The family courts simply cannot adopt a 'one size fits all' policy in respect of parental alienation & domestic abuse cases - Boodle Hatfield

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04 Sep 2023

The family courts simply cannot adopt a ‘one size fits all’ policy in respect of parental alienation & domestic abuse cases

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Pippa Cook View profile
2 min read

A BBC investigation published today revealed that five mothers have died after family courts allowed fathers accused of abuse to apply for contact with their children. Another study has revealed that 75 children have been forced into having contact with fathers who had previously been reported for abuse.

This story illustrates the extreme tension between allegations of domestic or psychological abuse on the one hand and the other parent's allegations of parental alienation. Such allegations are regularly deployed by the accused perpetrator in retaliation to arguments that contact should be restricted due to claims of domestic abuse. In practice, the family court must undertake an analysis of both sides, thus, in practice, often deflecting the court's attention from sometimes extremely serious claims of abuse.

Cases of this nature are routinely being dealt with by family courts which are already hugely overstretched and unable to give them the care and attention required to examine the allegations. Those alleging domestic abuse are faced with a huge uphill struggle in terms of proof and a lengthy and expensive process. Sadly, many reach the conclusion that the process is too risky, stressful and costly and feel compelled to concede that contact may go ahead, despite their reservations.

It is impossible for the courts to adopt a 'one size fits all' policy in respect of these cases; each case must be dealt with on its own merit. But the report published today has highlighted the risks in adopting labels and "psychological jargon" in these cases without proper assessment being carried out on a case by case basis. Whilst some steps have been taken to protect victims of domestic abuse in family courts it is clear that these have not gone nearly far enough.

Domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs says the "harrowing" cases uncovered by the BBC show there is a need for "urgent and wide-reaching reform" of family courts. Abusers aided by unregulated experts were using "so-called parental alienation" to "deflect from their own abusive behaviour", she says.

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