We have written to the Family Justice Council in response to their recent Draft Guidance on Responding to allegations of alienating behaviour! We submitted suggestions for revisions to the draft and outlined our concerns with the continued use of ‘alienating behaviours’. Read through a short summary here:
Right to Equality is dedicated to promoting equality in the law for all and is currently undertaking a campaign to end the presumption of contact in family courts. Based on existing research and survivor testimony, we believe this presumption often overlaps with allegations of ‘parental alienation’ and significantly impacts the safety of survivors and children. Therefore, Right to Equality calls for the following changes and amendments to the Family Justice Council’s Consultation: Draft Guidance on Responding to allegations of alienating behaviour, which can be summarised as follows:
1. Emphasise in the guidance that allegations of Domestic Abuse must be investigated as a priority in accordance with Practice Direction 12J.
2. Investigate whether the child is reluctant, resistant, or refuses contact and, if so, why, using a holistic approach which recognises protective behaviours.
3. Ensure the ‘expert’ language in reports is specific and descriptive.
4. See the Conclusion for a detailed description of suggested changes.
We appreciate the FJC’s efforts to craft improvements for survivors and children in their draft and are happy to support several of the points made. Our input is to express the seriousness of the issue of using parental alienation within the court. We attempt to work within the existing system to create helpful changes; however, we are deeply aware that enacting positive reform around the use of a flawed concept will be difficult. Therefore, we express our suggestions with the understanding that the end goal should be eradicating the use of the concept of parental alienation from the courts.
Right to Equality’s Stance on ‘Parental Alienation’:
Right to Equality believes ‘parental alienation’ does not belong in the courts. The notion of ‘parental alienation’ lacks a scientific basis and is too often used to harm survivors and children. We see no viable reason for an unfounded concept to hold any place in our justice system. While our recommendations address changes that the FJC could make to protect survivors of domestic abuse, there remains the overarching issue that our suggestions will only address a few of the issues stemming from the true root of the issue. The frequent use of ‘parental alienation’ and the presumption of contact between children and non-resident parents is the root of the issue requiring address. In addition to the arguments presented in the previous points, it is important to emphasise that evidence proves that claims of ‘parental alienation’ are used by abusers to dismantle allegations of domestic abuse and paint victim-mothers as emotionally abusive.
We firmly request that the use of ‘parental alienation’, ‘alienating behaviours’, and ‘parental alienation syndrome’ in courts be prohibited. The ‘RRR model’ proposed by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner provides a more productive framework for understanding and responding to children’s wishes and feelings and their lived experiences. We understand the FJC is working where they are able to mitigate harm and promote a more just
approach within these situations; however, it would be helpful for the guidance to include revisions which outline the specific harms that allegations of ‘parental alienation’ cause and a more explicit declaration that it is a pseudoscientific concept.
While we are delighted that the FJC is working to remedy the issues faced in court in this area, we strongly suggest serious revisions be made to avoid legitimising a pseudoscientific concept, avoid further harming survivors and children, and protect those seeking justice through the legal system. To reiterate the changes we suggest above, we seek that the FJC:
I. State explicitly that domestic abuse must be investigated at the highest priority and outline why this increases the safety of all involved.
II. Acknowledge the power imbalances present in cases where ‘parental alienation’ is brought as a response to domestic abuse allegations and the tactical use of allegations of ‘parental alienation’ as a form of litigation abuse, outlining provisions for support for those alleging domestic abuse.
III. On page eight, change the language of “sometimes raised” to “often,” “regularly,” or “frequently” to reflect the high frequency of allegations of ‘parental alienation’ brought in response to allegations of domestic abuse.
IV. Require all involved in the justice process who interact with parties or make decisions to be domestic-abuse informed.
V. Acknowledge that so-called alienating behaviours are actually often protective behaviours and engage with them as such. To this end, on page eleven, replace ‘alienating behaviour’ with‘protective behaviour’; on page nine, include ‘protective behaviour’ as an explanation for resistance.
VI. Acknowledge ‘parental alienation’ is not a form of domestic abuse.
VII. Note that allegations of ‘parental alienation’ are primarily used to obscure and pre-empt investigations of domestic abuse.
VIII. Emphasise the understanding that the absence of an alternative explanation does not indicate ‘alienation’ as explained in the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s report. Further, emphasise that there is a clear risk in courts using ‘parental alienation’ (and ‘alienating behaviours’) as an explanatory option where any likelihood that abuse is occurring exists. Outline, in detail, other reasons for resistance or reluctance to contact.
IX. Replace the language of ‘alienating behaviours’ with the RRR model proposed by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
X. Experts should be instructed to use specific, accurate, descriptive language backed by evidence and expounded on when giving reports. Requirements for specific and accurate language to be used and for experts to be trauma-informed and educated in domestic abuse prior to engaging in any case involving parental alienation allegations should be included moving forward.
XI. Acknowledge the use of ‘Parental alienation’, ‘alienating behaviours’, and ‘parental alienation syndrome’ in courts should be prohibited- until then, the root of the issue will be allowed to persist, causing significant harm. Outline the specific harms that allegations of ‘parental alienation’ cause and explicitly declare that it is a pseudoscientific concept.
Read the full response here: FJC Response Draft Reply