I was able to prove beyond all doubt that the mother had indeed fabricated the allegations, that she had a history of such acts, and that she was committing perjury in so doing, as well as coercing my child in the process.
    Despite this the mother continues to enact PAS on my child and I have not seen or spoken to my child since the initial allegation over 4 years ago.
    The whole system stinks and it is beyond belief that no one in power recognises that such acts of PAS – including false allegations – are designed to allow the PWC (invariably the mother) to maintain a stranglehold on child maintenance payable by the non-PWC(invariably the father) for each child.
    This in turn causes a backlog in legal proceedings and fathers suffer further delays in the Family Court.
    When will the powers that be recognise that greedy PWC’s will use PAS and false allegations to throw a spanner in the legal machinery of the Family Court in order to maximise the benefits of the CMS/CSA act.
    Surely its not just me that recognises the inextricable link between the CMS/CSA act and the Family Court meltdown?
    The result of which is the Family Court system approaching breaking point.
    I feel that the Family Court and legal system failed me and now I just hang on to the hope that one day my child will see this and once more want to renew the happy father-child relationship that we had.

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