Parliament rejected ‘parental alienation’ in the Domestic Abuse Act; get it out of the Statutory Guidance

Here are the two main debates in the House of Commons and the Lords, where ‘parental alienation’ was discussed and rejected as part of the definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill which became law in April 2021. Deadline to contribute to the consultation on the Statutory Guidance Tuesday 11.45pm see here.

House Of Commons Domestic Abuse Bill debate 6 July 2020

During this debate MP Philip Davies tabled an amendment that would have included ‘parental alienation’ in the definition of domestic abuse. It was strongly challenged by Tonia Antoniazzi MP and the amendment was not carried forward.

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Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower – It is not particularly a pleasure to follow Philip Davies, who talks about the alienation of fathers and grandparents when the family court has given and continues to give parental rights to men who have perpetrated violent crimes against their children. I find it absolutely disgusting.

House of Lords Domestic Abuse Bill debate 25 January 2021

‘Parental alienation’ was tabled by Baroness Meyer to be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill. It was fiercely rejected by peers and the amendment was not carried forward. It is of note that Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede is a current serving Family Court Judge at the Central Family Courts and he describes how ‘parental alienation’ is used in his experience of private law cases.

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Baroness Brinton – It is worth noting that these moves are unanimously opposed by all of the victims’ and domestic abuse commissioners, as well as domestic abuse charities, and I thank them all for their briefings. They tell us that there is worrying evidence that the concept of parental alienation has gained a significant foothold in the UK family courts and is already being used in judgments relating to child safety. Worse, there is also alarming evidence that the fears of false allegations of parental alienation are becoming a barrier to victims of abuse telling the courts about their experience.

The Ministry of Justice report, Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases, published in June 2020, makes that plain. The report received deeply concerning evidence that fears of parental alienation are directly supressing allegations of domestic abuse. The review received several submissions which highlighted how “victims were advised by professionals, including their own lawyers, not to raise domestic abuse because the courts would take a negative view of this and it may be used against them as evidence of parental alienation or hostility to co-parenting.” Among its recommendations, the Ministry of Justice report says that…..“Fears of false allegations of parental alienation are clearly a barrier to victims of abuse telling the courts about their experiences.”

Inexplicably, the phrase “parental alienation” has been included in draft statutory guidance for the Bill as a form of coercive control, despite not appearing anywhere in coercive control legislation.

Why are there such concerns about parental alienation on the part of those who are experts in domestic abuse? They are seeing a direct relationship between allegations of parental alienation and potentially unsafe child contact or residence arrangements. Some parental alienation experts recommend dramatic measures to treat this alienation, including a 90-day deprogramming window in which the child is placed with the allegedly alienated parent and is allowed no contact the with alleged alienator. In reality, this means that many children are placed with parents they are afraid of—whether that is rational or not—who are alleged abusers and whom the children often directly state opposition to living with. This is a deeply distressing intervention for the child and the parent who may have lost custody, who is given no knowledge of their child’s welfare during this time.

“I am increasingly concerned about the potential for the idea of ‘parental alienation’ to be weaponised by perpetrators of domestic abuse to silence their victims within the Family Court. So much more must be done to improve the understanding of domestic abuse within the Family Court, which is the single most common issue that victims and survivors contact me about. I have heard of some terrible examples where the Family Court fails victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and addressing these will be a top priority for me and my Office.”

It is also worthy of note that, having adopted a definition of parental alienation, the World Health Organization has now agreed to remove any reference to it.

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Baroness Helic – I wish to focus my remarks on the deliberate misuse of allegations of parental alienation as a tactic to minimise or cover up serious allegations of domestic violence and abuse; in other words, allegations which direct attention away from an abusive parent onto a protective parent. We must guard against them becoming a loophole, or a get-out-of-jail card, in our law, in a way which makes it even harder for victims of domestic abuse—whether male or female, young or old—to receive protection, medical and emotional care, and justice.

There are clear studies which demonstrate the gendered assumptions and myths underlying it. A recent American study published a few months ago found not only that 82% of the alienation claims analysed were brought by fathers but that fathers were more than twice as likely than mothers to win their cases when claiming alienation, and that fathers’ claims of alienation were far more likely to result in a change of residency than mothers’ claims. Parental alienation is not just bad science; it is bad science biased against women.

Parental alienation is being used as a stock response to any allegation of domestic abuse. These findings are confirmed by the Ministry of Justice’s expert panel review, which reported in June 2020. It warned that the pro-contact culture of the courts makes them receptive to accusations of parental alienation whenever concerns over child safety are raised. Alarmingly, parental alienation is then taken more seriously than allegations of domestic abuse. The expert panel made a number of recommendations which are in the process of being considered and implemented, but it is safe to say that this amendment would have a negative impact on this work.

Above all, we must not overlook the impact on children. On the basis of discredited science, children are being forced to live with abusers. Indeed, the theory and practice of parental alienation run counter to many of the advances that have been made in recent years, and in this Bill, when it comes to children and abuse.

In so far as there is genuinely abusive behaviour covered under the vague label of parental alienation, it would be covered by the much tighter and better evidenced concept of coercive control. Introducing parental alienation into the mix does not safeguard against abuse or protect against some heinous crime; it allows an allegation of a discredited concept to have equal or even greater weight than an allegation of domestic abuse, which we know is associated with significant harm to children.

The definition of domestic abuse in this Bill will be critical for improving responses for survivors and children experiencing domestic abuse. It is vital that it does not include concepts without a robust basis in evidence. There is no convincing evidence for theories of parental alienation. There is evidence, however, that they are used to counter domestic abuse allegations and that they risk causing great harm to survivors of domestic abuse, including children.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle – The whole basis of claims of parental alienation is, in general, highly gendered. It claims that what women are saying cannot be trusted and relied upon.

In speaking against the inclusion of parental alienation in the Bill, because the whole approach fails to listen to women and children particularly and is not based on evidence.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes – I speak to Amendments 2 and 4, which propose to add parental alienation to the definition of abusive behaviour and therefore to every provision of the Bill. I fear that the proposed amendments may undo much of the work that the Bill seeks to do to protect victims of domestic abuse by swinging the pendulum of control back to the perpetrator of domestic abuse, rather than the victim, in making counter allegations.

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Baroness Newlove – . Current practices around parental alienation expose domestic abuse survivors and their children to further harm. Once again, silencing the victims of abuse and erasing the voice of children in the courts leads to their being regularly misunderstood or overlooked.

It poses a huge threat to the validity of the Bill and will ultimately expose the survivors to the very harm that the Bill is designed to prevent.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull The problem with this amendment, which it took me some time to get my head around, is that the abused parent could actually be painted as the abuser. As Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, who has been quoted more than once already today, says: “It puts victims of domestic abuse into the ridiculous position where, if they raise their abuse in the family courts, however well they have actually behaved, that can trigger unfounded allegations of parental alienation that could result in their children being placed with the abuser.”


Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede – In family courts, as everyone has acknowledged, you quite often hear allegations of parental alienation, and a normal scenario is different from what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. A more normal scenario is that the parents are separated, the father has not seen the children for a while—too long—and he makes a private law application to see his children. The mother says there has been domestic abuse—or there have been allegations of domestic abuse—and the father makes a counter allegation, almost as a defence, saying that the mother is alienating the children against the father. That scenario is quite common.