TD calls for inquiry into use of ‘parental alienation’ in family law cases

Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan says he is contacted ‘weekly’ by mothers losing children in family court disputes after being accused of ‘parental alienation’, which he describes as a ‘pseudo condition’

A Government TD is calling for an inquiry into what he describes as the “very serious State-authorised abuse” of “hundreds″ of mothers who have lost custody of their children after alleging domestic abuse by former partners.

On Wednesday Bernard Durkan will outline details of “weekly” contacts he has received from mothers whose children have been removed from their custody after they raised allegations of abuse against their children. At a press conference with spokespeople for the mothers, he will say they have been accused of “parental alienation” in family law courts, and deemed to be abusive parents. He describes “parental alienation” as a “pseudo condition without scientific basis”.

Concerns about the concept of parental alienation, whereby one parent – usually the mother – is alleged to turn their child or children against the other parent, have increased in recent years. Women’s Aid and the Rape Crisis Network say it is being used by perpetrators to silence women’s allegations of abuse.

A recommendation that the concept be banned in family law courts will come before the UN human rights committee in Geneva next month.


Proponents of the concept, however, say its impact can be worse than sexual abuse and argue it should be defined and legislated for as a form of child abuse. The Department of Justice is preparing to publish two reports it commissioned on the use of parental alienation in family law cases.

Mr Durkan has raised his concerns over a dozen times in the Dáil since September, most recently last Thursday, as a topical issue during which he said parental alienation was being “used to the continued harassment and disgraceful punishment of woman and children ... in the courts which are supposed to protect them”.

He began raising the issue after being contacted by a number of mothers in his Kildare North constituency, he told The Irish Times. Since then he has been contacted by mothers and their families from across the State.

“At this stage there are over 100 cases on my desk. They are professional women: civil servants, teachers, pharmacists, in well placed jobs. They have all experienced abuse, control, and when they raise this they are being accused of parental alienation, of being bad mothers.”

He has submitted a “sample” of 16 cases, which he has sent in redacted form, to the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Michael Martin and to Minister for Justice, Simon Harris, asking them to establish an inquiry. “There seems to be no fair play, due process or natural justice for mothers or their children once this parental alienation concept is mentioned.”

His call comes as a report form the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, calls for the “pseudo-concept” of parental alienation and “so-called experts” in it to be banned from family-law courts. It will be discussed at the human rights council on June 22nd and 23rd.

Ms Alsalem received over 1,000 submissions from NGOs, domestic violence support organisations and a large number of individuals globally. She says the “consequences of biased custody decisions can be catastrophic, resulting in specific incidents when contact has been awarded to fathers with a violent history, in the deaths of women and children”.

Among her 19 recommendations are that, member states “legislate to prohibit the use of parental alienation or related pseudo-concepts in family law cases and the use of so-called experts in parental alienation and related pseudo-concepts”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the special rapporteur’s report would be “fully considered”. She did not respond to queries about deputy Durkan’s concerns.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times