In a keynote address to the Families Need Fathers Conference on 25 June 2018 Lord Justice McFarlane, the new President of the Family Division refers to parental alienation. The full keynote can be found here, but I have included some of it below –
“I wish to say something now about ‘alienation’. For some time there has been debate as to whether or not the holy grail of ‘parental alienation syndrome’ actually exists. For my part, I have never regarded it as important to determine definitively whether or not psychologists or psychiatrists would be justified in attributing the label ‘syndrome’ to any particular behaviour in this regard. In time gone by, there was similar debate as to whethera diagnosis could be made of ‘Munchhausen’s Syndrome by Proxy’ in such cases the focus of the Family Court, rightly, moved away from any psychological/psychiatric debate in order to concentrate on the particular behaviour of the particular parent in relation to the particular child in each individual case. If that behaviour was found to be abusive then action was taken, irrespective of whether or not a diagnosis of a particular personality or mental health condition in the parent could be made.
In my view, ‘alienation’ should be approached in the same way. From my experience as a first instance judge, albeit now more than 7 years ago, I readily accept that in some cases a parent can, either deliberately or inadvertently, turn the mind of their child against the other parent so that the child holds a wholly negative view of that other parent where such a negative view cannot be justified by reason of any past behaviour or any aspect of the parent-child relationship. Further, where that state of affairs has come to pass, it is likely to be emotionally harmful for the child to grow up in circumstances which maintain an unjustified and wholly negative view of the absent parent.
The Women’s Aid research describes accusations of parental alienation being used against women who raise concerns about domestic abuse to the extent that allegations of abuse are ‘obscured by allegations of parental alienation against the non-abusive parent’.
Drawing matters together, that short quotation from the Women’s Aid research neatly points to a theme in this short address which is to stress the importance of fact finding. It is, as I have already observed crucial, both to the interests of the alleged victim and, in fact, to those of the alleged perpetrator, for any significant allegations of domestic abuse to be investigated and determined as matters of fact, similarly any significant allegation of ‘alienation’, should also be laid out before the court and, if possible, determined on the same basis.”