Parental alienation: who’s the real victim?

Earlier this week Cafcass suggested that ‘parental alienation’ is a form of child abuse. This is when one parent tries to turn their children against their former partner.

Over the course of her 37-year career as a solicitor, Marilyn Stowe has dealt with thousands of people. In her experience those who try this tactic commonly present themselves as a victim. But, as she explains in this video, that is often not the case.

Press play to hear her thoughts on this emotive issue.

Video transcript

Hello, welcome to my video blog. Today is quite a milestone for me in my career because believe it or not, hopefully not, I have been qualified 37 years. 37 years ago today I was appearing for the very first time also in a Magistrates court. If you want to read about what happened to me on that day, please head to the post ‘My first day in court’ and read it in all its gory detail.

Over 37 years I have become a family law practitioner. I have seen a lot of things in my career through acting for people. Not an academic speculating. Not an academic who thinks their opinion is better than anybody else’s. What I am is a practitioner who has listened to thousands of people through my career and formed an opinion based on that. What I think I have noticed most of all is that there are people who will always criticise the law. There will be people, no matter what you do, no matter how it is applied who will say the law is biased in favour of women or the law is biased in favour of men. I think it is a problem that will never be solved. I personally don’t think there is anything at all wrong with our law. What I have noticed over the 37 years is that the interpretation of the law by different judges changes. Perhaps it is that interpretation that causes the outcry.

Through my career I have also noticed how best to deal with a couple. There are lots of people who will say that they are victims of parental alienation and that is something that we discuss on the blog today. Finally Cafcass are saying out loud that perhaps this is a form of child abuse. My experience is that a person who carries out parental alienation is usually someone who presents as a victim but is far from a victim. Really an aggressor. Somebody who is so embittered by the breakdown of the marriage that the answer is to ensure that the partner never sees the child again. It’s a terrible thing.

So what would I suggest is the best way of proceeding if I don’t think the law should change?

As a mediator and an arbitrator I have acted in cases where people have been sitting in front of me. As a mediator I am not allowed to give legal advice simply to help a couple reach an agreement between themselves. I have never quite understood that because as a lawyer, that is my inclination. As an arbitrator, a couple can sit in front of me and I can impose a solution upon them.

What I would suggest might be a very good idea indeed, especially since legal aid is still available for mediation, is to extend it to a scheme where one couples can have one lawyer who can advise them both sitting together and help them reach a sensible solution. That is my suggestion and I commend it to everybody and wish everybody all the very best in the future. Thank you.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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20 comments

Ned - February 15, 2017 at 1:58pm

So, if it is the interpretation of the law which changes (according to who is sitting on the bench) — and I won’t disagree with that observation — what are we supposed to do? Boycott the court?? Never turn up again — for any other court-appointed dates?? If it is likely to change anything, we might as well all start NOW.

But that is not only unrealistic, it is likely to get you into a lot of trouble — with the very judge you have “issues” with! It is ONLY the law you are even “allowed” to protest about — you certainly won’t get very far with protesting about Judge X or Judge Y!! Do you really think that an armful of “Contempt of Court” citations is going to change ANYTHING??

What really, Marilyn, is a realistic and meaningful course of action???

If those on the “front line” are never going to try to do anything about it, what hope is there for us “poor fools” on the other side??

There seems to be only one reasonable answer: Become an LiP.

And agitate for all courts — divorce courts too — to become OPEN to the public, so the PUBLIC can see when things are (manifestly) unfair. Because when justice (?) is being seen to be done, perhaps judges will be a LITTLE more concerned about getting it RIGHT.

Stuart - February 15, 2017 at 2:26pm

Thank you Marilyn for providing this Blog, and for your insights. Your thoughts about mediation are of course wise and sensible for normal separating couples.
This though is a posting about Parental Alienation. Your thoughts about mediation are not appropriate in cases of PA – which is a situation of Child abuse (as now recognised even by the higher echelons of CAFCASS) and coercive control by one parent over another.
Mediation in this circumstance will fail. What is needed is understanding of this by Family lawyers, CAFCASS practitioners and the Judiciary so that early recognition, and robust intervention take place – to protect the child.
At least it is now being talked about. Now it needs to be understood for what it is.

Ned - February 15, 2017 at 2:49pm

“For the avoidance of doubt” perhaps I should clarify that I was not just referring to the question of “Parental Alienation” — in fact, not really at all. It was hearing Marilyn’s words,

“There will be people who say the law is biased in favour of women or biased in favour of men. I think it’s a problem that will never be solved, and I personally don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with our law. What I have noticed over 37 years is that the interpretation of the law by different judges, changes. And perhaps it is that interpretation which causes the outcry….”

I cannot think that as a lawyer Marilyn was referring ONLY to the problem of PA, but to all situations where someone in a divorce case (usually, but not always, the man) feels the outcome was unfair.

It is that point which I was addressing.

If Marilyn wishes to “partition off” the ideas about PA as different from her feelings about the fairness (or not) of all other divorce case outcomes, especially the most oft-repeated one here, that the law often does not treat the men fairly, let her come back and disabuse us all of that notion. Because it sure looks as though she feels the divorce law, as it stands, is “beyond reproach”.

Deuce - February 15, 2017 at 5:59pm

Whilst you all tinkering over a practice and tactics used for so long by some selfish “parents” in order to gain “competitive advantage” over the other parents, les lives of many more children are being destroyed and sacrificed for the benefits of making sure the system works; but really to who’s advantage does the system is said to be working? Family lawyers or the so called victim single-parent who are bent on weaponzing the children? Because let face; that is what the end game is all about for many of those so called victims single-parent;
If it is only a matter of interpretation with the law then there may be a problem with the majority of those judges who interpret the law; they are either incompetent or they are just lazy. These judges get paid over £105000 a year on average to look into some of the most complex cases in divorce procedures where in many cases children are involved.
The sad thing is they are not scrutinised and the courtroom is just like they little kingdom where they can do pretty much as they please; many of whom would often act like bullied and know how they can get away with many of the decision that they come away with; for many don’t bother to read many of the statement put before them, or if/when they do it is often to justify the party of their choice that they perceived as the victim parent; and don’t get me wrong their decision can be made on a variety of reasons; appearance of the respondent, his or her race, the manner in which he/she present herself, the person’s backgrounds in all regards.. Etc. That being said, many of them just do not care; unless of course there are considerable finances involved, in which case they may put some efforts of a kind… for the rest they are just numbers and they just need to be processed just like they do in an assembly plant. With legal become more of rare commodity to get the hold off, many family lawyers know just what is needed to make a judge’s decision swing in their client’s favour; right on cue, the panacea of domestic and child abuse allegations; no matter how often unsubstantiated, a good formulation of legal syllogism always does the trick; provided it looks good and sounds good in linguistic terms. The bottom line is this: Lawyers, including social services and Cafcass workers need to be paid and judges need to ensure their incomes are justified.
For those of us who have had the opportunity to read through documents of a number of cases, I must say the number of cases where PA are obvious and apparent are staggering; Some of the claim can leave one bamboozled.
The saddest thing of all is that the vast majority of single parent resident get away with it and judge just look the other way. They hear no evil; they see no evil; they often claim that it is in “the children best interests” to be with that parent (often the mother). Once these judges have endorsed the wishes of the parent making the claim, it become open season that moment on; tough luck for the non-resident parent;
It really beggars belief that it took so long for Cafcass to ring on the alarm bell; how long will it take to act? Because as we speak it is happening and once a child life with his/her non-resident parent has been damaged it would inevitably turn into the potentially compromised and confused childhood with some devastating consequences in his/her future adult life.

Deuce - February 15, 2017 at 6:08pm

Parental alienation: who’s the real victim? So in the grand scheme of things it sounds now that there has always been a fake victim if it has now come to the point where question is being asked who the real victim is.
In era of Post truth, it about time we wondrered whether there is:
fake news… that one now conformed
fake allegations?
fake victims?
possibly fake interpretation of the law?
fake legal representation?
and fake many other things that are going on in the family court system?
Who knows…

The Devil's Advocate - March 5, 2017 at 11:02am

Again another good point; “fake” is the correct word when the alienator in their DSM5 condition only exists by promoting psychopathic “fake news” by their charismatic and narcissistic ploy that should dumfound the judiciary but they can get away with it by perverting the course of justice by faking the use of the CA 89…..That it why the only approach is to change the law from the Germanic control of children by one parent or the other, to the Latin balanced approach of parental parity based on engaged moral AND legal rights…All empirical evidence exists and such national governments now instruct the judiciary to what really is in the best interest of a child. So beware when incarceration for psychological abuse (as Pearce accepts), torture (anti UN Rights) and of course the newly termed name of psychological rape or psychophilia…

Paul Massey - February 15, 2017 at 6:21pm

I’m sure you’re a good lawyer Marilyn but you need to make this snappier. PA is bad. It is now ‘mainstream’ and known to be harmful (Parker J of course). Make it a crime. Appeal decisions.

Sorry but mediation is just a sop, in my experience. Same with contact centres. Tried both. Both said ‘ah yes we always sort these – get dads and kids back together’. I thought ‘really? you don’t know my ex’. I was right, they were wrong.

Action against PA must be fast. It must be hard. It must be unrelenting. Practitioners of this foul crime are narcissists – usually malignant narcissists. Talk is wasteful.

Make PA a crime today. Make allegations of sexual abuse/violence actionable torts in their own right, with Legal AId available. (defamation is ok but who can afford that).

Alienators alienate because there is no come-back. At all. Hitting and sexually abusing children is a crime and cafcass/social services remove a child straight away. For a psychological/emotional abuser? Nothing,

Andrew - February 15, 2017 at 6:35pm

Ned: be aware that if the family courts were open to the public they would (after an initial surge of curiosity) be like the civil courts: nobody not involved there unless the people were well-known or the press heard there might be something juicy. Family cases are generally not interesting except to the parties. I expect we’ve all had to listen to someone (not a client) boring us senseless talking about their divorce their rows with the child’s Other Parent and thanked our stars that we don’t have to sit in court and take an interest.

Ned - February 16, 2017 at 10:01am

That’s a fair point, Andrew, but it also applies to most smaller criminal cases, I am sure — yet they are open, because “Justice not only has to be done, but has to be seen to be done.”
And that is precisely what I am talking about. Right now it isn’t.
I’ll leave it to the reader to infer the implicit clause…. (Clue: It’s often neither.)

JamesB - February 16, 2017 at 11:41am

So why aren’t they open Andrew. Seems they have something to hide and perception is reality. Even Harriet Harmon said its impossible to defend them when they are not open.

The point on no one going. Well, I was in magistrates court a long time ago and went in to see what went on while waiting and 9 out of 10 cases were boing but the 10th was interesting and interesting to see how the law worked. Was a child from a bad upbringing being done for shoplifting and was good to see the conditional last chance the Judge gave him. It did make me think more of the place and the law. Yes the family law courts need to be open. They are not as I think the opposite would be the case. That they don’t it seems to me is because it would be the public seeing people being told to shut up and go away as the court can’t help beyond maintenance.

JamesB - February 16, 2017 at 11:44am

They need to be opened up to encourage their reform and marriage and a decent secular society which is what I believe in with good law and order.

JamesB - February 16, 2017 at 11:54am

So, why aren’t they open then Andrew? They should be open, the public should not be patronised by lawyers as they have been, like when Blair told us Iraq was for the best or Cameron about WW3 and recession with Brexit. Establishment trust us and reverence for them is wearing thin and need a bit more explanation given that establishment don’t seem to know what they are doing and their ‘expert’ opinions often don’t have merit as much as any ones else’s opinion, so the trust us line needs a bit more explanation. I am not sure I do trust lawyers or establishment as much as I used to. Something I am hearing is we live in a post truth world now, so we need to get more faith in the law.

JamesB - February 16, 2017 at 12:00pm

p.s. I have had enough of lawyers. Now I understand why the Gibbs brothers walked off from Clive Owen. Had a lot of and my fill of them recently, not my thing, I find them people speaking a confusing language. Sometimes I’m in the mood for it but recently have found it a bit dry perhaps like Accountancy you have to have a bit of an abstract mind or something and they way you don’t see your children due to unintelligible legal speak sucks and cafcass sucks.

JamesB - February 16, 2017 at 12:01pm

Cafcass suck big time and the E and W family courts suck big time.

Nemo Momenti - February 15, 2017 at 6:44pm

So what IS it that Cafcass do to children in care so as to get them to say that they don’t want to see their parents? Is there a name for it?

Andy Martin - February 15, 2017 at 7:15pm

A collaborative law approach is a remarkably bad idea for a case involving anything other than the most mild example of parental alienation.

Nic T - February 16, 2017 at 9:40am

I think that is probably a wise approach for mild alienation, right at the start of proceedings. And this is now the case anyway, for all family court matters, the parents have to have attended a MIAM before they can apply.

What is the solution for children that have been going through the court system for years, with an alienating parent that will not engage with mediation or SPIP or therapy, with everyone who is supposed to identify this child abuse, failing to do so? Or worse, identifying it but failing to act?

I am in part hopeful that this highlighting of parental alienation will lead to better outcomes for the child but also feel more despairing as what is said by various legal/social work professionals demonstrates a failure to grasp the seriousness of the damage caused by PA. I did not particularly understand your point about “academics”. There is peer reviewed research by people who have worked with these families, with the children, and from that work have developed the best courses of action depending on the severity of the alienation. In pure alienation, mediation can not work because the alienator will genuinely believe that they are protecting the child.

I find it extremely concerning that so many professionals involved think that they can solve parental alienation by sitting around a table and bringing the parents to agreement. Would that happen if it were physical abuse or sexual abuse? No, it would not. So why is it so often suggested in this example of serious emotional abuse?

John Smith - February 16, 2017 at 9:49am

One solution – children should be able to sue all the professionals and their families upon reaching 16 years of age.

if anything happens to a child in the custody of the wrong parent again all the other parent should be able to sue for huge sums of money, not from the state but from the professionals own indemntity insurance. That would focus the mind

John Smith - February 16, 2017 at 9:55am

Perhaps we are all too focused on the tactics of the serious abuser – which creates animosity between the sexes. Rather we should focus on the mental health problem of the abuser – irrespective of whether it is violence, co-ercive control, emotional abuse, and of course economic abuse, sadism, over comptetitvenss or parental alienation.

they all stem from the same/similar faulty coping mechanism, narcisim, psychopathy, sociopathy, sadism etc… the default of these peoples empathy button is always OFF, whereas normally flawed human beings default for their empathy button is always ON. thus it is just a matter of spending enough time and actually looking at the written evidence to spot one of these people who are harming our children.

Dr. N. Miles - March 5, 2017 at 11:13am

Having read a number of the blog responses here I came across that of a Devil’s Advocate reply to a blog and have to admit that it makes moral and legal sense.
A move to the Latin balanced approach to families is for the best interest of children and working as a Samaritan it has come sadly to the reality that those young men under 40 yrs who have commited suicide many of them have done so due to being alienated, and I read sadly again Cornwall has the highest rate but like our covertly protected family courts few know of this reality.
But at least Italy, Brazil and especially as brought to my attention by a client, on Victoria Derbyshire of last 11/16, Mexico have identified alienation as a serious criminal offence rather than a twee smack the wrist “abuse” (as Pearce of Cafcass has declared)…
If it were not a case of psychophilia (another term coming into knowledge) it would be laughable.

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