Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Parental Alienation Part II - The controversy

So last time I talked about the nature of Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome. In short, parental alienation is where one parent (usually the resident parent) affects a child's attitude to the other parent such that the child expresses dislike for the other parent.

The Court can take a number of steps to address this, although once the matter is identified in Court, it is likely that most of the damage has been done, and it is very hard to reverse. The Court usually starts by allowing the non-resident parent more time with the child, and time not affected by the resident parent. The Court can Order that one or both parents undertake counselling, and can Order that the child be included in that. The Court can then consider taking the enormous step of changing the residence of the child.

This is where the controversy begins. On the one hand, you have the organisations for the support of alienated parents, such as the site http://www.parentalalienation.com.au/ and Parental Alienation Awareness Organisation. They advocate that the alienated parent should immediately have more time, and that the Court should consider changing the child's residence.

The other side is set out in a paper by Dr Elspeth McInness, an Early Childhood Education lecturer at the University of South Australia. Her paper, entitled "Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Paradigm for Child Abuse in Australian Family Law" can be found here.

Dr McInness argues that crying 'Parental Alienation' is a tool available to actual abusers who want more access to the child. Any abuse disclosed to the resident parent can be justified as 'lies sought by the alienating parent.'


The rational for this is that the concept of parental alienation allows for a child to make disclosures of abuse which are false. The child recognises that when they disclose abuse, the resident parent appears satisfied/happy that they can accuse the non-resident parent of some wrong-doing, and therefore they will make allegations, knowing they will be supported.

After discussing the process by which notifications of abuse are dealt with by the Family Law Courts and the State service providers (such as FamiliesSA), McInness states that "In the private adversarial legal system of the Family Court, the fact that the state child protection service has not substantiated the allegations of abuse, is translated into an apparent false allegation, which is explained by paradigms such as Parental Alienation Syndrome." (page 3) McInness can be summarised as concluding that, in short, if an allegation of abuse is made, and not investigated for whatever reason, it is reported as 'not substantiated', which is synonymous with false.

The crux of McInness' argument is that there needs to be a publicly funded body to investigate claims of abuse. She does, however, cast aspersions over the merits of a finding of 'Parental Alienation.'

In my view, having witnessed this first-hand very recently, I think that it is clear that Parental Alienation is a real problem in acrimonious separations. There needn't have been any abuse for the alienation to crop up (although PAA suggests that Parental Alienation IS a form of abuse), and where it isn't addressed, it can have a serious impact on the relationship between child and parent.

But it must be addressed carefully, and where there are allegations of abuse, they should be investigated carefully, and summary reports by bodies such as 'Families SA' should not be relied upon for more than they are worth.

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