A mother of four who is an Irish citizen, is college-educated and has been living in Wexford for more than 10 years said she wants to raise an issue that is ‘breaking my heart every minute of every day’.
ollowing separation and an acriminous divorce from her husband, her two oldest children were exposed to alienating behaviour which led to their ‘total and unjustified’ rejection of her, in a process which began slowly at first and presented itself as abusive behaviour which was encouraged by her husband.
A victim of domestic violence and coercive control for many years, she made the decision to leave her family home and seek shelter in Wexford Women’s Refuge to save her two younger children from exposure to anger, hatred and emotional and psychological abuse.
‘What happened next was a total rejection of me as a mother with no way for me to break through the vicious wall raised by the vindictiveness of an adult person.
‘I have not seen or spoken to my two older children for over 18 months now. There have been a couple of incidental meetings which always ended in either them pretending they didn’t know me or them being abusive towards me,’ she said.
‘It took many months for me to finally stand up on my own two feet, rise from a deep depression and get to understand what had happened to my beloved children and the family.’
The woman said she educated herself on the subject and discovered that ‘this country and this world are full of parents, both mothers and fathers who suffer the same hurt as I do’.
‘The phenomenon is commonly known as Parental Alienation and happens when one of the parents feels the need to “win” at all costs and will use whatever means necessary to make sure the child is on his/her side.
‘This parent consciously or unconsciously alienates the child from the other parent and as a result, the child unjustly rejects the targeted parent with whom he or she had previously had a healthy relationship.
‘The alienating parent – usually the one with whom the child spends the most time – may very openly, subtly or quite covertly, influence the child’s mind with negative thoughts about the other parent and wider family.
‘Sometimes it is even done subconsciously through destructive body language, words or actions. The child observes and feels the alienating parent’s hatred and hostility towards the other parent and anything to do with them or their family and aligns himself/herself with the hostility of the alienating parent.
‘The end result is a strong mistaken belief by the child that the alienated parent is evil, nasty etc, even if the alienated parent is a kind and loving person and is guilty of only wanting to support and spend meaningful, regular and ongoing time with their child like any other normal parent.’
She said parental alienation causes serious harm and endangers children or young adults along with the targeted parent and extended family. She stressed that it is not a gender issue as it is estimated that in Ireland 80% of victims are fathers and 20% are mothers while sons and daughters are abused equally by parental alienation.
In the UK where more thorough research has been carried out, the percentages are more equal with 56% being fathers and 44% mothers.
‘The effects of parental alienation can last a lifetime with the parent and children often never becoming reconciled. This can result in emotional and psychological damage such as depression, anger, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, eating disorders, self harming behaviours and almost certainly makes forming other relationships harder for the child and for both parents. Children who are alienated are much more likely to become alienated again when they become parents themselves,’ she said.
She is now a member of a group called Alienated Children First which is currently reorganising after Covid-19 and provides support voluntarily to alienated parents around the country.
‘Many of the victims of Parental Alienation would feel that legislation has let them down especially in the family court process, making them and their children innocent victims of abuse.
‘The lack of education, understanding and recognition of parental alienation is not only costing the Irish state an unacceptable amount of expenditure which could be better spent elsewhere but is also contributing to a multiple of social and mental health problems for life, especially for the children who have and are experiencing this type of abuse.
‘Since the alienation started for me, I have personally received very little help from the state institutions and its system. Tusla was not fast enough to prevent and then stop the alienation that was clearly developing with tremendous speed.’
‘My children were not interviewed after the incident of domestic violence which they witnessed. Nothing was done to help my family. The family social worker got involved only after the situation escalated to unbearable measures, following my intervention.
‘Regardless of his best intentions and support, my children’s lives became an emotional torture and the only solution I saw was to simply leave the house and become homeless. I was fortunate enough to have friends to help me out but as soon as I found accommodation for myself and my two younger children, Tusla decided to close the case, refusing to acknowledge the problem and the ongoing damage to my sons, me and my whole family.
‘This approach is wrong and should be changed as soon as possible,’ she said.
‘The gardai, although very helpful at times, were confused and lost when I was begging them for help. They are not trained to deal with the issue. The gardai used to send me to my solicitor and the courts. The solicitor reverted the direction.
‘The case has been dragging through the courts and the legal system is inadequate to resolve the situation fast enough to avoid further harm and hurt. The big problem is the lack of Family Courts and judges who could specialise in family law and make the process more efficient and professional.
‘There are no working state measures to step in when situations like mine arise, and intervene early. My eldest child will have reached adulthood by the time the court proceedings bring some closure. There is no legislation to address the problem. The ‘in camera’ rule puts the alienated parents in fear and shuts all the wrongdoing behind closed doors. The voice of the child rule, so rightfully implemented in Irish law in other cases, does not work and simply cannot be applied in situations of parental alientation.
‘How can a 13-year-old child understand where their hatred comes from if they are manipulated into believing the lies? How can the judge assume the best interest of the child is to reject a loving and caring parent?
‘Are they lost for good to the targeted parent because of this loophole in the law?
‘The problem with parental alienation is that nobody wants to admit such cruel behaviours can be real and unjustified until it happens to them. And believe me it can happen to anybody,’ she said.