Fathers and Family Breakdown

Professor Ben Hine from the University of West London gave this talk after the Shared Parenting Scotland AGM on 2nd November 2023.

Following the talk by Professor Hine, discussion included consideration of the high suicide rates amongst men and the existence of parental alienation as a key factor.  The consideration of mothers as the automatic primary carer acts as a barrier to shared parenting. The language of “primary carer” implies that someone is “secondary”.  Joint parental responsibility doesn’t lead to an actual sharing of parental tasks or decisions.  If you are trying to promote equality between mothers and fathers then shared parenting could be considered as a feminist issue.

There is a need to fit parental alienation into the range of abusive behaviours.  Rather than having a model where abuse allegations are countered by alienation allegations, there is a need to examine the totality of this behaviour and how it should be dealt with. There is a need for understanding rather than blame.  Early experience of insecure attachment and other problems should be taken into account t understand alienating behaviours.

Considering domestic abuse suggests a symmetry of experience. The  Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project (PASK) examined 1800 studies and 200,000 incidents, showing that men and women are equally likely to commit acts of violence.  In his recent study of over 1000 separated or divorced parents, Professor Hine found that 39-59% of parents reported experience of alienating behaviours. 

The cruelty of this type of behaviour towards parents and grandparents was mentioned, where actions like giving birthday cards or presents are prevented,  The ongoing outcomes and losses for children who have been prevented from seeing a parent were mentioned. Professor Hine noted that this is not a gendered issue and can affect both men and women in same sex or mixed sex relationships.

The ways of tackling these issues was discussed, including the need to promote the idea that shared parenting is better for everybody and will help us to move on from the traditional gender stereotypes.  Professor Hine mentioned the study he is planning on parents and children, in which he wants to look at ways in which he will look at whether it is appropriate to consider the voice of the child in relation to making choices between parents and where they want to live and the stresses on children of giving their views to court.

The report of Professor Hine’s study is here.