• November 29, 2023
 Parental alienation a ‘handy tool for abusers’, new study finds

Parental alienation a ‘handy tool for abusers’, new study finds

Parental alienation is a “handy tool for abusers” and a “national scandal”, a new study conducted by the BBC and the University of Manchester has suggested.

The BBC exposed dozens of cases where children were forced into contact with fathers accused of abuse, with some cases involving convicted paedophiles.

The BBC reported that the concept of parental alienation had also been cited in the deaths of five mothers, with some taking their own lives and others having heart attacks. Others amongst the 45 mothers reported health problems following family court proceedings that included miscarriages and suicidal thoughts.

Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno, lead researcher on the project, pointed out the lack of support from the court for these mothers:

“Credible evidence of abuse was diminished or ignored completely – and when I say credible evidence, I’m talking about criminal convictions.”

She is calling for “emergency measures” to address the increasing prevalence of parental alienation claims in court:

“There are catastrophic health impacts with children and adult victims of abuse considering or attempting suicide.”

Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Jess Phillips said it is “the biggest issue in [her] inbox”, comparing it to abuse scandals in Rotherham and the Catholic Church:

“This isn’t a bad judge. This isn’t a rogue court in one part of the country. This is a tactic of abusers that is being used across every part of our country.”

Phillips, who is arguing for the banning of unregulated experts testifying about parental alienation, said the presumption of contact “should be earned” in cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse, sexual violence, or child abuse.

This comes after President of the Family Court in England and Wales Sir Andrew McFarlane has said the parental alienation label is “unhelpful”.

Also commenting in the BBC’s report was the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales Nicole Jacobs, who says “too often courts consider claims of domestic violence and parental alienation simultaneously”, something she describes as an “unsafe approach”.

Women’s Aid added that the family court is “the number on issue survivors raise” with the charity, and that they have been campaigning on the “dangerous consequences of unsafe child contact decisions” since 2004. Lucy Hadley, the charity’s Head of Policy, said:

“Survivors are left to fight for their children’s safety in long, costly and complex court proceedings, often without support or access to legal representation.”

Hadley added that, despite the findings of the government’s Harm Panel that found numerous failings in the courts’ pro-contact culture – findings which the government accepted – survivors are “still experiencing discrimination, trauma and disbelief in the family courts” three years on.

Jamie Lennox, Editor, Today's Family Lawyer

Editor of Today's Conveyancer, Today's Wills and Probate, and Today's Family Lawyer



  • It’s not only unregulated experts that are the problem. There are many regulated experts and barristers who are profiting from the PA Bandwagon. In my case there aggressive DARVO litigation by father’s barrister (also a judge in the same court) and a self acclaimed PA expert/barrister acting for Cafcass and meant to be representing the voice of the child. I was left fighting against two legal teams often unrepresented. The dirty tricks, game playing, and DARVO litigation has resulted in devastating consequences. Nobody found parental alienation despite the best efforts of those involved. I was dragged back to court more than 25 times. Regardless of what the hearing was called they were all for directions. Every intrusive intervention available to the court was requested and ordered. I felt at times I would die with the stress.

    I have been left for 3 years with an ileostomy that should have been reversed in 8 weeks, and have complications as a result. My son was forced into contact with his abuser and as a consequence has suffered further physical and psychological harm.
    Cafcass covered for him and lied about a conversation with my son. From the outset, they failed do a domestic abuse risk assessment saying they had run out of time. Yet they immediately went down the route of PA cited by the father. Social services were largely supportive of the child, but Cafcass were only supportive of the father. They the only saw the child on two occasions yet they had the final say. PA was cited until the end even though it had been dismissed time and time again even by by their own expert. They asked for a second expert as despite withholding all my evidence and various other dirty trick tactics it hadn’t provided the results they sought. At every stage, along the way, the aligning barristers got rid of witnesses and judges that were not willing to support their false narrative, They even made a complaint about a recorder who had been more than helpful to them. Those involved have enabled our abuser and consequently he continues to abuse us via a contact order.

    I fear returning to court as I was threatened constantly with a change of residence and prison if I didn’t force my son to comply with the order. Following the CAO being issued, the Father sought to disrupt contact so that he could get back to Court and exact the worst torture on me. He didn’t mind to harm his own child too further his agenda.

    Unless and until there is a cultural shift in the family court, children will be harmed and lives will be lost.

    • Yes Lily I hear you

  • Your article, like the BBC programme, is factually incorrect AND harmful to children AND their abused parent (and even extended family).
    1. The ‘research’:
    a) never asked fathers to see how many have false accusations of domestic abuse, etc.
    b) did not ask fathers to see if they have been in similar situations.
    c) did not ask any mothers or grandparents if they have experienced “alienating behaviours” (aka Parental Alienation)
    d) the 45 cases ALLEGEDLY reported 39 mothers saying that PA was used in response to their ALLEGATIONS of domestic abuse.
    e) what the research IGNORED is how many of these ALLEGATIONS of abuse were PROVEN.

    In 2022 alone, there were 52,219 NEW applications and closures.

    The sample of 45 = 0.0009% of the total number of Family Court cases opened in 2022.

    The 39 ALLEGED cases of using PA in response to ALLEGATIONS of DA = 0.0007%!

    That’s 7-ten-thousandths of a percentage of cases… not at all indicative or PROOF of the arguments you have written.

    The consequences of your highly erroneous article will aclffect the lives of THOUSANDS of parents and children.

    Shame on you.

  • It’s really worrying when the family court and it’s judges do not take domestic abuse seriously, I have heard many times that this is quickly overlooked. It shouldn’t as it’s our evidence and livid experiences. In my case I am being alienated so it’s not always the Dad, it’s a serious case of alienation too and the impact has my child refusing to see me. I have been accused of abuse without a shred of credible evidence and social services remain quite with no updates on my child. It’s a joke.

    • Please see Dr Emma Katz’s research which pertains to your circumstances. Citing PA is supporting a pseudoscientific concept which isn’t helpful. I don’t dismiss that there are men who sabotage the mother child relationship. Look at the research in this area and seek appropriate support.

  • My experience is similar to Lily’s on this post. I was dragged to court multiple times by my abuser over 10 years. In the end, I was identified by the court as a vulnerable witness but as I did not meeting the means testing, I did not qualify for legal aid. As a litigant in person, I also had to fight off the GAL and child’s solicitor who bullied me extensively throughout. The circumstances were such that they could not accuse me of alienation (no rejection, no contact denial) but as I was alleging abuse and had evidence of abuse, they did try to say I had bipolar and I was “projecting anxieties”. I was forced to go for a psychiatric assessment and in the end I was totally vindicated. At the final hearing, the GAL had the gall to say I should be thankful my ex couldn’t play the mental health card again.

    However as Lily says, I felt like I was going to die throughout the harrowing experience. I have developed long term health issues from family court abuse and was very sick for two years afterwards.

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