Family courts have forced dozens of children into contact with fathers accused of abuse, some of whom are convicted paedophiles, a new study has found.
The England-wide study, conducted by the University of Manchester, found that 75 children of 45 different mothers were have been forced into contact with their fathers, BBC reported.
All fathers connected to the study had responded in court to abuse allegations with the disputed concept of ‘parental alienation’ – the act of one parent turning a child against the other without good reason.
Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno, who led the research, claimed that ‘credible evidence’ of abuse was ‘diminished or ignored completely’ after the fathers alleged to be victims of parental alienation.
She argued that the concept of parental alienation is a ‘handy tool for abusers’ and described its acceptance by courts was a ‘national scandal’.
The England-wide study, conducted by the University of Manchester, found that 75 children of 45 different mothers were have been forced into contact with their fathers. The researchers claimed that ‘credible evidence’ of abuse was ‘diminished or ignored completely’ after the fathers alleged to be victims of parental alienation (stock photo)
Dr Dalgarno said that based on data from self-reported survey, an estimated 70 per cent of the 55,000 private law family court each year involve abuse allegations.
She acknowledged that data on the overall prevalence of cases in which parental alienation has been claimed is limited.
But the study does suggest that the concept – which has been criticised for a lack of evidence – was being used more frequently by family courts.
‘Credible evidence of abuse was diminished or ignored completely – and when I say credible evidence, I’m talking about criminal convictions,’ Dr Dalgarno said, alleging that the mothers were not supported by the courts.
The researcher argued that there should be ’emergency measures’ to address the use of parental alienation in court, noting that forced contact with an abuser can have ‘catastrophic health impacts’ on victims.
Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, told the BBC that the ‘harrowing’ cases included in the study revealed that abusers were using parental alienation to ‘deflect from their own abusive behaviour’.
One case highlighted how a child was placed in the care of a father who had been previously jailed for child rape and allegedly abused the mother.
The court was reportedly aware of his conviction but ‘believed the risk to the child could be managed.’ The mother, whose health had declined throughout the legal proceedings, died after the final court hearing that saw her child ordered to live with her abusive former partner.
Another case involved a mother who took her own life after enduring two years of family court proceedings. The father involved had physically and sexually abused the woman.
He alleged parental alienation during the court proceedings but was ultimately denied contact with his children, however the mother had died by suicide before the judgement was reached.
Other cases highlighted in the study cite how other mothers died by medical emergencies, as well as suicide, attributing the stress of drawn out legal proceedings to their conditions.
Ms Jacobs is now arguing that an ‘urgent and wide-reaching reform’ of family courts is necessary.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division in England and Wales, has also warned that the parental alienation label is ‘unhelpful’.
The Family Justice Council also recently issued new draft guidance on how family courts should address ‘allegations of alienating behaviour.’
The step-by-step document offers guidance on hearing parental alienation claims and focuses on finding evidence and facts before issuing judgement.
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