Criminalising abuses of the family law legal process

A well-known child psychologist recently said to me that he believed that the psychological abuse of children should be a criminal offence. He said this to me in relation to a case where he believed a mother was in the middle of a campaign whereby she was successfully totally alienating her daughter from the daughter’s father.

We are involved in a series of cases at the moment where this is happening but as I have mentioned in previous newsletters, a very distributing trend concerns the increasing use by mothers of allegations concerning sexual abuse of children. At the moment we are acting in one particularly extraordinary case where an application for a barring order was refused and the very next day allegations of sexual abuse were made, which were not raised at the hearing for the barring order.

The courts however are in an impossible position. A mother says that she believes her child has been sexually abused by the child’s father. The matter is referred on to the HSE. The HSE are understaffed and to fully investigate such a serious allegation will take very many months. In the meantime the court cannot take the risk of having the father continue to have access so he either has minimal supervised access or he has no access. In many cases, the child involved is very young and after a period of many months, it is not surprising that the child then says that she does not want to spend time with her father, even if the allegations are completely unproven.

I am talking purely from personal experience in my practice but this appears to be a tactic used by a going number of women in particular. I have no doubt that there are cases where children are being sexually abused but in the cases I have come across, I am absolutely confident that the allegation is the most dreadful tactic a parent can use against another parent.

I would heartily endorse the call on the government to prepare legislation to introduce this type of psychological cruelty as a criminal offence. There will be difficulties proving such an offence but that really is a matter for the Gardai, a judge and maybe a jury.

Kevin Brophy

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