What judges think about Parental Alienation

Apologies if you were hoping to find out about judicial views from Scotland – but this study of Portuguese judges is still a fascinating read.

This study provides an account of how legal professionals conceptualize “parental alienation” and how they describe the characteristics of what is considered to be a controversial phenomenon.

Using a qualitative design, 21 family court judges (range 33–60 years; 11 men and 10 women), working with child custody cases, participated in individual in-depth interviews. Portugal does not have specific legislation on PA; however, this concept is frequently brought to courtrooms.

According to the judges, there is a consensus that Parental Alienation really exists, but the controversy around the name also led to the comment “it’s a very real, very present reality, yet it’s a term we avoid …” One judge commented “it’s a term that people use without due rigor, where everything fits! So it’s a rather large bag (laughs)”.

Whatever it is called, the judges recognised signs of alienating behaviour, such as making false allegations against the other parent, blocking communication or contact, devaluing and displaying contempt towards the parenting role of the other parent, gaslighting and terrifying the child.

Alienating parents were referred to as being possessive and controlling, acting as the owner of the child and as the owner of the truth about what is best for the child: ( . . . ) a sentence that is often mentioned is “I let my son go to visit his father!” as if “letting” was because [that parent] has the power to not let! It is even necessary to deconstruct that idea of the resident parent as if she/he were the owner of the child. As with an octopus that is clingy and has many tentacles, it is as if the alienating parent has a need to control and influence everything that concerns the child and his/her contact with the other parent.

Also mentioned by some judges was the idea of alienating parents as self-centered—“Very self-centered on his own needs, the need to have his daughter in his care, and not very focused on his daughter’s interests…”

While it is very likely that experienced family judges in Scotland will have similar views and experience, the importance of this study is that it reassures us that despite reservations about terminology, Portuguese judges are very well aware of what happens to cause unjustified rejection of a parent by a child.