On the 29 January 2020, nineteen academics, legal and child welfare professionals, and delegates from grassroots stakeholder organisations came together to consider the scope and focus of a grant application for a large-scale international, inter-disciplinary empirical study on parental alienation (PA) in the family courts. Parental alienation, a highly contested concept for which there is little credible scientific support, is described by its proponents as a process through which a child becomes estranged from a parent as the result of the psychological manipulation of the other parent.
Led by Dr Adrienne Barnett and Professor Felicity Kaganas of Brunel Law School, the workshop welcomed proposed co-researchers, Dr Simon Lapierre (Canada), Zoe Rathus (Australia) and Dr Julie Doughty (Wales), and was supported and sponsored by the Global Lives Research Centre. The proposed research will investigate, amongst other things, the extent of claims of PA in the family courts, how it has been constructed as a significant problem and responded to by the courts and professionals in England, Wales, Canada and Australia, as well as the impact of claims of PA on allegations of domestic abuse.
Key issues identified by participants included the varied ways in which PA is understood by courts and professionals, the impact of claims of PA on parents and children, including in circumstances of domestic abuse, and the power and credibility of experts in family proceedings.
Delegates raised concerns from their professional experiences about the huge increase in claims of PA in recent years, the high level of domestic abuse in cases where PA is raised, the difficulties for parents, particularly those without legal representation, in combatting accusations of PA, and the extent to which children’s voices are heard in such cases.
The workshop concluded with a Skype discussion with Professor Joan Meier, whose ground-breaking study of PA in the USA was recently completed.