For Kids Sake: Ozzy headlines hit harder

The Ozzy headlines that hit harder are about: deaths. Yes deaths. What can we learn about campaigning from one approach based in Australia: For Kids Sake  It proposes a radical view: Family law doesn’t help. It harms the separated families who turn to it. It can even be fatal. Alternatives must be promoted.

If a hard-hitting headline and new rationale helps improve the system, then the wider benefit of the approach would be to prevent all kinds of harm to all separating families and children, not just the fatalities. They would all get reliable help instead.

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 17.05.20

What we needed and what we got

Family separation is mostly hard, often quite nasty, and in various ways it is fatal – fatal to loving relationships, fatal to lives too. General patterns are important to study and mull over. But sometimes a single event, a shocking news story, breaks through and grabs us.

Such a fatal tragedy happened to Aaron Cockman’s family (pictured). On 11 May 2018, his four children and their mother were murdered in the context of a difficult family separation. Of course you want to know the details. But it’s so tragic that the details can wait. The scale of the tragedy takes us straight to big questions about how to make sure this never happens again to anyone.

Aaron set up a fund-raising foundation. His story carries a simple message about how family law is the fatal factor where other kinds of support could have helped.

“When my wife Kat and I split up, we needed help and support. We still used to go to the movies as a family or down to the beach at Margs after we separated. But it was a really difficult and vulnerable time and what we needed was a strong system of counselling, coaching, mediation and community support. What we got instead was lawyers and a frightening, unaffordable family court system. The moment Kat and her parents got a lawyer involved, everything changed. It was the lawyer system that drove events in our family and the terrible financial cost and long timescale of the family court made it so much more stressful for Kat’s family.”

The fatal focus dramatically splashes the essentials:

  • how terribly serious this is,
  • how vulnerable and harmful family separation can be,
  • how family courts often make things worse,
  • how innocent children are literally in the firing line of adults and systems,
  • how separation is not so much a legal issue but a matter of child health, safety and welfare,
  • how other help can work.

For Kids’ Sake

There are several arms to this approach in Australia. For Kids Sake is responsible for the campaign. It’s a nice touch that the photos of the For Kids Sake Board are of when they were children. They work in partnership with the aaron 4 kids foundation and Family Law Reform Coalition. Anyone can contribute at: Orange is their colour – a positive, hopeful colour, the universal colour for safety and spirituality, the colour of lifebuoys that save lives.

Underpinning the shock headlines, there is a mountain of deeply dedicated work going on. The headline is not just flash in the pan journalism.  Dr David Curl is CEO of For Kids Sake. Here he writes for a newspaper. Here announcing a proposal at Parliament House for a Minister for Children to get to grips with saving lives and improving services for separating families. Three months later Australia had their first Minister for Children and Families. Below are the words of For Kids Sake in a Senate Motion calling on the Australian Government to recognise that “thousands of children continue to be harmed by a family law system that is not fit-for-purpose”.

That triggered a national review with a policy paper, Childhood Matters (37 pages) and a big colourful version (100 pages with a graphic summary) that they handed out at Canberra airport to Government Ministers and MPs heading home for the weekend. One MP said it was just the right length to read on her flight. For Kids Sake has met with half of the 226 Australian federal politicians in person to lobby for a safer healthier approach to family breakdown. Plus they’ve done international TV programs and ads to help alert the public to what’s needed. For Kids Sake has a global reach. They contributed to the Scottish Government review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. The campaign is universally applicable.

This approach is revolutionary because, across the world, family law is seen as positively essential to help those separating families who struggle, especially those cases where risk and harm is a concern. But actually everyone agrees that family law could be improved.  For Kids Sake‘s challenge is to be so blunt about family law being actively harmful as a reason to seriously develop the alternatives more urgently. Everyone everywhere wants families to find these other collaborative ways to resolve their difficulties. For Kids Sake makes a much stronger case.

Campaigns with family law as solution

Around the world, there are other campaigns about the worst that family separation and family law can do. Mostly the campaigns make their headline be about the harms called: ‘Parental Alienation’ (PA) or ‘Domestic Abuse’ (DA). And mostly family law – or improving it – is held to be the answer not the problem. Family law is indeed where last ditch contact and custody battles are fought out. To question this heroic work seems like choosing to throw kids back into the river to drown. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Given that severe separation problems get entrenched in the family law system, the label-heavy kind of campaigning seems a logical way to raise awareness.

But does it work as a campaign? At best you have to say: Myeh … massive efforts by a few and very slow progress indeed. Yes, the body of knowledge does grow slowly. Yes, there’s occasional intelligent press coverage here and there. Without the fancy words, most lay people already know that real risks need to be dealt with, and that a parent can turn a child against the other parent. Many have experienced these miseries and the nightmare of blind justice.

But it’s not the public who don’t get it. The energetic resistance and disinterest lies in the professional establishment. Yet the skilled professional assessment of each problem case is the essential core to skilful sorting out what is needed. Theoretical debate about general categories is valid, but mostly that turns into populist polarised ranting in public based on partial personal experience rather than reliable general evidence. That does not welcome thoughtful debate nor enough skilled practitioners to do the job.

So the usual kind of campaign faces steady opposition, controversy and public disinterest. Some use more neutral headings like ‘children who resist post-separation contact‘. But the usual campaign aims to: inform and prove PA or DA exists, learn more about PA or DA, why PA or DA fools people, why PA and DA are so bad, how family law is important, how family law needs to learn about PA and DA, only the experts know how to tackle PA and DA, and so on. Even that briefest summary is off-putting. And – that way focuses on a court of law as the only way to sort things out.

So the campaign locks in family law as the key to the system. As they fight to improve it, leading PA and DA practitioners have, in effect, joined up with the family law system rather than stood back to ask bigger questions about it. Family law becomes their stage and their livelihood. Yet everyone agrees that the specialist intervention and work would be far more effective if it happened much earlier, way upstream. Ideally that would be before anyone falls into the family law river.

Promoting alternatives to family law

For Kids Sake imagine a system like the diagram shows. Their argument goes: People think adversarial family law is the best and only place to get help for serious difficulties. But if it’s harmful, we urgently need to promote all the other ways that work or can be made to work better. We need a major programme to reverse the present system, to balance or challenge the monopoly that everyone gives family law, to build a system where family law does not dominate.

We’ve seen that’s not such a revolutionary view – everyone says they want families to find collaborative non-legal ways to resolve difficult separations. No one thinks spending months and years and shedloads of money on legal processes is good practice. But, in practice, lawyers and the rest of us don’t really put our money where our mouth is … ‘money’ in both metaphorical and literal senses. Desperate parents don’t know what else to do given the dominant culture. And that money is how family law professionals earn a living; even the best of them are not going to be keen to question or risk their jobs.

So For Kids Sake says much more loudly what everyone else says more feebly. Family law can be seriously harmful. It is not the best and only place to solve the troubles of separating families. So they aim to promote the alternatives much more seriously, getting the government to make it happen. The shocking headlines launch the idea powerfully.

On another occasion, we can explore how family law has come to be the way it is – so dominant even though everyone agrees that it is not fit for this purpose. We can unpack why it doesn’t work well, what improvements would work better, how it could divert the problems it takes too long to sort or actually makes worse just now.

For now, compare one radically revised system of family law – the Cochem or Consensus model developed in Germany -where a family court judge decided enough was enough. That’s an upstream model of family law that strives to get people out of the river at the point where they have fallen in. Another role for family law could be as ‘back-stop’. That is typical for school attendance problems. There is a law about school attendance but family law is the very last place you go to, not the first one.

Given how independent and powerful the law is, and how monopolistic family law is, how little transparency and research we have to judge what is happening inside them, it is hard to see effective change happening without a very strong push. A really powerful campaign like For Kids Sakes may be what it takes to get things moving faster. It will take governments to drive it forward.

Comparing campaigns

So what kind of campaign will work best in the end for children and families? There cannot really be answers to that question without more data to measure and without trying all kinds of campaigns to see what they can do.

The standard campaign to raise awareness, based on patterns like Parental Alienation and Domestic Abuse, has been going for many years. Good intentions but we’re still waiting. Campaigners in some countries – Mexico, Romania – have got a law in place against PA. That makes family law even more important. Laws against PA may raise awareness and earlier assessment but they can also be criticised as too simplistic and belated in the process. Still, you would not be able to get a law in place in your country without some long hard campaigning.

Craig Childress’s campaign is another way that has been tried for a few years. That’s based on re-labelling PA with a rationale that forces professionals (and family law) to abide by their professed standards, to change their dismissive narrative, and to tackle it as emotional abuse, an Attachment disorder they already know well. Professionals assess cases and make recommendations to family courts. This campaign aims to hold them all to proper standards of practice and intervention without further ado. That sounds fair enough and it might be working. Understandably perhaps, Craig Childress’s tone is righteously aggressive. There may well be more subtle and surgical ways to do the same kind of thing effectively.

On this weblog you will find my own quieter contributions to the cause. Mostly I reframe what we’re dealing with in a way that I hope might engage a wider audience better. For example:

Of course my stuff is not really campaigning and I have not grabbed the world’s minds or hearts.

There’s not space here to analyse the various kinds of campaigns further. This is just to point them out for comparison with what For Kids Sake is doing. That campaign has been thoroughly put together in a serious way. It shows what any proper campaign requires – whatever the message may be. Their particular message is certainly a new way to go, to think about and to try out.

Competing campaigns

Entrenched problem-solving – always more of the same (From ‘Change’ by Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch, 1973)

One thing that naturally happens is that the different rationales and campaigns provoke heated debate even though we all have the same bigger aims. The most heated debate is between those who focus on the risk of harmful physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse to children (DA), and those who focus on the risk of harmful emotional abuse to children as a result of disturbed coercive relationships and being cut off from safe and loving relationships with one of their parents (PA).  Focusing on improving or displacing the common element – family law – should help both DA and PA and unite them in a common cause. But it hasn’t yet.

The sides become so entrenched that opposing sides won’t be in the same room as each other, let alone listen and talk with each other to find the common ground we all share. The result is a precise replica of what happens with the couple and their dispute about the children.

It’s entirely reasonable to keep asserting straightforward evidence and thinking, but it hasn’t worked that well as a campaign. It would take forever to try to explain here why the standard approach makes things too complicated to engage people’s hearts and minds quickly and effectively in a campaigning way. You can try that out for yourself by reading all the material on this website and those linked on the Resources page. A few hours there will be sure to scramble your brains.

Of course no one is going to erase all that valid PA and DA work, the text books, the research, the conferences, the online resources, the heated debates about which particular label or evidence is right, which gender is to blame, what category of abuse or crime it comes into, what the right intervention is and is not. But, in the search for the best way to campaign, we should be keen to support and assess all reasonable ways anyone comes up with. Ideally we could all hold hands in a common cause rather than to fight about who is best. But arguing is part of the process.

Grey tarmac or yellow brick road?

To highlight the comparison between the For Kids Sake road in the Land of Oz – a yellow brick road maybe? or maybe an orange one! – and the more common grey tarmac road, there are three key features:

  1. The carefully crafted hard-hitting headline is plainly a powerful new way to get people engaged.
  2. But it would be a limited flash in the pan if there wasn’t also a dedicated underlying organisational campaigning strategy to follow it through. The headline is nothing without the reports, lobbying and face to face meetings with lots of the top politicians.
  3. And the headline and the lobbying depends on a competent rationale.  For Kids Sake uses a rationale that portrays family law as not only unhelpful but actively harmful. We’ve seen that this is not that revolutionary. All round the world, those who do value family law are still critical of it, want improvements to it to reduce the cost and harm, to bring in informed and skilled professionals for the best, most child-focused, collaborative solution, as early as possible.

Rarely, big change can be started right where it’s needed. An example of that is the Cochem Consensus approach where the change was realised by the judge and his colleagues and they shaped the changes they wanted.

But mostly our campaigning is like a broad social movement indirectly seeking to get the judges or the government to influence the system to change. There three elements make things happen:

  1. Start locally at ground level and work up;
  2. Strong structure and leadership;
  3. Seek reform through government or democratic elections.

PA and DA campaigns start locally – ie ground level rather than geographically – because mostly it is the victims affected and the few open-minded professionals involved who become concerned with what’s happening around them. Getting that organised at all in such disturbing situations in hundreds of dispersed corners, creating a strong structure and leadership, is impossibly difficult. Finding a formula and ways to influence government takes very rare determination and skill. DA has had longer to build its now high profile success with a gender-based view of abuse and safety; PA follows slowly in DA’s footsteps but it has extra hurdles to jump.

For Kids Sake has ticked all six of the above boxes. But that doesn’t mean an effective campaign has to. Others could take parts of that approach – eg a hard-hitting story, a focus on the limitations of family law, and a simpler short cut rationale without the labels. You could use leaner methods to get it taken up by the public and government. Maybe a Childress-like strategy might work by nailing professional incompetence to their codes and standards as a quick way to make them all smarten up sharpish.

Go straight to the heart of it

Killing children so they don’t have a relationship with a parent is the ultimate harm, the most extreme cutting off of a relationship there is. Faced with this tragedy, you can’t start a round-about debate about it. It really is what it looks like. It’s not some fictional drama or some academic sleight of hand. Something awful has happened. Everyone wants to know what and why, what should have been done to prevent it.

The headline story stands for other kinds of fatality too. Extremes of family separation cause parental suicide; and the living or ‘invented death‘ of a loving parent and child for each other – there’s no funeral, normal recognition or support for the terrible grief.

Once the candid camera has thrown us into the scene of the crime, we find ourselves shocked and ready for fresh thinking, listening and talking together. We find a lot of the familiar stuff gets a new lease of life.

By going for the beating heart of it, For Kids Sake side-steps all the brain-scrambling that gets in the way. Detailed background work has created momentous follow through. The headline story pulls us in and grabs our hearts and minds. The details and discussion that open up from this new interest are the reward we’ve spent decades failing to engage enough. All the other children and families will benefit, those who are faced with other kinds of trouble, harm or fatality than in Aaron’s case – the relationship fatalities of the living.

Their campaign avoids the label controversy that triggers violent dismissal and in-fighting that gives us so many years of more of the same impasse. The heart of the Ozzy approach takes just those few sentences from a parent who has survived a horrendous family tragedy:

“When we split up, it was a really difficult and vulnerable time. What we needed was a strong system of support. What we got instead was lawyers and a frightening, unaffordable family court system. The moment a lawyer was involved, everything changed. The lawyer system made it so much more stressful and drove the events in our family.”

The point is made. The point is you don’t need any more words to get it. The point is you are caught up in a new way. The point is that, in whatever direction thinking and discussion then goes, we’re on a new road that we urgently need to follow … whether the road is yellow, orange or grey.

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.


  1. Reblogged this on Parental Alienation and commented:
    When my wife Kat and I split up, we needed help and support. We still used to go to the movies as a family or down to the beach at Margs after we separated. But it was a really difficult and vulnerable time and what we needed was a strong system of counselling, coaching, mediation and community support. What we got instead was lawyers and a frightening, unaffordable family court system. The moment Kat and her parents got a lawyer involved, everything changed. It was the lawyer system that drove events in our family and the terrible financial cost and long timescale of the family court made it so much more stressful for Kat’s family.” My own experience for over 7 years and a huge emotionsl and financial cost.
    Thank you Nick for this brilliant article, spot on

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sam Harvey

    Thank you Nick for this article. I am In Queensland, Australia; an alienated grandparent, sharing a home with a targeted parent. Over the past 12 months, as the horror of parental alienation, following separation unfolded, I have been very close to the trauma and pain experienced by my daughter. Anyone who has not actually experienced this brutality, or seen it up close on a daily basis, would believe such extreme harassment, coercion and psychological abuse were possible; occurring as a hidden evil, with inevitable negative consequences on our whole society.
    This is the point: it is a “hidden evil”; most of us are completely unaware that the phenomenon of Parental Alienation exists; it occurs, unexpectedly, as a terrifying shock, leaving an already traumatized parent floundering helplessly and grieving for a ‘lost child’, who the parent has lovingly nurtured since birth.
    Before leaving the relationship, my daughter had sought help and advice through counseling services, and a domestic violence organization, however, at no time was she made fully aware that a partner who has used ‘coercive control’, in the forms of harassment and psychological abuse, would almost inevitably become a parental alienator following separation.
    Once the horror of the situation had evolved, my daughter accessed every available resource seeking help for herself and her child, however, faced with complete non-compliance by the alienating parent, she finally turned to legal assistance.
    It seems to me that any campaign needs to focus in some part on raising public awareness, so that everybody knows that millions of families are affected; and with separation and divorce rates rising, more children will be affected in the future, with devastating outcomes for our society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sam for your story here. As you’ll see if you read other blogs here, one of my interests is in integrating the various patterns that share harmful coercive control – family abuse and non-family groups too. So your story fits that idea well. But each specific context for coercive control has its own particular features too.

      Do you think that awareness raising should be focused more around the naming of eg Parental Alienation than For Kids Sake does it? I’ve used For Kids Sake – among other things – to carry the idea that the complications and resistance that term triggers makes it counter-productive in campaigning. Yet your experience is very common – that of being in the vast majority who don’t know about PA, don’t find professionals who know about it, and still don’t know what’s happening even long after you fall into the PA sinkhole. And when you find the doorway marked ‘PA’ it can be so amazingly helpful to those down the sinkhole nightmare. But people in general and professionals especially need to know that doorway and what there is to find inside it at the moment trouble hits, not months or years after it starts.

      How far do you think the For Kids Sake approach solves this problem of catching the attention of your family, for example, and pointing you to the resources you’ve needed?


  3. Alienated Parent

    Hello Nick,

    Thank you for an excellent article. Truly well-done. I realize that we have no definitive answers yet, and I too would refer to Parental Alienation as an evil, though I have a sense that it comes more from a system out-of-order than necessarily from individuals at fault. It pains me to admit that. I want very much to say there are individuals at fault, but I am learning to deal in wider perspectives. If not, there will be no solutions.

    When Family Law became involved in our case, it was my first experience over a lifetime with anything but being seen firmly on the correct side of the law. I had taught my children about the police being their friends, about our fine democratic society always seeking the true and righteous, and about the “fact” that innocence will always shine through. HAH!!

    My world was suddenly turned upside-down by a spouse with features of NPD, who — astonishingly — was being believed by the powers-that-be and by our children, despite every word of it being a monstrous delusion. What happened to people’s brains? I felt I was the only one left in that circle with more than two sparking neurons. I had been transported to another planet, surely!

    I learned that Family Lawyers, by and large, are mercenaries to be bought off. Suddenly, you as the persecuted parent have a paid enemy in your life, whom you have never met before, nor they you. The bill is being covered by your nearest and dearest, the person you had previously most trusted; often it is coming out of joint savings you had scrimped yourself to build for the benefit of the family. Now it goes to pay someone to hurt you.

    I learned I could be charged with harassment, apparently, if I so much as stated I had a disagreement of opinion with my spouse. However, his lawyer could send me manipulative, threatening e-mails, meant to frighten me to the bottom of my feet, all supposedly in the name of legal duty. What in blazes was going on? If this is democracy……

    When the law becomes involved in what is essentially the private emotional life of families, a reign of terror begins. Emotional life is very delicate and vulnerable. It requires support and trust, as opposed to betrayal and severe fear tactics. I liken my Family Court experience as being Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It was enormously vicious, to say the very least. First I was betrayed by my spouse, then he paid-off mercenaries to betray me as well. And the state assisted him, very gladly. Shades of Machiavelli. Betrayal by the state is a terrible situation; it has so much power to damage, and so slippery a grasp on the truths behind this type of family situation. The motto is “Hurt first, figure it out if and when some organization more powerful takes you to task. At all costs, strive to look good.” In the meantime, such families of the nation fall like flies.

    Bringing the law into family emotional situations is a form of Triangulation, where one member of the previous two-some moves away in a state of anxiety to employ paid-off or manipulated others to act as “support.” You see this in Narcissistic Smear Campaigns all the time. The idea is that the more hangers-on you have on your side, the more you look as if you must be right. And if you get social authorities on your side, WELL…… you have really scored against the other spouse! Exceedingly adversarial. It is a very strategic battle, planned by the persecuting spouse, with as many high-level allies as can be roped-in.

    Of course, we have a very highly-paid legal profession, with exclusive rights to be heard in our courts, just salivating at the thought of being roped-in. At a price, of course. Divorce is a huge and lucrative industry. Breaking up families pays very, very handsomely. I have an extended family member who has bragged privately about what a lucrative career a measly undergrad degree and an ability to “act caring” can gain a person, as a divorce lawyer. I am sorry, but it seems to me that to gain a good living in this manner is reprehensible.

    So what are we down to, other than agreeing how utterly heinous Parental Alienation is, and how low the public awareness remains? Not to mention the lawyers.

    I am trying to understand the systems involved, myself. And I mean “systems” in terms of what Minuchin and Bowen and Karpman talked about. There is a powerful family system at play here, running amok with our wellbeing and that of our children. The main theme in PA is Triangulation, which initiates and powers the first chess move. Therefore, I am trying to see how to counter Triangulation. I am trying to understand the principles of human behaviour which underlie this otherwise hugely abnormal PA situation. The way I am attempting to see it is that perhaps PA is actually the NORMAL outcome of a particular set of family systems variables. The problem is, those initial variables are actually the skewed bits.

    I am hobbling along in the meantime, like the rest of us, trying to survive in my world gone suddenly mad. Who would ever believe that such a situation can pop-up in the midst of average middle-class family life? It is such a shocker!

    Thank you again, Nick. You have presented it all so diligently. Helps us all to think more clearly.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Alienated Parent

    Most unfortunately, stories such as this are actually not uncommon. I see them too frequently on daily news sites across the English-speaking world. I recall such tragedies being in the news actually, over the past several decades, so this is not a new phenomenon either. It seems that as society regresses like the western world has since the mid-60s, already-anxious families find far less support rather than more, and at some point they may be pushed over the edge. Of course this does not excuse the action in any way, but perhaps hints at how it might be better avoided in future. Divorce is even celebrated by the “enlightened” these days, as the beginning of your free new life, instead of the family tragedy that it more often is, for everyone involved. The children especially.

    Some years ago I read “For the Love of Eryk: Surviving Divorce, Parental Alienation and Life After” by Rod McCall. It was yet another of these heart-breaking family stories, and the way the Family Courts should share the blame and shame for what happened. But they won’t, will they?

    The Family Court lawyer and judge who gave a huge push to the unwarranted destruction of my own family likely slept very well that night; probably even went out for a jolly drink with colleagues after they had completed their vicious work in court. Reminds me of what I have read about the Nazis who ran the extermination camps, and how the officers met for fine dinners in the evenings whenever they could manage it.

    The State funds family destruction and even supports the legal industry surrounding it. In some cases other “trusted” sources support it too, regrettably. I used to laugh darkly to myself that even the senior clergyman in the parish I attended for some years was in on the game — his wife was a top-earning Divorce Lawyer in our area (she was not the humble Christian sort, to put it mildly). She picked-up many new clients when she back-handedly convinced them to go ahead with a divorce as they sat chatting at parish teas, and left with her business card. Her husband married them/she divorced them. They had a great little racket going. The self-righteous damage by the whole Family Court set-up and its flying monkeys makes me ill.

    Then there is the related tragedy, where some severely parentally-alienated parents are forced into what they believe their only remaining option is — suicide.

    I have to say, with all of this going on, why in God’s name is Parental Alienation and its family fallout so little known? I won’t ask, even facetiously, why Family Courts still exist — it would be like asking why there is abuse-of-power allowed in the world. Part of the long-existent human underbelly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Arkadiusz Zoltowski

    The big war against alienation and against unfair court trials has already been won for Australia, but the Attorney General unlawfully rejects the UN finding to be published and to be implemented in Australia. Last Tuesday, on 19 March 2019, at the UN Human Rights Committee Follow -Up to the Views UN Session in Geneva, the UN Committee spoke again about the Australian Family Law related case ICCPR2279/2013, which addressess “the best interest of the child”, “arbitrary child removal”, “child alienation” and to “unfair trials” in relation to all the above violations within and by the family court and by the related Australian Government Departments: Just when enough is enough ? Do not allow for this UN case result to be kept away from the Australian public scrutiny, hidden by the Attorney General’s Dept. any longer. Please, watch & listen to the minutes of the UN latest rebuke on Australia and the demand for the Australian Ambassador ( OZ Government ) based in Geneva to front up the UN Committee, to explain why the Government does not comply with the UN ruling.. Watch this webcast @ Time lapse 2h20’55” till 2h27′

    Nick’s Editorial note:
    Thanks Arkadiusz for your comment and remarkable achievement. To help readers put it in context, I gather you successfully took Australia’s family courts (Western Australia) to the UN and won a judgment against them. See here for some of the details. I gather the Australia Govt has ignored the findings. So your saying ‘the war has been won’ and family courts are going to be better rather depends on Australia remedying its breaches of UN Conventions. I suspect that lots of battles – including this battle to get your judgment enforced – need to be won before the overall ‘war’ will be won. But every win helps. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Meredith Tye

    All of this makes so much sense. I have watched a loving father removed of his children and all his worldly possessions aided by the family court and magistrates court on false allegations of violence by a vindictive mother. Two girls who know it is their mother not their father who is violent. The populist feminist movement that demonises men is creating a fatherless society and making it open to gender biased corruption at the expense of healthy relationships between children and their fathers. I wish to see schools, students and teachers educated about parental alienation so that the child victims of this domestic abuse understand and may be supported. I would like the burden of proof to return to our judicial system so that lies cannot remove children from loving parents. The cult like brainwashing of vulnerable children needs further research and prevention.
    It needs to stop being profitable for professionals to draw out family law matters.
    This blog has given me hope that our society may one day change and function at a level that is optimal for children and families.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. samellen81

    Hello Nick,

    Court ordered mediation on June 4, has failed to bring a satisfactory outcome. Since then my 12-year-old grandson has refused to see his mother at all…heartbreaking for us all.

    In response to the 4 points in your reply to me (Mar 20) I should like to share my understanding:

    1. “Each specific context for coercive control has it’s own particular features”…
    However, the strategies used are the same. These books helped me to understand “coercive control” in the context of intimate relationships:
    “Coercive Control, How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life” by Evan Stark
    ”Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship” by Lisa Aronson Fontes
    It is a particularly insidious and malevolent form of domestic abuse, which can remain “invisible” to others for years…often the victim/survivor does not realize that she is experiencing domestic abuse.
    Evan Stark makes the comment: “Coercive control is not only the most common form of domestic abuse experienced by women, it is also the most dangerous”

    2. Do you think that awareness raising should be focused more on naming Parental Alienation…”
    Yes … especially now that the WHO has recognized Parental Alienation as an Index Term in the ICD-11 (May 25, 2019). A search for PA in the ICD-11, takes one to QE52 Problem associated with interpersonal interactions in childhood: Description: Substantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance in functioning. Karen Woodall who has worked with families affected by PA for many years, sees it as a huge break-through. Ref: European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners, article in Karen’s blog, May 27, 2019.

    My understanding is that serious parental alienation manifesting in a child, is now classified as a mental illness caused by psychological abuse, and so recognized as “child abuse” This diagnosis will empower family court judges to order appropriate management, eg. The Family Bridges Program, where the child is placed in the care of the parent who will not harm them. Eventually, the aim is to reconnect the family in a more healthy relationship if possible.
    However, I see absolutely no evidence that “early intervention” is on the radar, and this brings us to point…

    3. “But people in general and professionals especially need to know that doorway and what there is to find inside it at the moment trouble hits, not months or years after it starts.”
    Absolutely agree…early intervention will be crucial if our society is to have success in managing this largely unacknowledged form of child abuse. Ref: Parental alienating behaviors: An unacknowledged form of family violence (Baker & Darnall, 2006;Harman, Biringen, Ratajck, Outland, & Kraus, 2016;Harman et al., 2018)
    In my daughter’s case, “the trouble hit” very swiftly. Within a week of her leaving the relationship her son had been “interned” with his father and the strategies to alienate him from his mother had begun. The narrative of a “psychological coalition” of father and son was immediately noticeable to us, although we could not give it a name at that stage
    It seems that because this “splitting” of the child’s attachment system, so that one parent is seen as “all good” and the other as “all bad” is so counter-intuative, that many social workers, councelors, psychologists, legal professionals, do not recognize it, and so the opportunity to diagnose the abuse is missed. The effects are devastating for the “targeted parent”, and as damaging to the child as physical and sexual abuse. Ref: Amy J L Baker

    4. “How far do you think the For Kids Sake approach solves this problem of catching the attention of your family, for example, and pointing you to the resources you’ve needed?”
    We accessed every possible resource we could find…the sad fact is that there is not a single resource, agency, organization, help-line – that a parent affected by the phenomenon of PA can go to for HELP…there is no pathway to appropriate intervention … we found that “THERE WAS NO-ONE TO HELP US”!!
    There is a wonderful support group in Australia, set up by a woman who has herself experienced intergenerational parental alienation. The Eany Meaney Miney Mo Organization ( offers information, empathetic support and encouragement.
    However, when I join the conversation in this facebook group, what I hear from alienated parents is a sense of “powerlessness” … some have not had contact with their children for several years, and no-one warned them that “You could lose your child” Ref: Amy L J Baker
    More than an year after our family nightmare began, we have come to our own understanding – that the source of this phenomenon is an “associated mental disorder” (ref: The Alienating Parent), which manifests within an intimate relationship as “coercive control”. The dynamic of “power and control” escalates after family separation, one tragic outcome being “parental/child alienation”, and continuing extreme trauma for the “targeted parent” After several months of exposing herself to further harassment and abuse, over and over again, in an effort to come to agreement with her ex-partner, my daughter realized this was never going to happen. So, with no access to HELP within our present social services and organizations, it was necessary to seek legal advice and assistance. We are very grateful to have found a caring compassionate lawyer….but she can only do so much…
    Sadly, it is possible in our present society, for a parent with “an associated mental disorder” (this is a polite description of what manifests as extreme rage, harassment, manipulation, name-calling, externalizing of all blame…) to hold a child “psychological hostage”, and we have so far been unable to “save” him. My daughter’s lawyer applied to the Family Court in Qld in February 2019, for an Urgent Interim Hearing, providing an affidavit with evidence that this is “a child at risk”, and requesting that the child be placed in his mother’s care, while the father had a psychiatric assessment … the alienating parent paid a barrister $4,000 for a day in court, to employ strategies to delay any action … now 4 months on, the fact that the child is now completely alienated from his mother has not been addressed.


    • Thanks for replying to my questions. You’ve covered a lot of complicated issues. A few thoughts:

      I welcome how you are able to see the value in Evan Stark’s leading work on coercive control – setting aside his leading role in the extreme feminist ideology that denies that PA exists – as well as the value in applying that concept to PA.

      Generalisations in public in the abstract in theory in broad descriptive categories are important parts of building knowledge and work best when they are true enough. They are most important as part of the expertise of those who have to assess individual cases. So when you say “the strategies they use are the same”. that’s true enough and useful when an expert is assessing a particular case too. Theoretical debate is also of value – when the debate is more than just ideological rigidity. So often online especially, the generalisations can lead to simplistic embattled positions like those who are sure PA happens and those who are sure it doesn’t. Individual sufferers are understandably going to use anything that fits their experience and their terrible feelings. But when the sides are in battle and in court, that applies to both sides – hence the escalating misery of the battle, and the misery of professional and legal systems that don’t know what they’re doing. All of that is just to restate my view that this state of affairs requires that professionals and the legal system learn enough to spot the need for bringing in the expertise needed to assess and intervene with complex disputed separation cases – and that includes knowing about PA, but it also includes knowing about when the risks alleged are not false allegations.

      The other thing is to agree that the inclusion of PA in the ICD is really important given that it’s exclusion has been a lynchpin of the argument of those who deny PA exists. However the recent achievement is rather minor I’m afraid, and appropriately minor: it doesn’t say PA is a mental disorder (which by definition has to be an individual’s mental disorder) – it says it’s a harmful relationship factor that causes individual mental disorder. Since professional training is based on ICD and DSM, it is really important to have the words “Parental Alienation” in the book.

      As you say, there are others who rightly identify other categories of (individual) mental disorder in the ICD and DSM that don’t mention PA but more accurately describe the harm caused and the disorder that results. Craig Childress’s Attachment-Based PA is an obviously a relevant approach – but specifically ABPA is not a category in the DSM or ICD either.. Those who work with cults find value in the categories of Dissociative Disorder; since extreme PA fits with the kind of adoption of a false imposed identity as happens in cults, I’ve always thought there was value in that category too. Some of validly seen PA as akin to the Folie a Deux where a mad person persuades someone else close to them to join in the madness – but I’m not sure if that relational category is still a mental disorder category now. These categories are closer to describing individual disorders that result from the relationship harm. The term PA is always and rightly defined as a disturbed family relationship pattern and can therefore never be classed as an individual mental disorder. But lots of things are not in the ICD or DSM; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t scientific subjects!

      I gather that in US courts, the category and proving it matters. In UK and maybe elsewhere, courts really don’t want this generalised expert category to pin the case on. The use of the term is important, but not the proof that it fits some (non-existent) category of mental disorder. That is, though courts are mostly not good at it yet, they too want to find out more precisely what exactly is going on that is unjust, harmful, abusive and otherwise not good for the child. They want professionals also to go into the particular details of the particular case that are directly the concern of the court. They don’t want to rest their decisions on a separate proof that PAS exists and then another proof that PAS is harmful. They want to go more directly to what matters: the welfare of the particular child in the case in front of them. As I say, given the even crazier reliance on ‘the voice of the child’, this ideal picture of how a good court functions is rather far off. My view is that family law is inherently in need of a review that was never done when it drifted into doing a job it was not qualified to do. There are functions that family law system could do better if those were more sharply defined. But mostly I would want to do a root and branch analysis of what is needed to tackle this modern nightmare – and my view (not yet published) is that family law would play only a minor appropriately limited role. That’s why I like the For Kids Sake campaign.

      Lastly, lots of what you’re focusing on is aimed at pulling PA drawing bodies out downstream. No wonderL you’re drowning – what else would you focus on?! Pulling bodies out is a worthy thing to do obviously. But the article about For Kids Sake is focused on how we prevent all kinds of terrible things happening after families separate – not just PA, but other abuses and risks and (in Aaron’s case) multiple murder. Your failure to find alternative help only confirms what For Kids Sake are campaigning about. Everyone goes to family law, but it often doesn’t help and often causes more harm. No alternatives are promoted like family law is. Hence there aren’t effective alternatives. Hence family law is where everyone goes – pushed into the river to drown and a few to be rescued way downstream maybe. Others to suffer endlessly or die. The question I push – because few seem to do that – is to look hard at prevention. That isn’t much use to those who are drowning now. But if we don’t work hard on prevention, then we won’t help those in future who fall in the river and drown either.

      I hope that makes sense. Thanks for your comments that got me going!



  8. samellen81

    Hi Nick – I agree, ‘prevention’ is something we must aim for, and in the meantime ‘urgent intervention’ could save kids right now. There is nowhere for a parent to go to report the alienation of their child, as soon as it begins to happen. My daughter realized within a few days what was happening, but she was powerless to do anything about it…coercive control was so well-entrenched in the child’s life, that he does not have the ability to resist – the father is all-powerful and will continue to psychologically manipulate the child unless someone with authority intervenes. At this time, it seems that no-one is willing to do this. The associated mental pathology of the alienating parent makes rational communication impossible, including ‘mediation’ – this ‘pathology’ simply does not co-operate – their style of communication is characterized by the externalizing all blame, anger, abuse – at times “barking mad” !! It seems that the alignment of the child with the alienator is so counter-intuitive that most counsellors, social workers, even judges – just don’t get it or are not willing to acknowledge it!! I have no training in psychology and so I should like to put something to you, hoping you can clarify. It seems that what I am referring to as an associated mental pathology is likely to be “narcissistic personality disorder”, or even falling into the category of “the dark triad”. Our experience has been that the mental state of the alienator goes completely under the radar – it’s like nobody wants to acknowledge it. What is your experience with “narcissistic personality disorder” as far as diagnosis and treatment is concerned. I get the feeling that even psychologists/psychiatrists would rather side-step these people ??
    Chris Childress posted an article on The Dark Triad, which seemed to fit even better than NPD in the case of our alienator – it is frightening – this person feels like an ‘evil force’ that is unstoppable !!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. samellen81

    Hi again Nick – did I say thank you for this blog – I’ve read heaps of stuff and keep learning all the time !
    Especially inspiring is the Cochem/Consensus Model, with an interdisciplinary approach. However, there appears to be 5-10% “high conflict” cases, described as follows: “some people tend to fight the whole way through their lives, people with personality disorders, with ongoing violence, people who are unwilling to do something about alcohol and drug abuse etc
    In these cases, the involved professionals discuss and agree at some point that this family needs a clear cut court decision.”
    One thing on “high conflict” – Karen Woodall warns about confusing “high conflict” with “parental alienation”; her reasoning being that “high conflict” suggests two people fighting. In the case of PA, there is one parent actively alienating the child from the parent, and there is the targeted parent simply trying to save her child and herself from abuse. The targeted parent is not causing a fight.
    In our case, I do see evidence of an interdisciplinary approach happening, and I guess the time-frame would not be too outrageous if professionals were dealing with fairly ‘reasonable’ people, however, if there is serious psychological abuse and alienation happening, there needs to be early recognition and intervention…..that is where we need increased professional awareness.
    The European Association of Parental Alienation Practitioners (EAPAP) have started a process of training professionals involved in this work. How I wish their initiatives reached to Australia.


  10. Thanks for your two posts samellen81.

    When I first learned about PA I coined my own term for the personality pattern others describe by standard terms like Narcissistic and Sociopathic and Borderline: I still like it because it describes what happens more clearly, it contains a sort of compliment to the person who does it, it contains a clear explanation of why they do it, and it contains an implied way out of it. The term is: Overwhelmingly Strong Personality. That’s what happens: people are overwhelmed so strongly they think they must be in full agreement. They often are ‘strong’ characters. But why does any normal or even strong person have to deal with people by overwhelming them? We know the answer – found inside those other standard terms: They simply don’t know any other way to relate than to coerce them into what looks like a good close relationship. See my blog on why they do it. Even though it is correct to consider these personality disorders as almost impossible to engage in therapy or change, there are those who use Attachment approaches – that have lots in common with Craig Childress’s, but don’t fall into the black and white divisions he goes in for – who have found ways of getting people with severe personality problems to change. But first you have to catch them!

    I agree about ‘high conflict’ conveying an inaccurate picture to the wider world of the very one-sided pattern of PA . But when you’re involved in PA it sure feels like you’re in high conflict. As well as Cochem, some more robust prompt family court approaches are going in Israel. Read Judge Philip Marcus’s articles that are linked to his website: There’s a great need for training professionals at all levels, for sure. My view is that there is a need to be just as active in changing the systems as well, and to devote just as much effort to finding the best ways to prevent the things that push people into PA from the start. There are indeed cases that will still defeat normal efforts early on in their journey – and until the professionals and systems are far far better prepared to grasp them, these cases can defeat everyone all down the line. Good luck in your own case.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: