House of Commons debate on Family Courts hears mothers are loosing custody of their children due to unregulated experts. Deputy Bernard Durkan has called for a similar debate in the Dáil since last September

RTÉ’s Prime Time Investigates recently did a programme on how unregulated psychologists are operating in the Family Law Courts.

Deputy Bernard Durkan has since last September been raising the issue of how mothers are losing custody of their children in the Family Law Courts.

Mcompassmedia has made a short documentary on the issue

This week a debate took place in the UK’s House of Commons.

Opening the debate on family court changes in England and Wales, the MP for Coventry North West, Taiwo Owatemi, said false claims of so-called parental alienation were the “most damning aspect of our family court system”.

She said there is growing concern that, too often, false claims of parental alienation are being used as a legal tactic to silence a parent or undermine allegations of domestic abuse.

Owatemi told the debate: “The concept has little to no evidence to support it, but is nonetheless one accepted, resulting in children being placed with an abusive parent.

“Not only are utterly unqualified individuals being allowed to testify as supposed experts in these cases, Cafcass too has overseen the rise in such allegations.”

She said: “Thanks to the deeply embedded pro-contact culture of Cafcass … an eight-year-old boy is now in the clutches of a man who beat and sexually assaulted my constituent,” she told the debate. The mother no longer sees the boy and is “bereft”.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), which was set up to be the voice of children in family court cases, is in urgent need of reform and is failing to properly safeguard young people, according to the MP.

Labour MP Jess Phillips told the debate that those with “fancy lawyers” used the family court to argue that mothers are “mad, hysterical, bad” and “alienating”.

“We are in a situation where we have allowed parental alienation to get to the point that any woman who tries to protect her child from a violent and abusive partner because of the violence and abuse will be accused of parental alienation and that will work against her.

“I wish to point out, the people we are relying on to make the judgment of parental alienation might as well be my milkman. That is literally how qualified they are.”

Specialists are being paid huge amounts of taxpayers’ money who are not psychologists, she said.

“They are … saying ‘yes we are seeing signs of parental alienation’ and there is no regulation.”

Last month, the president of the family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, published a landmark judgment stating there was a “need for rigour” when instructing psychologists to give expert evidence but that tighter regulation was a matter for parliament.

The Labour MP Alex Cunningham told the debate that in cases of parental alienation “unregulated self-declared experts are invited to give evidence even though they have little to nothing in the way of formal qualifications and in fact may have a vested financial interest in diagnosing so-called alienation which they may then be paid to treat.”

He said Labour was fully supportive of an inquiry into the matter.

A full report on the debate is here