Parental alienation is where one parent intentionally turns their children against the other parent to destroy their relationship. It can be viewed as serious form of child abuse.
The Justice Plan 2023 and the Family Justice Strategy 2022-2025 both contain a commitment to make recommendations to address the issue. In order to enhance understanding of parental alienation, the Department of Justice commissioned research into the area in 2021.
The 159-page report notes that the concept of parental alienation emerged in the 1980s because of the work of US-based Richard Gardner, who was motivated by “his perceptions of an ‘epidemic’ of false accusations of sexual abuse being made mainly by mothers against fathers in custody proceedings”.
The researchers of the report consider that “greater precision is required when adopting the terminology of parental alienation in legal settings”, and terms like “estrangement” are often more appropriate. They note that there is “little empirical evidence available on the nature or prevalence of parental alienation in Ireland and there is no objective information on demographic, social or economic factors associated with it”, with the literature around the concept “predominantly written by authors based in the United States”.
Yet, as recent as last May, the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) described the use of parental alienation in custody disputes where domestic violence is raised as a topic requiring “urgent attention”.
Commenting on the publication of the report, justice minister Simon Harris said: “The research report noted a number of areas for consideration to address the issue. These include reform of the family courts, focusing on improved assessments and greater precision in the use of the term, training, better signposting and referral pathways to interventions. Overall, the research all suggested that the means to address parental alienation lie in improvements to the Irish family courts and family justice system.”
Following analysis and consideration of both the research and consultation findings, the Department produced a policy paper outlining how to address the matter.
The paper makes the following recommendations:
- Give priority to children’s voices being heard and considered by the court and support them in their journey through the system.
- Examine how expert reports are conducted, what they contain and how assessors are appointed. Provide additional training for those tasked with compiling assessments, particularly in relation to the dynamics of family breakdown.
- Review assessment tools currently available to the courts, with a view to making recommendations to improve them, as well as identifying how to assist judges in considering issues on a case-by-case basis.
- Support and extend family support services, including Alternative Dispute Resolution, and make them more accessible.
- Improve the training and awareness amongst legal professionals and others involved in high-conflict proceedings to increase their understanding of concepts and descriptors associated with behaviours of parents and children in these situations.
- Actions should be implemented with regards to establishing, and in some areas improving, data collection on family justice issues.
The Family Justice Strategy, which was published in November 2022, contains a number of actions which complement the areas identified in the policy review paper. The Minister for Justice will engage with Government colleagues on this issue as work continues to implement the ambitious family justice reform programme.
The Research Report can be found here: Parental Alienation – A Review of Understandings, Assessment and Interventions .
NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff LLP, whose numbers can be found on our website www.nfg.ie, or email email@example.com.