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Stark reality of alienation from your children

A divorced father speaks with Ciara Galvin about the frustrating and detrimental affect which alienation from his children has had on his life

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Alienation of one parent can occur by the other parent with no regard to their children

Alienation of one parent can occur by the other parent with no regard to their children

Alienation of one parent can occur by the other parent with no regard to their children

Last May, the World Health Organisation officially recognised parental alienation syndrome for the first time.

Parental alienation is the ability of parents to persuade a child to reject his or her other previously loved parent.

The WHO has decided to include it in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, which comes into effect at the beginning of 2022.

The term was coined in the 1980s by the late Dr Richard Gardner, a US psychiatrist. He had observed, in some very acrimonious relationship break-ups, the ability of parents to manipulate a child to reject his or her other, previously loved parent.

It's seen as a controversial concept and one not to be confused with estrangement that may develop in a child's relationship with one parent due to abusive or neglectful parenting.

It can be hard to diagnose in the often toxic fallout of some broken relationships.

Currently, parent alienation is not recognised in Ireland, and many parent groups are campaigning for the Government to recognise it.

So far, 23 county councils across Ireland, including Sligo have passed motions calling on the Departments of Health, Justice and Equality, and Children and Youth Affairs, to implement recommendation 36 of the Report on Reform of the Family Law System published last October.

In reply to a written Dáil question from Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty last November, the then minister of state for mental health and the elderly, Jim Daly, pointed out that the American Academy of Psychiatry, a leader in the field of psychiatry, did not recognise parental alienation and, while the issue would require further clinical consideration by the HSE, there were no plans for a cross-departmental committee to look at it.

Recently, a District Court Judge sitting in County Clare described a case in which a mother was accused of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny her ex-partner access to their son as a case of 'parental alienation'.

It would appear the term is becoming more common in Irish courts amongst Family Law litigants and judges.

Patrick*, a divorced father from Sligo has spoken to The Sligo Champion about his experiences of parent alienation and why he is appealing for the Government to recognise it. *The name and certain other details have been changed for the purposes of this article.

Patrick and his wife were granted a divorce after their marriage breakdown some years previously.

Almost immediately he believes parent alienation was used in an attempt to isolate his children not only from him, but from his family.

"I know nothing about them, I don't know about their education, health, nothing," explained Patrick.

Soon after he and his wife split, Patrick received a letter from his wife's solicitor, and then from the Child and Family Agency, Tusla.

It all came as a shock to Patrick and initially he believed the process would be straightforward but it became anything but.

"I was still naive to think it could be sorted out that Tusla could resolve it.

"I went to the meeting, social workers were there looking to see what sort of abusive person I was.

"They told me there's no need for me to worry."

He felt matters would be sorted amicably.

Later, Patrick found out his estranged wife had made accusations that he had assaulted his children and Tusla were tasked with investigating.

"They had to bring in very serious investigators. I was completely out of all of this."

After some time the investigation was handed over to gardaí which came as an enormous shock to him. A few months later Patrick was phoned by gardaí and told he had no case to answer.

Patrick was advised to make an application for access to see his children.

The court process continued and a direction was given so that a child psychologist could meet with the children to, in essence, gather their views about seeing their father.

In hindsight, Patrick believes he should not have agreed to this order and instead a more 'wide ranging' order could have been given to take other circumstances into account along with his children's views.

Access was granted for the children but the children later changed their mind, saying they no longer wanted contact with him.

Patrick believes there was pressure to change the decision. It was a frustrating time.

"I've spoken to professionals who say parental alienation is very hard to prove. I just wanted to hear that in court."

Patrick questioned how his children could be okay without their father.

"I feel let down by Tusla, the legal system, the psychologist. It's death by a thousand cuts. Everything about you is used to alienate you.

"I feel helpless and I have no rights."

It's an awful situation to be in he says but he knows he isn't alone.

Now, Patrick along with many other women and men who have experienced parent alienation are campaigning for it to be recognised in the family law courts as it is in the UK.

"I've have no access to my children. I feel let down by the system. Everything is weaponised, you're at war really.

"My hope is that the judiciary will recognise parental alienation."

At its March monthly meeting, Sligo County Council passed motions proposed by Councillor Declan Bree and Cllr Sinead Maguire calling on the Government and the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to recognise that Parental Alienation was "substantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance in functioning" as coded by the World Health Organisation and to implement recommendation 36 of the Report of the Reform of the Family Law System, October 2019..

Cllr Maguire said that parental alienation impacts 6.7pc of the population, and crosses all "cultural, economic and social boundaries". It is, she said, "corrosive in its very nature".

Cllr Bree told the meeting that parental alienation was a form of child and domestic abuse that was harming children, parents and grandparents.

"While there is no single definition, Parental Alienation in real terms is when a child's resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent - commonly known as when a child "is poisoned against their mother or father".

"Parental alienation can only be described as a serious form of child abuse.

"It not only alienates the children involved from their other parent but can negatively affect their future relationships and emotional well-being.

"Unfortunately, parental alienation has not been addressed in Ireland and has been ignored by successive governments and government agencies.

"However, the Report of the Reform of the Family Law System, which was published in October 2019, recommended that consideration be given as to whether our laws should be amended to take into account situations where one parent is wrongfully influencing their child or children against the other parent, thereby creating unfair and unwarranted alienation that can be destructive and life lasting.

"I have no doubt but that all of us have come across cases where a child has been poisoned against their father or mother.

"The sense of grief and loss for the targeted parent can be overwhelming. In this context I believe that local authorities should make their voices heard endorsing the recommendation contained in the Report of the Reform of the Family Law System," he said.

Sligo Champion