DIVORCED or separated mothers who hide listening devices in toys, take children on holiday without agreement or criticise their former partner’s parenting skills, should be criminalised under new domestic violence laws, according to a charity.

Families Need Fathers (FNF), which campaigns to help non-resident parents stay in touch with their children after a family break-up and encourage shared parenting, made the claim in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.

MSPs on the committee are set to scrutinise the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) bill, which includes measures to tackle non-physical methods of abuse, including controlling behaviour and so-called ‘coercive control’.

The submission from FNF claims the bill will also help non-resident parents, because they are also often victims of coercive control, it claims.

This can include ambushes, centred around the handover of children at contact, designed to get the non-resident parent arrested, psychological manipulation, threats about children, or preventing schools or health services from communicating with the other parent, the charity said. The submission includes a long list of tactics sometimes use by parents who have the most care use to “disrupt the life, drain the resources and undermine the self-confidence of their former partner and ultimately to undermine the relationship he has with his children,” it adds.

These include refusing to communicate, being late for or cancelling agreed contacts, or failing to comply with court-ordered contact, attempting to block children being with a new partner, or making false allegations.

Ian Maxwell, spokesman for FNF said the concerns about mothers bugging a child’s clothes or a teddy bear were based on real incidents among the 3,500 contacts the charity has had in the current year. “We are calling for all these behaviours to be criminalised reluctantly,” he said. Most non-resident parents do not want the other parent arrested or imprisoned, he claims. But they do want ways for the ‘controlling’ parent to understand their behaviour must change. FNF is calling for a complete overhaul of family law.

Court orders tend to give huge power to the parent with residence he said. “We understand why the bill aims to address the more subtle aspects of domestic violence. Explicitly including the kind of behaviour we have described should not conflict with the other intentions of the legislation but would address the sense of injustice many non-resident parents and their extended family feel.”

Scottish Women’s Aid’s chief executive Dr Marsha Scott said FNF was misusing the concept of coercive control. “There are parents of both sexes who use coercion and unfair or unhealthy tactics when a relationship breaks down. “That is not by any stretch of our imagination the same as the pattern of behaviour and constant control and use of fear that coercive control is in the context of domestic abuse. I think it’s a misuse, and exploitation of the term and not helpful,” she said.

Margaret Mitchell MSP, who chairs the Justice Committee said “We are at the very early stages and will look at all the evidence when it comes in.”