Investigation into violent fathers using allegations of “parental alienation” in the family courts

Further to the Briefing by Women Against Rape & Support Not Separation (8 June) to the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee.

Legal Action for Women, which coordinates the Support Not Separation Coalition, holds regular self-help meetings with mothers fighting to protect their children. In our self-help meeting last week, six women came together to discuss how they and their children have been targeted by violent fathers. Three were women of colour, and one was an immigrant from Eastern Europe. 

In every case the father had a history of domestic violence against the mother, sometimes including rape, and in several cases he had also been abusive towards the children. All six mothers had accused of “parental alienation” by the fathers after they raised concerns about violence and the impact of forcing the children into contact with a father they feared or hardly knew.

● In one case two young children have already been taken from their mum and given to the father who hits them and is so neglectful that they had to be sent to live with their grandmother.

● In three cases, the children are threatened with being taken into foster care if they continue to refuse to see their fathers! This includes 11-year old twins who face being separated from each other and put in foster care so they can be “persuaded” to see their father.

What is clear from these accounts is that:

  • Children’s “wishes and feelings” not to see their violent father are being ignored, in contravention with the Children Act 1989.
  • Children are being tortured with threats of being taken from their mother and their home and put in foster care if they don’t comply and have contact with their violent father.
  • Mothers who are doing their best to protect their children and to listen to the voices of those old enough to clearly speak for themselves, are accused of manipulating the children against their fathers i.e. of “parental alienation”.
  • Mothers who have experienced violence on themselves and their children, are being directed by the court to coerce the children into contact with the abusive father or risk having the children taken into care or given to the man they know to be violent.
  • Violent men are using the family courts to continue their reign of terror over women and children, and to avoid prosecution. We know of cases where police investigations were dropped once the fathers applied to the family court for contact.
  • Violent men are considered “good enough fathers” despite being ready to deprive children of their primary carer.
  • Court appointed psychiatrists, CAFCASS officers and social workers are more keen to promote fathers’ “right” to contact with the children than to protect children’s safety and welfare. They are ready to take children from their mothers, split up siblings and put them into foster care to try to force them into contact! 
  • No consideration is given to the devastating impact and lifelong trauma caused to children by being brutally cut off from siblings and from the mother who has been their primary carer, and put into state “care” with strangers. 
  • In addition to the sexism of having the violence they reported ignored, dismissed or even turned against them, mothers who are women of colour or immigrant and/or have a disability face racism and other discrimination from professionals. Disproportionate numbers of BAME children are in “care”; half of mothers with learning disabilities who seek help have their children taken from them.