Efforts to have Parental Alienation Recognised in Law

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The Scale of the Problem

Parental Alienation the condition whereby one parent attempts to poison the child’s mind against the other parent occurs in the context of bitter custody battles where a relationship has broken down.

The condition has been included in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, to come into effect at the beginning of 2022. However there is now a dispute over the term used to describe the condition.

There’s no policy in Ireland on how to detect parental alienation and Tusla don’t have formal procedures for dealing with it.

The support group Alienated Children First, ACF, is campaigning to have sanctions imposed on the offending parent. They have succeeded in getting 29 councils in Ireland to support the measure and are now in the process of arguing the case with the Oireachtas Justice committee.

The group claims that over 300,000 persons are affected by parental alienation in Ireland.

This is a vast number and illustrates the scale of the problem. The issue has been gaining in public awareness for a number of years as more cases come before the courts.

ACF claims that over 300,000 persons are affected by parental alienation in Ireland

A Firm Basis of Evidence

The group seeks that the best interests of the child be paramount when considering such cases rather than the current Irish court based approach of a “winner takes all” adversarial contest which characterises so many cases.

The counselling psychotherapist Brian O’Sullivan has been campaigning for many years to

have it addressed. Mr O’Sullivan says the alienation has a profoundly damaging effect on the parent and the child.

“At the moment there is no public funding for a solution,” says O’Sullivan who is advocating for the introduction of the Family Bridges programme for severe cases. it is a four-day programme with a 96 per cent success rate in reuniting children with the alienated parent, he says, and is used in various jurisdictions.

O Sullivan states “There is a knowledge base in the field of parental alienation that has been gathered through academic research and expert clinical observation and shared among experts but that is not yet routinely available to front-line clinicians.”

Current Practice Reinforces the Status Quo

Two researchers at WIT, Dr Roisin O’Shea and Dr. Sinead Conneely have observed 360 cases in the family law courts and have highlighted the way the family law system can contribute to the breakdown of the relationship between one parent and the child.

They term this “parental estrangement” – as opposed to parental alienation, which they define as “where there is significant conflict between parents and the child is encouraged by one parent to align to that parent and reject the other”.

In cases where access to children was an issue, they identified parental alienation arising in 24 per cent of those disputes and parental estrangement in 13 per cent.

Often the only mechanism the judge has to address it is to order a report.

We still have little regard for the best interests of children

“What happens then is the status quo is reinforced,” says O’Shea. “If one parent is withholding access from the other parent, that will remain in place until this report is done and that in itself creates estrangement. Even if the first parent wasn’t deliberately trying to do parental alienation, what happens is the same effect because the father or the mother doesn’t get to see the child. We still have little regard for the best interests of children.”

Under Section 60 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 where there have been repeated breaches of access, the court can double the time spent with the other parent.

False Allegations

A further complicating factor is the way false allegations of child abuse are used by one parent to destroy the other. This has the effect of using the children as pawns in custody battles. False allegations are made in 70-80% of cases of parental alienation.

There is no law on this matter. We need firm court orders to be made and sanctions imposed on the offending parent.

There are no consequences for the parent making false allegations at present. The children end up being interviewed numerous times by multiple agencies, social workers. This has profoundly damaging effects on the children.

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