Crucial vote on the impact of intimate partner violence and custody rights on women and children

European Parliament – On Tuesday, 5 October 2021, the Report on the impact of IPV and custody rights on women and children is going to be voted on. With this report, the European Parliament sends a clear message on the bold and decisive steps needed in the EU for eliminating and preventing gender-based violence. The progressive report represents a step towards a place where women and children who are victims of intimate partner violence can count on a fair protective system.

The report includes the prohibition of the so-called parental alienation syndrome. In April 2021, the Council of Europe, Committee for Gender Equality noted in the draft report on the place of boys and men in women’s rights and gender equality policies[1] that:

“[a]s for the allegation of “parental alienation syndrome”, which aims to discredit the word of the mother, exceptionally the father or the child, it is a concept criticised by the scientific community[2], which does not recognise it.”

In addition to that, GREVIO[3] has addressed the authorities’ use of the so-called principle of “parental alienation syndrome” in its baseline evaluation report on France, and thereafter in a number of recent reports, namely the baseline evaluation reports on Andorra, Belgium, Italy, and Spain. In this respect, GREVIO consistently called for the relevant professionals to be informed of the absence of scientific grounds for the “parental alienation syndrome”, and, in the case of Italy, for banning its use.

  • France[4]: This issue was also brought to the attention of GREVIO in many individual communications received well before the evaluation procedure, as well as in the testimony given by victims met during the evaluation GREVIO recommended to “continue to inform the professionals concerned, particularly those involved in the justiciary, law enforcement agencies, social services, medical, psychological and psychiatric sectors, of the absence of scientific grounds for parental alienation syndrome”, as well as to raise public awareness on this subject; The implementation of these measures should be supported by efforts to provide mandatory initial and in-service training on the causes and consequences on children of violence against women, the issue of secondary victimisation of children and their mothers “and the improper use of the so-called parental alienation syndrome, for the professionals concerned, in particular those who may influence the determination of custody and visitation in various ways, such as judges and professionals called upon to provide expert opinions in judicial proceedings”.
  • Italy[5]: GREVIO urges the Italian authorities to take the necessary measures, including legislative amendments, to ensure that the competent courts are under a duty to consider all issues related to violence against women when determining custody and visitation rights and to assess whether such violence would warrant restricting custody and visitation rights. To this end, the authorities should: (paragraph 188) […] “ban the use by court-appointed experts, social workers and courts of concepts related to “parental alienation”, as well as any other approach or principle, such as the “friendly parent provision”, which tend to consider mothers who invoke the violence as “unco-operative” and “unfit” as a parent, and to blame them for the poor relationship between a violent parent and his children”;

Furthermore, CEDAW recurrently recommended to:

“[t]ake all measures necessary to discourage the use of “parental alienation syndrome” by experts and by courts in custody cases (Spain 2015; Croatia 2015; Italy 2017; Costa Rica 2017; Montenegro 2017).”

In order to ensure the prohibition of the “parental alienation syndrome”, the report must be adopted without any modification. Deleting parts of the report, such as Paragraph 41, which is referring to the prohibition of parental alienation syndrome, a position adopted in FEMM and JURI Committees vote, will be a major setback on the current progressive position of the European Parliament, on tackling IPV and on supporting women and children-victims of violence.

Parental alienation and similar concepts and terms should be rejected, as they lack the necessary scientific justification, and are often used in the context of intimate partner violence, as a strategy against victims of violence, putting into question victims’ parental skills, dismissing their words and disregarding the violence to which children are exposed.

In support of the European Parliament, we call on its Member States not to recognize the parental alienation syndrome in their judicial practice and law, and to discourage or even to prohibit its use in court proceedings, during the investigations to determine the existence of violence.

As this is one of the most crucial points of the report, we support the European Parliament in asking the MEPs to take part in the vote and vote in favour of this report, as adopted at Committee level.

[1] pp.9-10

[2] it is not recognised by the DSM5 Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, nor by the World Health Organisation

[3] Mid-term Horizontal Review of GREVIO baseline evaluation reports (paragraph 338)