“Multidisciplinary analysis of the so-called parental alienation syndrome” by Magistrate Gloria Poyatos

On February 7, 2020, a day of holistic analysis took place in Madrid, Spain on the alleged “Parental Alienation Syndrome (SAP)”, organized by the Association of Women Judges of Spain (AMJE), with the collaboration of the Government of Spain through the Women’s Institute, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), the Save the Children Organization, the Madrid Bar Association, the Association of Sociology of Children and Adolescents Group (GSI), the Association of Women Jurists Themis and Lefebvre Publishing House. The day had a great follow-up, filling the capacity in a little more than 12 hours, which led to its broadcasting live via streaming, which was massively followed.

The SAP is a construct not recognized by the WHO, the American Psychiatric Association or the Spanish Association of Psychoneurosis, or by the General Council of Social Work that labels the said syndrome as false and in spite of this, confirms that since 2000 it has produced in Spain “a growing phenomenon” of changes in child custody under the protection of SAP, mainly aimed at women and with “strong prevalence” in cases of gender violence or abuse.

For its part, the CGPJ has also recommended that Spanish judges not use this figure to support judicial decisions. Specifically, the Practical Guide of the Organic Law on Gender Violence 1/2004, of the Observatory against Domestic and Gender Violence of the CGPJ, underlines the need to act against the widespread implementation of SAP in judicial proceedings.

This day was born from the need to provide light on the extent and multidisciplinary analysis of a figure about which much has been said and written but not always with seriousness, knowledge and technical rigor. We wanted and we have achieved it, to contribute ideas, critical analysis, constructive debate and clear conclusions that place the SAP, where it must be and does not give rise to beliefs or conceptual errors that can pass judicial decisions to the detriment of childhood, adolescence or their mothers, in many cases, victims of gender violence.

Through a total of 4 training tables, this scientific figure was analyzed. The first of the tables focused their approach as “diagnosis”, from psychology. Sonia Vaccaro, clinical psychologist, said that “it lacks a scientific basis and is a misogynist and patriarchal ideology that aims to make the voice of children invisible, sometimes the only witnesses of situations of abuse”, being described as “wrong diagnosis” by The Doctor of Psychology from the University of Murcia, Concepción López Soler, along the same lines, showed the Professor of Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Alcalá (Madrid), who talked about attachment and was qualified as “a paternal strategy that tries to prevent or cancel the separation, coerce and control the mothers ”, by the coroner and professor of Legal Medicine of the University of Granada, Miguel Lorente.

This figure was also approached from the media and society, highlighting the social influence that the media have in the approach they give to news related to sexist violence and its effects on our young people.

There was also talk about its effect on child custody, it was shown how it could be used to neutralize the statements of children in judicial proceedings, thus contravening the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that they be heard by the institutions.

And proposals were made, even of a legislative nature, to prevent this strange figure from becoming the gag of childhood and adolescence in justice.

Judicial decisions that affect children must be inspired and determined by the principle of best interests of the child, as a primary consideration especially relevant when weighing rights that are contrasted. The unique character of children, their potential and at the same time their vulnerability and their dependence on adults make it imperative that they have protection against violence.

The day ended with great success not only among the attendance, very participatory in the debates, but also media. With it, a new social debate has intensified on the need to legally prohibit the use of SAP, as a new form of institutional violence buried under a fictitious figure.

Children are not only subjects of special protection but also full subjects of law and as such, must be treated by all persons operating in the justice sector.

This blog post was prepared by Magistrate Gloria Poyatos Matas, member of the IAWJ Board of Directors. The views presented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the IAWJ.