BRIEF ON THE PARENTAL ALIENATION AS PART OF THE DOMESTIC ABUSE ACT 2021

General information about the resource:

Language: English

What is it about?

Brief Produced by:
A consortium of experts representing a large network of international organizations (see
below).
August 18, 2021

  1. Background
    1.1 The new Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is a landmark piece of legislation intended to protect
    all citizens throughout England.
    1.2 Importantly, the Act recognises children as victims in their own right and underlines just
    how critical it is to protect them from coercive control, irrespective of how that abuse
    manifests itself.
    1.3 The Draft Guidance is issued under section 84 of the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act and has
    been designed to set standards and promote best practice which is critical guidance for the
    Central Family Court and judgements linked to children matters.
    1.4 The Draft Guidance currently recognises that alienation of a child from a parent is
    abusive to victim parents and their children. This is a major step forward and we thank
    Ministers wholeheartedly for its enlightened inclusion. As follows:
    Section 57:
    Ø ‘Intentional undermining of the victim’s role as a partner, spouse or parent’.
    Ø “Using children to control their victim, for example, threatening to take the
    children away or manipulating professionals to increase the risk of children being
    prevented from having contact with the victim or having children’s social care
    involvement”
    Ø “Alienating behaviours,1 including invidious drip feeding of negative views to a
    child by one parent about the other parent, or any attempt by one parent to
    frustrate or limit the child’s contact with the other parent, other than for reasons
    based on concern about the risk to that child”
    Section 60: Emotional or Psychological Abuse
    Ø “Turning children and friends against the victim (which may have a subsequent
    impact on children) including falsely and without justification telling a child that
    the other parent abandoned them, never loved them, or never wanted them”
    Ø “Distorting a child’s memories about the victim parent, including telling a child
    the other parent will pick them up/meet them, when that was not true, falsely
    1 Whilst there is no single definition of alienating behaviours (sometimes referred to as ’parental alienation’ or
    ‘parental alienating behaviors’), the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)
    defines parental alienation as when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the
    result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.
    2
    telling medical/school staff they have sole custody of a child so that no
    information is provided to the other parent, painting the other parent in a negative
    light to the child, including mocking their personality characteristics, job, friends,
    family and belittling them (including in front of the child)”
    Section 78: Economic abuse
    Ø “Deliberately forcing a victim to go to the family courts so they incur additional
    legal fees”
    1.5 Unfortunately, both the London Victims Commissioner and Dr. Adrienne Barnett have
    made submissions which have distorted the reality of parental alienation and omitted mention
    of the considerable amount of scientific support for the problem. These distortions and
    omissions have misled many parliamentarians and officials as well as members of the public.
    In doing so, they have ignored the current evidence-based policy and practice of the primary
    public body with responsibility over children’s’ welfare, the Children and Family Court
    Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). They, as a public body, have already reviewed
    and accepted the evidence that alienating behaviours can seriously impact child / parent
    relations, which is referred to as ‘Parental alienation’. The London VC and Dr Barnett are
    therefore directly contradicting current accepted practice.
    1.6 This short briefing paper, produced by a large network of organizations representing
    thousands of members including international experts in many professional and scientific
    fields (many of them from the UK), sets out that the arguments submitted by Dr. Adrienne
    Barnett and the London Victims Commissioner represent a gender biased position on the
    topic of family violence. The opinions presented in their materials rely on misinformation
    about parental alienation, and their suggestions that it does not exist and/or that it has no
    scientific foundation and/or that it is systematically used by abusive fathers are unfounded. It
    is accepted that in some cases the allegations are well founded however false allegations of
    domestic abuse are also common. We want to see all victims protected from abuse and every
    child.
    1.7 In this brief, we will also describe what parental alienation is and why it is a form of both
    domestic abuse and child psychological abuse.
  2. Executive Summary
    2.1 Parental alienation refers to an outcome “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards
    one parent is not justified and is primarily the result of psychological manipulation [through a
    range of abusive behaviours] by the other parent.” The behaviours that lead to parental
    alienation are called “parental alienating behaviours.”
    2.2 Parental alienating behaviours are both child psychological abuse and domestic abuse,
    with the latter clearly being coercive and controlling behaviour. Fathers and mothers are just
    as likely to be perpetrators and victims of parental alienation, as well as other family
    members; the child is always the victim. As with other forms of abuse, parental alienation
    does not discriminate.
    2.3 There is a wide range of alienating behaviours, which may occur at the same time as other
    forms of domestic abuse against a background of parental disputes and disorders, and the
    inability of one or both of the parents to work to restructure the family in a healthy manner
    after separation.
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    2.4 Some writings on parental alienation by detractors such as Dr. Barnett are flawed and
    biased, and work against recognizing and supporting those mothers, fathers, grandparents and
    children who are victims of parental alienation. These writings apply a gender bias to the
    topic of family violence that has not been supported by the majority of research on this
    problem.
  3. Parental Alienating Behaviors
    3.1 Parental alienating behaviours is a descriptive term that refers to a range of abusive
    behaviours that have been documented by domestic violence scholars for decades:
    particularly related to the use of children as a weapon against their other parent. Parental
    alienating behaviours serve to make a child believe their other safe and loving parent never
    loved them, is dangerous, and/or abandoned them.
    3.2 Scholars of parental alienation have relabeled these coercively controlling behaviors as
    parental alienating behaviours because they are concerned with how it affects the child who
    is used as a weapon. In other words, parental alienating behaviours and coercively controlling
    behaviors are two terms for exactly the same thing.
    3.3 Parental alienation affects both the children who are victims of parental alienation and the
    alienated parent (sometimes called the targeted or victim parent), as well as their extended
    family and communities.
    3.4 Alienating behaviours may be unintentional, in the sense that the alienating parent is
    unaware of the likely results. Irrespective of whether the behaviour is deliberate or
    unconscious, the psychological harm to the child is the same. When identified, such
    behaviour must be recognized and remedied.
    3.5 Both parents are responsible for the healthy development of their child, including
    promoting a proper loving relationship, which includes frequent regular contact between the
    child and both parents and their extended families. Parental alienation adversely affects the
    psychological development of the child in that it prevents a natural, healthy bond and
    relationship with a parent.
    3.6 Parental alienation usually develops when parents are engaged in separation or divorce
    and the child is primarily influenced by a parent to reject a formerly healthy relationship with
    their other parent (the ‘alienated parent’), without legitimate justification.
    3.7. There are cases in which the abusive behaviour of one of the parents is so extreme that a
    complete rupture of the relationship with the child is justified, but these cases are uncommon
    and are a different form of family conflict referred to as “parental estrangement.” Parental
    alienation only refers to rejection for unjustifiable reasons.
    3.8 The impact of parental alienating behaviours on a child’s psychosocial development is
    substantial. An alienated child, who has been convinced that one of the parents is bad,
    violent, or unworthy, and has not observed normative parenting, may believe that s/he
    him/herself is in some way unworthy, having internalized the denigration of that parent, who
    is part of the child. This internalization may lead to difficulty in forming relationships and
    bonds with future partners and/or with her/his children and has been linked to several longterm negative consequences such as anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and trust issues.
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    3.9 It is also important to note that within proceedings following separation in the family
    courts, false allegations of domestic abuse and/or parental alienation are sometimes made.
    Each allegation must be carefully examined by the court. Sometimes there is both
    psychological abuse by alienation and physical or sexual abuse in the same family (called
    “hybrid cases”). There is no reliable scientific evidence (as opposed to anecdotes by parents
    who regard court decisions as being wrong) that men or women are more likely to raise false
    allegations or that courts systematically prefer fathers over mothers or vice-versa, or that
    allegations of one kind of abuse trump allegations of abuse of other types. There are rare
    cases in which abuse of a child is so egregious as to prohibit any form of contact between the
    child and the perpetrator, but it is unconscionable that the mere allegation of abuse should
    preclude contact of any kind.
  4. Parental Alienating Behaviors and Impact
    4.1 It is relevant and beneficial to further explain ‘parental alienating behaviours.’ These
    behaviours, which are gender neutral, have been observed by mental health professionals,
    family law judges and lawyers, across the world for many decades. There are hundreds of
    articles, book chapters and other pieces of scientific descriptive, qualitative and quantitative
    research around the phenomena, which have appeared in peer-reviewed publications.
    4.2 Parental alienating behaviours are, therefore, both:
    · The observable and measurable evidence within families of the process (and
    therefore evidence that parental alienation exists, whichever descriptive term one
    prefers to use);
    · The cause of the weaponizing of children and the emotional /psychological damage
    and harm to children, hence a form of domestic abuse/family violence/child abuse.
    4.3 Children who are exposed to parental conflict on a regular basis are likely to suffer
    emotional and psychological harm. The fact that the parents are separated does not
    make the impact of harm any less concerning. It is not only overt violent and
    aggressive dynamics that impact negatively on child development; hostility and
    conflict between parents that is frequent, intense and unresolved can also have an
    adverse impact, creating toxic stress within the child which will manifest over time, as
    psychological disturbances and even psychiatric illness. This is an Adverse Childhood
    Event (ACE) and is a public health issue of deep importance. The longer the child is
    without contact with a parent, the deeper the damage; this means that allegations of
    interference with child-parent contact must be dealt with swiftly, in order to prevent
    exacerbation.
    Continuing to recognize and define parental alienation as child and domestic abuse give the
    courts and child welfare authorities the powers needed to intervene immediately.
    4.4 The range of alienating behaviours, which often includes the rejection of wider family
    members, especially grandparents, as well as parents, include triangulation –making the child
    align with one of the parents and reject the other. The abuse, of the child and of the parent
    and his family, consists of a pattern of behaviours, sometimes of different kinds. These are
    some examples:
    · Creating a false narrative by telling the child falsehoods and/or distorting the child’s
    memories about the alienated parent’s behaviour;
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    · Constantly painting the alienated parent in a negative light to the child without
    foundation;
    · Providing false information to third parties to harm the alienated parent;
    · Telling the child the alienated parent is coming to pick them up, knowing that is not
    true, and making the child wait for hours for a parent who does not come;
    · Pressuring the child to feel allegiance/loyalty to them, for example, telling the child
    they will not love them anymore if they ‘choose’ the alienated parent;
    · Pressuring/rewarding the child to reject the alienated parent or to be defiant, violent
    or disruptive towards the alienated parent, and/or sanctioning the child for noncompliance with the wishes of the alienating parent;
    · Coaching and coercing the children to say or write negative or false things about the
    alienated parent to child protection reporters and authorities;
    · Treating the child like a best friend, seeking comfort from the child when feeling
    upset, placing the child in the middle as communicator and mediator, exposing the
    child to details of legal proceedings (Parentification or Adultification);
    · Allowing the child to refuse contact with a parent on the basis of a trivial or
    perceived problem.
    4.5 The impact of parental alienation on the alienated parent includes:
    ·The fear of no longer being allowed to have a meaningful relationship with the
    children and the fear of never seeing them again, leading to acute psychological and
    emotional harm;
    ·The psychological damage of unwanted rejection and through having the child turn
    against the parent and withhold affection;
    ·The social stigma of being recognized as a “rejected” parent;
    ·Increased levels of anxiety and depression; in the more severe cases, alienated
    parents have been known to take their own lives, or attempt to do so;
    ·The financial burden of having to seek continual legal redress to maintain contact
    and to prove that parental alienation is taking place;
    ·Poor performance at work or studies, and disruption of personal life and
    relationships, arising from ambiguous loss.
  5. Parental Alienation and Other Forms of Family Conflict
    5.1 There can be several reasons why a child would resist contact with a parent. The nature of
    this resistance, and other factors in the family dynamic, help to determine the reason for the
    resistance.
    5.2 Children who have been moderately to severely alienated from a parent frequently,
    persistently, and consistently reject them and refuse to communicate with or see them. In
    milder cases, this resistance is most often seen when the child is with their alienating parent,
    and less so when in the care of the alienated parent. Over time, and as parental alienation
    becomes more severe, the child’s resistance increases.
    5.3 Children who have been estranged from a parent, meaning they have a justified reason for
    resistance such as in cases of child abuse, do not often reject the parent persistently,
    consistently and frequently. Rather, children who have been abused in other ways tend to
    have considerable ambivalence about their abusive parent and many children minimize the
    abuse they experienced. These children often protect and make excuses for their abusive
    parent—they are not likely to reject them. This feature is an important differentiator of
    alienated and estranged children.
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    5.4 Some children are pulled into their parental conflicts and get “stuck in the middle.” In this
    case, the child experiences what is called a loyalty conflict. This family dynamic is different
    than parental alienation because in this case, the child wants to maintain a positive
    relationship with both parents. The child is in a difficult situation because both parents try to
    influence the child to pick their “side,” which can make the child withdrawn and less close to
    both parents. Sometimes, the child will eventually pick a side in this conflict and reject their
    other parent in order to stop being in the middle. In such cases, the child eventually becomes
    alienated from a parent.
    5.5 Children who have been alienated from a parent manifest several behaviours that
    scientific and clinical research has found to be unique for them, meaning that these behaviors
    are not as likely to be found among children who are in a loyalty conflict or who have been
    estranged. These manifestations are:
    • Campaign of denigration: The child repeatedly complains about the parent over and
    over again to anyone who will listen. The child has internalized the negative attitude
    of the alienating parent towards the alienated parent.
    • Frivolous rationalization for the complaint: Irrational or silly reason given for not
    wanting to see the rejected parent (e.g., mum or dad is “boring”). Children who are
    alienated will also hold a grudge against a parent far longer than most children (e.g., if
    they were disciplined for a rule violation) and use it as justification for their rejection.
    For example, a child may claim mum or dad is “abusive” because they suspended
    social media use for a week and therefore refuse to spend parenting time with them
    for weeks or months.
    • Lack of ambivalence: Good relationships always have ambivalence because no
    person is all good or all bad. Alienated children do not typically show signs of this:
    rather, they show splitting such that the rejected parent is all bad and evil, and the
    preferred parent is perfect, idealized, and all good.
    • Independent thinker phenomenon: The child goes out of their way to tell people
    that their opinions are their own and that their mum or dad did not tell them to think
    or believe what they do.
    • Borrowed scenarios: The child will repeat phrases used by the alienating parent
    nearly word for word or describe stories or past events that they would have had no
    independent knowledge of (e.g., who the primary caregiver was as a baby, reasons for
    their parent’s divorce). Some children will also use language to describe the targeted
    parent that would not normally be used by a child their age, indicating that they have
    borrowed the phrases from the alienating parent (e.g., a 4 year old saying that mum or
    dad needs “anger management classes or an 8 year old who informed a psychologist
    that her “voice under UNCRC Article 12 must be heard”).
    • Automatic support/reflexive support: The child will automatically choose to defend
    the alienating parent in any disagreement or argument. This automatic support is often
    most evident among children whose personal identities are lost due to being fused
    (alternatively referred to as “enmeshed”) with the alienating parent, as any perceived
    criticism of the alienating parent is perceived by the child as being a criticism of the
    self, and it challenges the child’s idealization on the alienating parent.
    • Absence of guilt: The child is very disrespectful and hostile towards the rejected
    parent with no visible qualms or guilt. The child shows no concern for the feelings of
    the rejected parent and the impact of their behaviours on them.
    • Spread of animosity: The negative feelings the child has for the targeted parent
    spreads to other people associated with them: step-parents, extended family, friends,
    even pets. Even though these individuals have done nothing wrong, the children
    ‘hate’ them with the same amount of hostility as the rejected parent. From the child’s
    7
    perspective, if the rejected parent is so bad, then everyone associated with them must
    be bad as well.
    5.6 The more severely alienated a child becomes, the more behavioural manifestations the
    child has been found to express.
    5.7 The differentiation of parental alienation from other forms family conflict can be done
    reliably using what is referred to as the Five-Factor Model. When there is evidence of the
    following five factors in the family, then it is unlikely that the child is estranged or
    experiencing a loyalty conflict:
    1) The child rejects a parent or resists contact for unjustified reasons;
    2) The child previously had a positive attachment/relationship with the rejected
    parent;
    3) The child does not have a history of abuse or deficient parenting with the rejected
    parent;
    4) The child has a preferred parent who has engaged in patterns of parent alienating
    behaviours over time; and
    5) The child has several or most of the manifestations of parental alienation (5.5
    above),
  6. Detractors of Parental Alienation
    6.1 There has been a large body of published academic and professional research on parental
    alienation and parental alienating behaviours from around the world over the last 36 years.
    The Center for Knowledge Management at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the USA
    has indexed over one thousand scientific and peer-reviewed papers, book chapters and other
    resources pertaining to parental alienation. The Parental Alienation Study Group
    (www.PASG.info) also has several annotated bibliographies of the published literature for
    public reference.
    6.2 Numerous detractors of parental alienation have created briefings about parental
    alienation that are based on selective and biased literature reviews. These documents have
    largely ignored the vast amount of scientific evidence that has accumulated about parental
    alienation, and some have deliberately conveyed misinformation about the problem or made
    ad hominem attacks against those who have been working in the field.
    6.3. The briefings and other writings of these detractors have also focused on a small number
    of research studies that have not been replicated and have demonstrated serious methodologic
    and statistical flaws, making their conclusions unreliable. For example, one study conducted
    by Professor Joan Meier that has been continuously cited in support of anti-parental
    alienation legislation has over 30 identified methodological flaws, and the data was admitted
    by the author and her colleagues to have been “amplified” (aka manipulated) to get the results
    that they desired. Biased studies such as this should not be used to support any change of
    legislation because their conclusions are not trustworthy.
    6.4 These detractors have also claimed that court decisions accepting fathers’ claims of
    parental alienation or reject mothers’ allegations of abuse are ipso facto wrong. This biased,
    gendered agenda also acts against women who are alienated parents, and those who are
    related to the alienated father and are thereby also affected by the alienation of the child.
    6.5 The voices of male victims of domestic abuse and parental alienation are rarely included
    in the briefings and materials created by these detractors. Rather, a “red flag” that the position
    of these individuals and groups is biased is that the primary focus of their arguments and the
    8
    research presented focus almost exclusively on female victims and male perpetrators of
    violence. This position is biased because population based research in many countries
    demonstrates that there are not gender differences in male and female domestic violence
    victimization.
    6.6 The underlying theme of the writings of detractors is that when fathers claim they are
    victims of parental alienation, their claims are all mendacious and are intended as a means of
    carrying out further abuse on the mother. But the writings do not even accept the possibility
    that allegations by a mother of domestic abuse, or of PA, which may be no less common than
    allegations by fathers, may be untrue. There is absolutely no evidence that men are more
    likely than women to manipulate the system by making false allegations, or vice-versa, and
    judicial experience shows no differences. Courts make their decisions on the basis of the
    totality of evidence, in the best interests of the child.
    6.7 It is a matter of serious concern if such non-inclusive, unscientific, one-sided writings are
    taken by the political and the justice community to be scientifically valid and conclusive
    research. It is also of serious concern that such writings are being used to change public
    policies and laws.
  7. Conclusion
    7.1 The consensus among the vast majority of academic researchers, practitioners in the
    mental health professions, and judicial officers around the world, is that parental alienation is
    a form of child psychological abuse and of domestic abuse; that its effects on children are
    severe and last into adulthood; that its effects on alienated parents are devastating; and that
    there are no statistically significant differences between women and men as perpetrators and
    victims.
    7.2 There can be no doubt that judicial decisions in cases involving children must take
    account of all aspects of the family dynamic, including all types of abuse and family conflict.
    There is a need for good guidance so that qualified professionals can assist the court in
    assessing whether there is abuse, and if so, its severity and how it should affect child-parent
    residence and contact arrangements.
    7.3. It is imperative that the Guidance for the Domestic Abuse Act frame this abuse in an
    empirically based, structured way, and to involve more practitioners and unbiased experts to
    shine a light on this issue.
    For further information, please see the attached documents and this link to the “UK Parental
    Alienation Study:”
    https://issuu.com/goodeggsafety/docs/pauk_master_uk_study_2020?fr=sYWVmYTMwODc
    2OTk
    There is also important information related to parental alienation in a recent report from
    Scotland: https://parentalalienationuk.info/young-people-study/
    You can also contact any of the organizations below who have helped to prepare this
    document and have endorsed the dissemination of this brief.
    Signed,

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