Summary of international academic research on Parental Alienation

Thank you Rachel for collating this vauable information and sharing.

Rachel Watson 1 October 2020

What happens when a parent raises claims of ‘abuse’ in a civil family court action and it gets counterclaimed with ‘parental alienation’?

Here’s what the experts say.


U.S. child custody outcomes in cases involving parental alienation and abuse allegations: what do the data show? : Professor Joan Meier (George Washington University)

“The findings confirm that mothers’ claims of abuse, especially child physical or sexual abuse, increase their risk of losing custody, and that fathers’ cross-claims of alienation virtually double that risk. Alienation’s impact is gender-specific; fathers alleging mothers are abusive are not similarly undermined when mothers cross-claim alienation.”



A Genealogy of Hostility: parental alienation in England and Wales : Dr Adrienne Barnett (Brunel University London)

“The case law revealed a high incidence of domestic abuse perpetrated by parents (principally fathers) who were claiming that the resident parents (principally mothers) had alienated the children against them, which raises questions about the purpose of PA. More recently, a PA ‘industry’ appears to have amassed comprising experts, therapists and lawyers, advocating transfers of children’s care from ‘alienating’ mothers to non-resident fathers, as well as PA therapy for children and parents.” 



Professional responses to ‘parental alienation’: research-informed practice : Dr Julie Doughty, Dr Nina Maxwell & Dr Tom Slater (Cardiff University)

“This review revealed a dearth of reliable evidence on the concept of parental alienation, its prevalence, effects and measures for intervention.”



How Is Parental Alienation used Against Separated and Divorced Mothers in France? : Pierre-Guillaume Prigent (University of Western Brittany) & Gwenola Sueur (University of Angers)

“Parental alienation is used as a strategy to conceal male violence, by violent men themselves, relatives or institutions, mainly. It reduces domestic violence to parental conflict and pathologizes women and children. This is linked to a wider problem of identification of domestic violence in France (mainly psychoanalysis based), and a tendency to undermine the credibility of abused mothers and their children.”

French/English (First results recap)Research

À qui profite la pseudo théorie de l’aliénation parentale? : Pierre-Guillaume Prigent & Gwenola Sueur Research


A history of the use of the concept of parental alienation in the Australian family law system: contradictions, collisions and their consequences : Zoe Rathus AM (Griffith University)

 “When mothers’ allegations of violence in the family are disbelieved, minimised or dismissed, they are transformed from victims of abuse into perpetrators of abuse – alienators of children from their fathers. Their actions and attitudes collide with the shared parenting philosophy.” 



The legitimization and institutionalization of ‘parental alienation’ in the Province of Quebec : Professor Simon Lapierre, Professor Patrick Ladouceur, Michele Frenette (University of Ottawa) & Assistant Professor Isabelle Cote (Laurentian University)

“The findings reveal researchers’ and experts’ tendency to distance themselves from Gardner’s controversial work on ‘parental alienation syndrome’ and to address the critiques by proposing new approaches and new concepts. However, the terms ‘parental alienation syndrome’, ‘parental alienation’ and ‘alienating behaviours’ are often used interchangeably, and assessment practices tend to rely on similar indicators.”


Penalizing women’s fear: intimate partner violence and parental alienation in Canadian child custody cases : Professor Elizabeth Sheehy (University of Ottawa) & Professor Susan B. Boyd (University of British Columbia)

“A close reading of those cases where both alienation and intimate partner violence claims are made reveals troubling patterns in how intimate partner violence is discounted in this context. We suggest that the rise of shared parenting as a dominant norm assists in understanding why alienation has achieved such unquestioned status, and call for greater focus on safety and women’s and children’s voices.”



‘It’s Not OK’, but ‘It’ never happened: parental alienation accusations undermine children’s safety in the New Zealand Family Court : Deborah Mackenzie (The Backbone Collective), Ruth Herbert & Neville Robertson

“While the public campaign slogan in New Zealand when referring to family violence, is ‘It’s Not OK’, many women in New Zealand report that the Family Court prefers the catchphrase ‘It never happened’. When women and children escaping violence and abuse reach out to the New Zealand Family Court for protection believing the justice system will help them, they often enter an alternative reality where they are not believed and are subsequently made less safe. This is particularly so for those women whose well-founded fears for their children’s safety get reinterpreted as evidence of a deliberate attempt to alienate the children from their fathers.”


The affective burden of separated mothers in PA(S) inflected custody law systems: a New Zealand case study : Professor Vivienne Elizabeth (University of Auckland)

“Custody law systems across the Anglo-West are increasingly characterised by the overt and covert use of parental alienation (syndrome) as an aid to the governance of post-separation mothers. Difficulties with care arrangements within PA(S) inflected custody law systems are often regarded as evidence of mothers’ alienating behaviours, resulting in a range of remedial, coercive and punitive censures, including losing resident parent status.”



Parental alienation (syndrome) in child custody cases: survivors’ experiences and the logic of psychosocial and legal services in Italy : Mariachiara Feresin (University of Trieste)

“Women were often blamed and labelled as ‘engaging in parental alienation’ when they were trying to ensure their children’s safety. Children’s accounts were interpreted as being a result of their mothers’ manipulation. In contrast, fathers were treated as victims of vindictive women who want to keep children to themselves. Men’s violent behaviours were not considered, and their role as fathers was seen as ‘inviolable’.”



Parental Alienation Syndrome in Spain: opposed by the Government but accepted in the Courts : Gloria Casas Vila (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

“However, the parallel dissemination of the pseudo-scientific concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), especially since 2004, has become a tool to stall the enforcement of gender equality legislation. Specifically, PAS is causing severe harm in legal procedures related to marital breakdown. Both the government and the General Council of the Judiciary have taken a stand against the deployment of PAS in the legal system, but the notion of parental alienation is still widely used in family courts.” 



It is clear from the academic research that parental alienation, in cases involving domestic abuse, has the purpose and the power to swivel the spotlight from the evidence of abusive behaviour to the allegations of alienating behaviour. The concept of parental alienation in these cases is harmful and results in poor outcomes for domestic abuse victims and children.

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