UN report condemns the granting of child custody to perpetrators of domestic and child sex abuse in Ireland and elsewhere


A π‘…π‘’π‘π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘‘ π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘†π‘π‘’π‘π‘–π‘Žπ‘™ π‘…π‘Žπ‘π‘π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘’π‘’π‘Ÿ π‘œπ‘› π‘£π‘–π‘œπ‘™π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’ π‘Žπ‘”π‘Žπ‘–π‘›π‘ π‘‘ π‘€π‘œπ‘šπ‘’π‘› π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘”π‘–π‘Ÿπ‘™π‘ , π‘–π‘‘π‘ π‘π‘Žπ‘’π‘ π‘’π‘  π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘π‘œπ‘›π‘ π‘’π‘žπ‘’π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’π‘ , by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls,Β  Reem Alsalem was published 12 May 2023.

The report examines ways in which family courts in different regions including Ireland refer to β€œparental alienation” or similar pseudo-concepts in custody cases, ignoring histories of domestic violence, which may lead to the double victimization of victims of such violence.

The report also offers recommendations for States and other stakeholders on how to address the situation.

In preparing the report, the Special Rapporteur sought contributions from Member States, including Ireland, international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia and victims, and held a series of online consultations with stakeholders and experts.

π·π‘¦π‘›π‘Žπ‘šπ‘–π‘π‘  π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘’π‘ π‘‘π‘–π‘ π‘£π‘–π‘œπ‘™π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘β„Žπ‘–π‘™π‘‘ 𝑠𝑒π‘₯ π‘Žπ‘π‘’π‘ π‘’ π‘›π‘œπ‘‘ π‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘ π‘‘π‘œπ‘œπ‘‘ π‘π‘¦π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘“π‘’π‘ π‘ π‘–π‘œπ‘›π‘Žπ‘™π‘ 

The report states: β€œGiven the prevalence of domestic violence in intimate relationships,separation from a perpetrator can also be a highly dangerous period for the victim.

Allegations of domestic violence tend to receive insufficient scrutiny by courts and to trigger problematic assumptions, for example that it causes little harm to the mother or child and that it ceases with separation.

The consequences of domestic violence and its effects on children are also misunderstood and underestimated by judges, who tend to prioritize and grant contact with fathers. In doing so, judges fail in their duty to protect children from harm,giving abusive fathers unsupervised access to their children, including in cases where judges have found that physical and/or sexual violence has occurred.”

π‘ƒπ‘ π‘’π‘’π‘‘π‘œπ‘ π‘π‘–π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’

The report explains: β€œThe pseudo-concept of parental alienation was coined by Richard Gardner, a psychologist, who claimed that children alleging sexual abuse during high conflict divorces suffer from β€œparental alienation syndrome” caused by mothers who have led their children to believe that they have been abused by their fathers and to raise allegations of abuse against them.

He recommended draconian remedies to address the syndrome, including a complete cut-off from the mother in order to β€œdeprogramme” the child.

It was argued that the more that children rejected the relationship with their fathers, the more evidence of the alienating syndrome was observed.

Gardner’s theory has been criticized for its lack of empirical basis, for its problematic assertions about sexual abuse and for recasting abuse claims as false tools for alienation, which, in some cases, have dissuaded evaluators and courts from assessing whether abuse has actually occurred.

It has been dismissed by medical, psychiatric and psychological associations, and in 2020 it was removed from the International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization.

Nevertheless, it has gained considerable traction and has been widely used to negate allegations of domestic and sexual abuse within family court systems on a global scale.”

π‘†π‘œπ‘π‘–π‘Žπ‘™ π‘€π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘˜π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘  π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘“π‘Žπ‘šπ‘–π‘™π‘¦ π‘™π‘Žπ‘€ π‘π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘  π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘’π‘šπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘ π‘’ π‘£π‘–π‘π‘‘π‘–π‘šπ‘ 

The report cites peer reviewed research and says: β€œWhere judges acknowledge the occurrence of domestic violence, they may regard it as historic, assuming that is in the past.

Research and submissions received demonstrate that perpetrators of domestic violence can also misuse family law proceedings to continue to perpetrate violence against their victims, resulting in secondary traumatization.”

The report says: β€œCommon to the gendered use of parental alienation is the depiction of mothers as vengeful and delusional by their partners, courts and expert witnesses.

Mothers who oppose or seek to restrict contact or raise concerns are widely regarded by evaluators as obstructive or malicious, reflecting the pervasive pattern of blaming the mother.

Allegations of the mother alienating the child are often used to demonstrate that awarding custody to the mother is not in the best interest of the child as she will not facilitate contact with the father. As noted in a number of submissions, domestic violence and parental alienation are often blurred in family law systems, to the detriment of the victims of violence.

Protective mothers are placed in an invidious position, in which insisting on presenting evidence of domestic violence or child abuse may be seen as attempts to alienate children from the other parent, which could result in the loss of primary care or contact with their children.”

πΆπ‘œπ‘›π‘ π‘’π‘žπ‘’π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’π‘  π‘œπ‘“ π‘”π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘›π‘‘π‘–π‘›π‘” π‘π‘’π‘ π‘‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘¦ π‘‘π‘œ π‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘π‘’π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘  π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘’π‘ π‘‘π‘–π‘ π‘£π‘–π‘œπ‘™π‘’π‘›π‘π‘’ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘π‘β„Žπ‘–π‘™π‘‘ 𝑠𝑒π‘₯ π‘Žπ‘π‘’π‘ π‘’ πΌπ‘Ÿπ‘’π‘™π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘

The report points out: β€œThe 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 death of children and women and children being placed at gunpoint.

In some cases, women have been imprisoned for violating custodial rights and protective restraining orders have been overturned…..

Despite a history of domestic violence, courts have invoked the pseudo- concept of parental alienation or blamed mothers for purposely isolating children from their fathers, even where the safety of the mother or the child was at risk.

This has been mentioned in submissions received from entities in Ireland, Israel, TΓΌrkiye and Ukraine.”

The UN Special Rapporteur received reports of β€œcases where children were removed from the primary carer and compelled to reside with the perpetrator parent, whom they resist. In addition, submissions noted how police child protection services have enforced access and custody orders in cases where the child clearly did not wish to comply, traumatizing both the child and the mother.”

π‘€π‘œπ‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘  π‘β„Žπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘”π‘’π‘‘ π‘€π‘–π‘‘β„Ž π‘β„Žπ‘–π‘™π‘‘ π‘Žπ‘π‘‘π‘’π‘π‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘›

The report says: β€œThe Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction (1980) covers international parental child abduction and provides an expeditious process for the return of a child internationally abducted from his/her habitual residence in the territory of one State party to the Hague Convention by a parent to the territory of another State party to the Convention so that the courts in that jurisdiction can settle a custody dispute.

However, the Convention does not mention domestic violence, neither does it include protections for abused mothers.

As a result, when mothers flee with their children across international borders, they become vulnerable to being treated as an β€œabducting” parent by the courts under the Convention….

Around three-quarters of all cases filed under the Hague Convention are against mothers, most of whom are fleeing domestic violence or seeking to protect their children from abuse.

Article 13 of the Convention states that an order for the return of a child can be rejected if there is a β€œgrave risk” of harm.

However, courts have been reluctant to accept exposure to domestic violence as a reason not to return children to another State party. In some cases, courts have returned children to their country of habitual residence even where they have found that violence has occurred against the children, frequently compelling women and children to return to abusive and life-threatening situations.”

πΏπ‘–π‘›π‘˜ 𝑏𝑒𝑑𝑀𝑒𝑒𝑛 π‘π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘™ π‘Žπ‘™π‘–π‘’π‘›π‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘β„Žπ‘–π‘™π‘‘ 𝑠𝑒π‘₯π‘’π‘Žπ‘™ π‘Žπ‘π‘’π‘ π‘’

The report explains: β€œ The link between parental alienation and child sexual abuse is apparent from its origins as a pseudo-concept and from the high incidence of child sexual abuse in the context of domestic violence.

While Gardner acknowledged the prevalence of child sexual abuse allegations in custody litigation, he dismissed many of these claims as false, advanced by the mother to alienate the child from the father.

By reframing a mother as a liar who β€œemotionally abuses” her children, the parental alienation label diverts the attention of courts away from the question as to whether a father is abusive and replaces it with a focus on a supposedly lying or deluded mother or child.”

Versions of the term parental alienation include β€œhigh conflict disputes”,β€œparental manipulationβ€β€œattachment intolerance” or β€œparent-child relational problem.” All of these terms are used to demonise the mother in the family law courts.

The UN Special Rapporteur received reports from Ireland and other countries about mothers facing heavy fines and imprisonment when they refused to comply with court ordered custody to the perpetrators.

πΆπ‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘‘ 𝐸π‘₯π‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘ 

The report says: β€œParental alienation and related pseudo-concepts are embedded in the legal system, including amongst evaluators tasked with reporting to the family courts on the best interest of the child (psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists and social workers).

Parental alienation has been endorsed through formal training and promulgated by professional networks and, more recently, academic journals.

The application of parental alienation has also been exacerbated by the lack of formal training for justice system professionals and the relationship between allegations of parental alienation and the dynamics of domestic violence.

When faced with a dispute between parents, family courts often look to independent advice from child experts to decide on an appropriate outcome.

While the ultimate decision is made by the presiding judge, the recommendation of the evaluator is powerful and one that, in practice, most judges follow…

Public officials and institutions involved in the evaluation of children’s best interests may be trained or lobbied by promoters of parental alienation….

Some evaluators openly advertise themselves as experts in parental alienation and are appointed to assess relevant cases, despite the lack of formal recognition of the pseudo- concept in many jurisdictions.

Concerns have also been raised about evidence provided by unqualified and unregulated experts, some of whom appear to β€œabuse their position for profits or political agenda.”

π‘ƒπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘™ π‘Žπ‘™π‘–π‘’π‘›π‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› β„Žπ‘Žπ‘  π‘”π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘€π‘› π‘–π‘›π‘‘π‘œ π‘Ž π‘‘β„Žπ‘Ÿπ‘–π‘£π‘–π‘›π‘” π‘™π‘’π‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘£π‘’ 𝑏𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠

The report describes how: β€œExperts also recommended solutions to alienation, which may not be compatible with the welfare and rights of the child, including the transfer of custody, and the use of β€œreunification camps and therapies”, where children are held against their will and pressured to reject the influence of the parent with whom they are most bonded.

Parental alienation is undoubtedly a lucrative endeavour that allow experts to provide their services in family proceedings for a fee.

Training programmes and conferences, which have proliferated on a global scale over the last two decades, provide yet another stream of income.

This may partially explain the pushback in academic literature against criticizing parental alienation by undermining the credibility of research that evidences the links between parental alienation and domestic violence,including how a context of domestic violence increases the risk of invoking parental alienation.

Academic experts have noted the concerning development whereby reputable academic journals in the field of psychology are publishing articles that promote the notion of β€œalienating behaviours” without applying the usual standards of scientific rigour in peer review or not allowing a right of response to authors whose studies are the subject of such criticism.”

πΆπ‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘’π‘π‘‘ π‘œπ‘“ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘—π‘’π‘‘π‘–π‘π‘–π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘¦ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘™π‘’π‘”π‘Žπ‘™ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘“π‘’π‘ π‘ π‘–π‘œπ‘›π‘Žπ‘™π‘ 

The report says: β€œVictims of violence have reported feeling belittled by judges and legal professionals and of being revictimized by professionals who lack an understanding of the impact and dynamics of domestic violence.

Research reveals women’s frustration with the sympathy expressed by judges towards violent fathers and at witnessing professionals being manipulated by perpetrators of abuse, who behave in a charming manner and are on their best behaviour.

Victims of domestic violence have also perceived differential treatment of parents by courts and professionals, with mothers expected to be calm and accommodating while aggressive behaviour by fathers was tolerated in court.

Women have reported being advised by their legal representatives not to raise allegations of domestic violence, as it would work against them…. There is clearly a need for specialist training and expertise for members of the judiciary and legal professionals as evidenced by submissions from Germany, Ireland and Italy.”

πΏπ‘Žπ‘π‘˜ π‘œπ‘“ π‘™π‘’π‘”π‘Žπ‘™ π‘Žπ‘–π‘‘ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘π‘œπ‘ π‘‘π‘  π‘œπ‘“ π‘“π‘Žπ‘šπ‘–π‘™π‘¦ π‘™π‘Žπ‘€ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘π‘’π‘’π‘‘π‘–π‘›π‘”π‘ 

The report notes: β€œParticipating in custody and access proceedings is costly and a lack of legal representation is a structural disadvantage, particularly for victims of domestic violence.

Women who are socioeconomically disadvantaged have limited or no guaranteed access to justice and legal support.

Navigating the family law system can be particularly challenging, especially when parts of the system are not harmonized or work in contradictory ways.

In several countries, departments within the same system have adopted different approaches and do not always share information, which has led to conflicting and contradictory decisions.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including β€œmandatory training of the judiciary and other justice system professionals on gender bias, the dynamics of domestic violence and the relationship between allegations of domestic abuse and of parental alienation and related pseudo- concepts.”

The report is available on this link: