FROM Support Not Separation and Women Against Rape
The Support Not Separation (SNS) Coalition (co-ordinated by Legal Action for
Women) includes organisations of single mothers, women of colour, women with
disabilities, rape /domestic abuse survivors, breastfeeding advocates,
psychotherapists, men and social workers. We defend mothers and children against
unwarranted separation and the devaluing of the mother-child relationship. We are in
contact with hundreds of mothers and other primary carers, and children, family law
professionals, organisations and concerned individuals.
In January 2017 Legal Action for Women published our Dossier Suffer the Little
Children & their Mothers which documented 56 cases of mothers fighting in the
family courts to stop violent fathers having unsupervised contact or residence of
children, and against children being taken into care and/or adopted. In July 2021 we
updated this research based on the experiences of 219 mothers of 411 children.
This contribution to the Statutory Guidance consultation is based on extensive
collective self-help and campaigning. We run monthly self-help meetings where
mothers share their experiences and a number of organisations contribute their
expertise. They are: All African Women’s Group, English Collective of Prostitutes,
Global Women’s Strike (GWS), Women of Colour GWS, Single Mothers’ Self
Defence, WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities) and Women
Women Against Rape (WAR) is one of the organisations in SNS and has been
particularly involved in commenting on this Guidance as it was at the forefront of our
work on the Domestic Abuse Act. Since 1976 WAR has provided advocacy and
information in individual cases and campaigns for justice, asylum, protection and
compensation. It has won changes in the law such as getting rape in marriage
recognised as a crime.
The Statutory Guidance must prevent the ‘gender neutral’ approach of the DAA being used by perpetrators to further attack their victims.
While the government insisted that the DAA is ‘gender neutral’, it did acknowledge during the parliamentary debates that overwhelmingly women are the victims and men the perpetrators. The draft Guidance reflects this incontrovertible evidence, which is crucial to the prevention of domestic violence and to victims achieving justice (point 4, page 12). It also recognises that abusers may make ‘false or vexatious allegations’ and/or counter-allegations against victims (point 169, page 55). However, these facts are not sufficiently spelt out. They must be stated in every chapter of the Guidance, in order to avoid the Act being sabotaged by abusive men falsely claiming to be victims.
As Women Against Rape points out: “Rape and domestic abuse investigations are marred by sexism, racism and indifference from many police officers and prosecutors, resulting in the shockingly low conviction rates (only 1.4% of rapes are prosecuted, DV isn’t much better). Unless the Guidance stresses that the overwhelming majority of victims are women, more mothers could lose their children and their homes to violent men.” The Guidance must also make clear that most male victims are attacked by male perpetrators.
The Guidance must protect victims from abusers using the family courts
and ‘parental alienation’ to continue their reign of terror.
There is now widespread and growing public and parliamentary concern about family courts enabling fathers to continue their reign of terror against women and children via contact orders with the children. Most couples reach amicable arrangements as any caring father knows that children need their mother. It is the uncaring and violent men who are most likely to pursue women through the courts as their priority
is not the welfare of the children but their fury at losing control over their ex-partners. Our own research found that 76% of mothers going through the family courts had been victims of domestic abuse: the uphill battle they experienced to secure safety and protection for their children and themselves was comprehensively confirmed by the Ministry of Justice’s Harm Report (published June 2020).
It is significant that the Domestic Abuse Act went through parliament without implementing the key findings of the Harm Report which dealt with the risk to safety posed by the ‘presumption of contact’ and ‘parental alienation’ in the family courts. However, Parliament was sufficiently aware of these dangers not to include ‘parental alienation’ in the DAA. The draft Guidance contradicts both the Harm report and the
will of Parliament by including ‘parental alienation’. Why hold an official review if its findings are ignored and not implemented? Why include what Parliament purposefully left out?
Chapter 2, Understanding Domestic Abuse
‘Parental alienation’ and all references to ‘alienating behaviours’ must be
removed from the definition of domestic abuse in the DAA’s Statutory
Guidance for the following reasons:
When the Bill was going through Parliament there was so much opposition to
‘parental alienation’ being included in the definition of domestic abuse that MPs
and Peers refused any mention of it. The Guidance must not be used to thwart
the will of Parliament by introducing through the back door what both Houses
The misogynist fathers’ lobby is so embedded in the family courts that ‘parental
alienation’ has become the default argument against any mother with safety
concerns, especially about child sexual abuse. The Statutory Guidance must
not legitimise the abuse perpetrated by domestic violence deniers. If this
stands, more mothers struggling to protect our children from sexual and/or other
abuse will be accused of ‘parental alienation’ in the family courts, lose our children
to the abusers, and could even be charged with domestic abuse in the criminal
The Statutory Guidance must not ignore the findings of the Harm Report that
there are barriers of “sexism, racism and classism” – and we would add,
prejudice against disabled mothers – in the family courts, and crucially that mothers
raising safety concerns are treated as ‘alienators’. The Harm Report notes:
… an allegation of ‘parental alienation’ meant that the parent who is the
subject of the allegation will be treated as an ‘alienator’, rather than as a
protective parent with well-founded fears around abduction or violence.
… there is a disparity of approach to expert testimony, with the courts allowing
expert testimony on parental alienation but not allowing expert testimony on
… professionals were too ready to see signs of alienation, and so silencing
children, rather than assessing further what the child may have witnessed or
experienced. This was particularly evident where allegations of sexual abuse
had been raised … If children have been alienated, then their wishes and
feelings are seen as contaminated.
Mothers … are dissuaded from raising allegations of domestic abuse because of fears of counter allegations of parental alienation or of hostility to co-parenting … on occasions, the mother’s own lawyers advised them not to raise allegations for these reasons. There was evidence of domestic abuse being relabelled as ‘high conflict’ relationships.
Judges have been unduly influenced by accusations of ‘parental alienation’,
supported by CAFCASS, social workers, psychologists and an army of ‘experts’, and quick to side with fathers against mothers and children. Children’s testimonies and fears are over-ridden as increasingly they are being forced to see abusive fathers and even live with them. Thus their lives are endangered:
research found 69 children killed since 2004, overwhelmingly by violent fathers, all of whom were known either to social services, the police and/or the family courts. Equally shockingly, judges are forcing children to live with strangers in foster care in order to make them have contact with their fathers. This has rightly been described by the London Victims Commissioner as ‘state sanctioned child abuse’.
The Harm Review found that:
… children’s views are frequently disregarded, primarily in cases where children are stating that they do not want to spend time with an abusive parent. Previous research studies have found a pattern of ‘selective listening’ where CAFCASS and courts react positively when children express a wish to spend time with a parent, but treat those who do not as problematic and obstructive, even when they expressed fear of their parent due to experiences of violence or abuse.
… a significant number of children who have experienced domestic abuse are
not consulted on their views and experiences during the court process …
children are rarely consulted on how arrangements are working for them once
an order has been made.
‘Parental alienation’ was invented by a discredited US psychiatrist who promoted
paedophilia. ‘Parental alienation’ has been rejected by a number of countries, including Scotland, Spain and Italy, and by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations. It would be scandalous if the Guidance
to legislation intended to prevent domestic abuse and protect victims became a charter for perpetrators enabling such abuse to continue and endangering women’s and children’s lives. The Guidance, like the DAA, must not include any mention of ‘parental alienation’ in whatever form.
We refer below to extensive documentation on the way allegations of ‘parental
alienation’ are used to dismiss, downplay and ignore mothers fighting to protect their
children in the family courts.