"Parental alienation” and family courts: A conversation on research and practice

Watch the video recording (YouTube)

Download the slides:
Elizabeth Sheehy (PDF, 255 KB)
Deborah Mackenzie (PDF, 1.5 MB)

This event was held on 20 March 2018 at Tāmaki Campus, University of Auckland. 


Professor Elizabeth Sheehy from the University of Ottawa is a Distinguished Visitor at the University of Auckland. She is an international expert on violence against women and women’s use of violence and the author of the award-winning book Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts. In 2017 she received the Persons Award from the Governor General of Canada and, in 2018, the Order of Ontario from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario for her advocacy for women’s equality in the criminal justice context over the course of her long and distinguished career.

Professor Sheehy shared her research results from examining how “parental alienation” is claimed and adjudicated in family court cases across Canada 2008-2017. She focused on how allegations of family violence and parental alienation intersect and the implications for women escaping male violence.

Deborah Mackenzie has worked for many years trying to improve New Zealand's system response to violence against women and children. She has worked in advocate roles and policy positions both in NGOs and within Government. Deborah has a special interest in the justice sector response to women survivors. Deborah has significant experience as a trainer, presenter and media commentator. She has a Master of Arts (Hons).

Deborah is a co-founder of the Backbone Collective which was launched in 2017 to enable women who have experienced violence and abuse to have their voices heard. Deborah shared what women have told the Backbone Collective about how “parental alienation” is being used against protective mothers in the New Zealand Family Court.

Catriona MacLennan

Catriona MacLennan is a barrister, journalist and researcher. She worked in the Press Gallery for six years as a political reporter and practised law in South Auckland for 14 years. Catriona worked extensively in family and domestic violence and has for the past 20 years advocated publicly and politically for action to eliminate domestic and sexual violence. Catriona helped set up Ngā Ture Kaitiaki ki Waikato Community Law Centre and was the Project Director for Ngā Tāngata Microfinance Trust. She is the founder of Wheels for Women, a project to provide cars to domestic violence survivors.

Catriona examined recent New Zealand High and Family Court cases referring to “parental alienation.” She also spoke about how the use of “parental alienation” is undermining attempts to tackle this country’s domestic violence epidemic.


Professor Julia Tolmie, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland.

Further reading

Aotearoa New Zealand

Reports from the Backbone Collective: 

Report Two - Family Court Survey Report

Report Four - Seen And Not Heard: Children In The Family Court - Force

Catriona MacLennan: Family Court using discredited US theory, Newsroom, 14.08.2017  


Dallam, S. and Silberg, J. (2016). Recommended treatments for "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS) may cause children foreseeable and lasting psychological harm", Journal of Child Custody, 13(2-3), 134-143.

Dragiewicz, M. & Barkwell, C. (2016). Luke’s Place: An innovative program for assisting abused mothers post-separation. In M. Hannah and B. Goldstein (Eds.) Domestic violence, abuse, and child custody: Legal strategies and policy issues: Vol. II (§ 11:2-11:17).  Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

Dragiewicz, M. (2014). Domestic Violence and Family Law: Criminological Concerns. International Journal For Crime, Justice And Social Democracy, 3(1), 121-134.

Dragiewicz, M. (2010). Gender bias in the courts: Implications for battered mothers and their children. In M. Hannah and B. Goldstein (Eds.) Domestic violence, abuse, and child custody: Legal strategies and policy issues (§ 5:1-5:18). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

Meier, J. & Dickson, S. (2017). Mapping Gender: Shedding Empirical Light on Family Courts’ Treatment of Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation, 35 Law & Ineq. 311.

Meier, J. (2018). Mapping Gender: Shedding Empirical Light on Family Courts’ Treatment of Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation
(webinar hosted by BWJP)

Neilson, L (2018). Parental Alienation Empirical Analysis: Child Best Interests or Parental Rights? (Fredericton: Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research and Vancouver: The FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children)