Parental Alienation Syndrome – What The Legal Profession Should Know
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Medico-Legal Journal (1999) Vol.66 Part 4, 151-161
I have been involved in and out of the legal system with the process of PAS, and propose to answer the questions outlined, in the most simple terms. I will try to explain to those faced with PAS in cases of marital disharmony, marriage guidance, divorce proceedings, the legal system and evaluation of children and adults involved and suggest how to reverse some of the tragic consequences before they reach a court of law or during the proceedings in a court of law.
Although I will be responding to the questions posed briefly and succinctly, I will try not to over simplify this complex subject. However, there are wider and more comprehensive texts available which consider the complex phenomena of PAS (see Bibliography).
1. What is the Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS)?
PAS is not a new phenomenon. It has been practised for as long as marital or relationship conflicts have occurred. It is the conscious action, although sometimes deemed unconscious by some psychologists and psychiatrists, of one parent turning against another to oust the other parent from the affection, love, respect or regard by children which both parents bore. It is most effectively used against younger, passive children and is rather less effective with older and more assertive children.
It is unlikely to occur in a stable harmonious relationship between parents. The couple who are at ease, even happy, with one another will tend to engender love for their children. They will encourage children to regard the other parent favourably They will work together to bring up their children appropriately with socialised standards of behaviour. Such children have the advantage of knowing they come from a secure base, of being loved by both parents and in turn, feeling the same way towards them. In some cases even where marital disharmony occurs PAS does not occur and parents continue to foster good relations with their children and with the other partner and their children.
This is not to say that problems between parents do not arise among normal couples. Somehow, however, the bond created between them and the responsibility they feel for one another and their children makes the union endure and the guidance given to children also has a positive quality. Even when it does not endure, PAS is not an inevitable consequence. Many marriages fail. It is the tragedy of our time. When this occurs, responsible parents consider their role as good parents to be of the greatest importance. They will actually encourage their former partner to participate in guiding and caring for their children. They will display the view that they both love their offspring, even if they cannot love one another. They will make certain that the other parent is a good parent in the eyes of their children. Were this to happen as a general basis, there would be no PAS. Such parents accept and embrace the important principle that division between parents does not mean that their love for their children is any less.
Such unions endure because both members regard their own role and responsibilities as paramount and also consider their former partner’s role important. In this way, despite the marital split, parenting patterns persist. Sometimes the parted couples can even establish a friendly relationship towards one another which is desirable as a consequence for their children. To achieve this end, some parents need guidance from an outside professional.
2. Why Does PAS Occur?
Before answering this question, it is important to note that in very rare instances of poor parenting by one partner, or even criminal activities such as paedophilia, such parents should be eliminated from the parenting, role or their role must be curtailed and only reinstated after such parents have been successfully treated for their problems.
With these important exceptions eliminated from the picture we may now concentrate on why PAS occurs. PAS results from a relationship in conflict when the alienator feels the need to control totally the process of rearing children, after an acrimonious separation. The exhibitor of this trait is usually female but not exclusively so. Sometimes this results from the need to retaliate against the targeted former partner who may have been, but not necessarily was, the rejector of the relationship. Other factors may include the alienators own early childhood experiences and having suffered from alienation by their own parents.
Depriving a former partner of positive contact with his/her children is a powerful weapon. Some alienators go as far as accusing the former partner, often unfairly, of physically, emotionally and even sexually abusing the child or children merely to get their own way. This results in the involvement of social workers, the police and leads to the humiliation of the alienated parent, often unjustly. When this happens many alienated partners give up the fight to seek or maintain contact with their children. The alienating parent will then use this against him by informing the children: “You see how little he cares for you” “Wasn’t I right about him?” The child will more often than not fail to understand the lack of logic of what has taken place and will usually support the mother’s position since she is present most of the time and has usually been the main caretaker. (The process of alienating a child against the father or vice versa works will be discussed below in section 5.) The objective of the alienator is to eliminate partly and sometimes totally, the alienated parent from the family and from having any control and care of the child. Sometimes a new partnership has emerged. It is then the object of the alienator to promote the affection and closeness of these hapless children with the new partner and to exclude the alienated parent, usually the father.
3. Who is most likely to practise it?
What follows will portray the mother as the chief alienator. Of those who practise PAS, 75% are mothers as against 25% of men who alienate. I will concentrate therefore on the woman’s role as alienator but what is said about them can equally be said about men. Despite the changes in social and cultural norms, this is due to the view that the mother is the centre of family life. Hence alienating mothers feel they have the greatest input and responsibility in caring for the child compared with the male.
Mothers who are on their own feel it is only right t and fair for them to make decisions concerning their children. They will fear losing the child to the father once he allegedly influences them that she may be thought of as being paranoid. Women will often claim it was after all they who carried and gave birth to the infant. They will use any weapon fair or foul to make certain that they have the ultimate power and control over their children. Among the weapons used are accusations that the father is unfit to care or even to spend any time with the child. This may be due to allegations of sexual misconduct, alcohol or drug misuse or immorality or a poor mental state, or lifestyle or possibly criminal involvement. Due to the closeness of mothers and children, the children will often believe what the alienator states, namely that the other parent is evil or worse than useless.
Such mothers divorce themselves from the real needs of the child in order to maintain their total control and to eliminate the contact and relationship with the other parent. When litigation is threatened, the alienating parent becomes even harder in her determination to have complete control. She will say to the child:”See what your father is doing now? He is trying to have me imprisoned’.’ This turns the child even more against the father as he sees the mother as the victim. Hence she has involved and continues to involve the child in her battle with the father and the process of programming and brainwashing the child until the child sees matters as she does and so she turns the child against the father. The child’s behaviour therefore becomes increasingly more difficult when the father is present and the child may even refuse to go with him. Sometimes inlaws allied to one or the other may influence matters further.
Hence the hostility of the mother against the’ father will be accepted by the child who responds accordingly. The response of the mother to this is deep gratification; she has achieved her objective. She may even deny that she is doing anything to influence the child and may aver that she is actively encouraging the child to cooperate. The result is that the child will behave in an inimical, unfriendly and hostile way towards the alienated person. In this situation the mother may well believe her own lies and perceptions. Some mothers overindulge their children in order to persuade their children that their mother offers them most. This overindulgence is combined with persistent denigration of the other parent.
Parents who seek to programme their children against a parent have often come from families where this was done to them, by one of their parents. They are therefore very familiar with the techniques that can be used effectively and are perpetuating a vicious and destructive pattern to the next generation.
4. What are the likely consequences to the alienated person and the children?
Children hate to see their parents in acrimony It reduces their sense of security and they feel in jeopardy. The successful indoctrination, programming and brainwashing of a child leads to bitterness, sadness and anger in the unjustly accused parent and prevents the parent from exercising his rights, obligations and love for the child. He or she will either give up the fight, considering it best all round or there will be an acrimonious conflict. When this happens the child suffers confusion and ultimately alienation from one of the parents. This may go on for months or for many years.
Fear is sometimes induced in the child towards the alienated parent. Fear is ultimately often translated into attacking and humiliating the alienated parent. Fear induction is especially likely to be successful with younger children. Eventually such children consider the alienated parent as “bad”, “inadequate” and of little value to them. Such parents eventually are forced to play a peripheral role or no role at all, save as financial providers and sometimes not even that. When mother’s economic position is stronger than father’s for instance, there is a desire to eliminate father even from the role of being a provider. Some fathers become desperate and contemplate suicide or seek to escape through alcohol or drugs. This merely verifies the picture which mothers frequently inculcate in their children – that their father is an alcoholic or drug addict. Others, as already stated, give up the struggle for any kind of contact with their once cherished children. Some children seeing the once stable parents embroiled in this kind of warfare turn against both parents and become depressed, underachieve at school or turn to delinquency.
Only much later in life, do children sometimes become aware of the wrong which has been done and the way they have been used as pawns and programmed against all the opposing “reality’.’ Then the antagonism of the future adult turns against the alienating parent. When they mature and learn to think for themselves they realise that the alienated parent has suffered a great injustice at the hands of the alienator and through themselves by having allowed one parent to turn them against the other. They may feel a sense of desperate guilt. A helpless kind of regret occurs which cannot be assuaged and often follows when the alienated parent has died or vanished. It is this sense of guilt that such youngsters who grow into adults must live with.
Such children as teenagers and adults may well remember the techniques used, including false statements made about the alienated parent and realise they ere totally unjustified.
5. How is PAS carried out?
Parents who use PAS often view themselves as “victims”; they like their children to see them as “victims”. They tend to seek revenge and encourage their children to believe that the other parent is at fault, by claiming that he/she (the victim) and programmer has been cruelly and unjustly treated by their father/mother who suffers from a number of moral and personal problems. Alienating parents will overstate or even create vices such as: “He’s an alcoholic, drug taker, womanizer, has no sense of responsibility, drives dangerously etc.” See Table 1, below, dealing with research into PAS in the UK.
Table 1 – Severity of alienation by sex
Accusations range from failure to provide financially to accusations of sexual and/or physical abuse, even when there are no justifiable reasons for such allegations (Table 2). A parent is at risk of being judged guilty by allegations alone. Needless to say when physical or sexual abuse has actually occurred and been substantiated by a court, then the convicted parent will have and should have only limited or no access to the child in question.
Table 2 – Specific reasons given to children by alienating parent, by sex
|Failure to provide financially
|Lacking in love or aggressiveand lack of care
|Disloyal and unfaithful
|Drug or alcohol abuser
|Immoral or mentally unstable
|Accusations of physical abuse incest or sexual abuse
Interviews and intervention in the form of therapy are usually necessary in order to counteract such allegations. Such help will be met with a mixture of hope by the alienated parent as well as resentment and sometimes a lack of cooperation by the alienated parent and often by the “brainwashed” child. This is because those who carry out the programming against the alienated parent use or promote anything which will achieve their objective of hurting, denigrating and if possible eliminating the alienated parent from having any control or contact with the child. We have already mentioned the most damaging procedure of all, allegations of sexual abuse. Here, the victim, namely the alienated parent, has to prove his/her innocence rather than the alienator having to prove his/ her allegation.
Other methods of alienation by programming and brainwashing children can be seen by the following:
- By observing the behaviour and listening to the statements of children towards the alienated party. (An illustration of this will be found in Section 6.)
- By noting the control the alienating parent seeks and obtains in order to eliminate the alienated paent.
- By noting, the marital disharmony as well as the acrimony when the parents separated and beyond that time.
- By noting the contradictory statements and behaviour demonstrated by the programmed child when interviewed.
- By taking note of the character assaults which the alienating parent makes which is often not verifiable i.e. that the former partner is immoral, lacks parenting skills, drinks heavily, uses drugs, is emotionally unstable or unreliable or is dishonest etc.
- By noting the unchildlike statements made which have been programmed by the alienating parent.
Other ways of demonstrating PAS is to show the child to be totally under the influence of the alienating parent. Children will accept and repeat what their mothers or fathers have said in attacking and humiliating and alienating the other parent and of course refusing to have contact or very limited contact with that alienated person. The child believes what is said about the alienated parent and behaves accordingly.
There are many other direct as well as more subtle methods of programming and brainwashing to gain the loyalty and control of the child while at the same diminishing, destroying, humiliating and sidelining the alienated parent partly or totally. Here are a few more devices to add to the list:
- Encouraging the child to disobey and show a lack of respect for the alienated parent.
- Promoting an alliance between the child and alienator against the other parent.
- Opposing the other parent’s child rearing methods and communicating this to the child.
- Bribing and overindulging children to create comparative poverty of enjoyment with the other parents when they are with that parent.
- Suggesting and actually changing the surname of the child to reduce the influence and memory of the other parent.
- Programmer playing the part of a “martyr” claiming how badly he/she was treated by the alienated parent.
- Making children afraid of the alienated parent.
- Encouraging children to hate being with the other parent.
- Showing the other parent to be bad.
- Instilling in the child the view that the other parent plans or wants to take the child away from the programmer and even to kidnap the child.
- Making the child feel anxious, rejected and insecure if the child does not comply with the programmer.
- Programmer encouraging the child to keep secrets while spying and reporting on the alienated parent.
- Moving away or living some distance from the alienated parent.
- Sowing the seeds of disobeying the alienated parent.
- Negative non verbal communication such as turning body away when speaking of the alienated parent or making derogatory faces about the alienated parent.
- Programmer creating ambi valence regarding the alienated parent i.e. “be nice to parent although he is a bad man who wants to take you away from me”.
- Treating child as “best friend” instead of child/parent relationship.
- Threatening child with physical punishment and actually carrying it out if child appears to be favourable towards alienated parent.
6. What can be done to reverse the unjust and destructive effects and long term consequences of PAS?
It is vital that a professional such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist be involved as soon as possible to deal with PAS to limit the damage and prevent it from becoming impervious to improvement. The professional must be aware of PAS and of its origins. Sometimes unannounced home visits are indicated.
Both parents and the child or children must be evaluated individually, rather than together, with the professional being aware of the presence and effect of PAS on all concerned. Once it is established that neither of the parents is a danger to a child, efforts must be made to develop a voluntary modus vivendi on who should have the children and when and of the need to avoid PAS by either parent: the “two step plan” (see article by Lowenstein in Paedophilia book – Chapter 20). If the initial process of voluntary help being provided with both parents and the child is ineffective, a firmer approach must be adopted which will involve the legal system. However, it is always preferable in the first instance to see if one can get the parents together for the benefit of the child, on a voluntary basis.
Interviews with all members of the warring factions should be insisted upon by the court. Frequently there is much opposition to this by one party or the other. Various excuses or arguments are offered such as “the witness does not wish to be assessed… children have been through so much already and it would be detrimental to his/her psychological state to be re-interviewed etc.”. Only the court can insist on all being done as the Expert Witness requests. Failure to cooperate with the Expert Witness should indicate to the court what needs to be done next. It is preferable for the court to appoint one Expert Witness rather than for two Expert Witnesses to be facing one another, siding with their particular position rather than considering the overall complexity of the problems and the welfare of the child. This of course is not always possible in an “adversarial” atmosphere.
Interviews and tests used must be carried out sensitively and impartially Videotaping should be used when allowed by the participants. When this is not allowed, the court should note who does not allow it and why Videotapes can be studied by all involved in seeking to make the best possible decisions for the child.
A shortened version of a hypothetical session with the child is set out below (P = Psychologist; C = Child):
P: Now tell me how you feel about your father?
C: I never want to see him again.
P: Why is that?
C: I don’t want anything to do with him. . . he stinks and he’s nasty to my mother.
P: Why, what did he do?
C: He makes our mother’s life unhappy and now we don’t have to do what he says.
C: Making us come here to see you and having to go to the court.
P: Your father wants to spend time with you and loves you.
C: Well I don’t love him. We are better off without him. He’s trying to make trouble for Mum. . . trying to get her put in prison maybe.
P: Why do you say that?
C: Mum told us and we believe her. She is the only one who really cares about us.
P: How do you know your father doesn’t care about you?
C: Why, after all he’s done?
P: What has he done?
C: The way he’s treated us, especially Mum.
P: Didn’t you ever feel close to him or love him at all?
C: No… well yes, but that was a long time ago before he and Mum quarrelled and split up.
Where PAS continues by one or both parties, legal sanctions must be imposed and enforced with the alienating parent undergoing psychological treatment. If this fails the parent should be forced to stop such behaviour. In an extreme case, parents who continue PAS should lose custody of the child, and the child placed with the cooperating inlaws or relatives who permit full contact by the child with the previously alienated parent. An alienating parent could alternatively be fined or imprisoned and the alienated parent given regular contact with and even custody of the child.
This would need to be done with the greatest of care, since the children have often been programmed so fully against the alienated parent that it will not be perceived as in their best interests. I believe that what is required is a period of reprogramming, with the help of a clinical psychologist. In this way the child may be allowed to understand the following:
- Why the programming occurred.
- What can be done to gradually improve and cement the child’s relationship with the alienated parent.
Therapists involved in helping such children should seek to develop a greater insight into children exposed to PAS. Older children especially would understand the need for explanations into what needs to be done to counteract it.
Interviews between the alienated parent and children are especially important and often indicate the extent of the programming which has taken place by
the alienator against the alienated party. Again the dialogue which follows has been abbreviated to present merely the highlights of PAS and its effects (C = Child; F = Father):
F: You know I have always loved you. Remember the good times we had when I used to read to you and play games with you.
C: I don’t remember any of that, I only remember you used to shout at mum and how you always criticised her (note the selective memory).
F: I’m sorry about that but I’ve always loved you despite that.
C: It’s too late just to be sorry We’re better off without you (note sign of brainwashing having taken place).
F: Don’t you miss me at all?
C: No! You’re a horrible man. My sister hates you too.
F: Do you really mean that? What can I do now?
C: Just leave us alone. If you give us money, mum told me we can manage without you altogether (note the request for money comes from the programmer)
F: But I’m your father and love you and want to spend time with you.
C: Mum says you have a funny way of showing it and we don’t have to obey you any more (note again the influence of the programmer).
F: And you believe I don’t love you when I always have loved you.
C: I believe mum.
F: And you don’t believe me?
C: How can I believe both of you. Mum says she will never lie to me (again we have selective believing based an the mother’s brainwashing).
It is important to know what is happening on the basis of such interviews and avoid taking one side or the other in the parental alienation struggle. Hence the children will lean best how to resist being programmed by becoming more independent in their thinking. They also need to learn not to feel guilty about what has happened, and understand they have not produced it themselves. Some children even blame themselves for the parental battle. They should be encouraged to develop their own confidence in a future life wherein they are in control, such as in their studies, peer relationships etc. Such increased independent thinking might well reduce the efforts of one or both parents to programme against the other parent. Therapists may be able to provide all encompassing, or at least helpful, responses which the child can use when efforts of brainwashing are in progress such as:
“I will not hear about anything bad about either you or.. .” “I intend to make up my own mind as to how I see things. If you want to fight with.. . don’t use me as a weapon against… I love and need you both and I don’t want to become involved in your arguments etc.”
This undoubtedly is a hard thing to achieve. These would naturally be ideal responses for the child to make towards a programming adult. Here, the child is aware of the brainwashing efforts being made and stands up to it in a critical manner against the programmer. If the child is very young and/or not sufficiently insightful or assertive, such responses will be unlikely. The child may be too influenced by the programmer due to age and pacificity and will fail to evaluate the motives and techniques employed. A psychologist, once involved, should encourage understanding as to why and how the programming occurs, and communicating it to the child.
Often PAS occurs in the absence of contact or very much reduced contact with the alienated parent. The child is therefore overwhelmed by “one side of the story”. Re-education by the therapist sometimes helps and of course the increasing of contact with the other party is vital. Sadly, sometimes the brainwashing has been so overwhelmingly effective, that nothing further can be achieved to reduce the impact of the brainwasher. The child has been so thoroughly turned against the other parent that only legal action by the embittered alienated parent has any chance at all. Unfortunately at this time, the children are often older and having failed to receive support from the other parent, becomes totally and habitually inflexible as a product of the indoctrination process from the programmer.
If it has not gone this far, the evaluator or psychologist when speaking to the child must do so in a very sensitive manner, to establish and maintain a good rapport with the questions such as the following being asked:
- “Tell me something about both of your parents and their good qualities”.
- “Tell me how you heard about. . .”
- “Tell me how you know about this…”
- “What makes you think.. .?”
- “Could there be any other explanation for. . .?”
- “Is there anything you and I could do to make you feel different about the parent you now dislike?”
- “What would you like to see happen now and why?”
When interviewing the brainwasher, efforts must be made to show them up, despite the fact that they may already know the following:
- “Are you feeling vengeful against…?”
- “Do you think that what you do is the best way of handling the situation?”
- “How will your child benefit from what you are doing now and in the future?”
- “Do you want your child to come through this process without suffering. . .?”
- “What could be cone to improve the situation?”
- “Do you think your accusations against… are totally correct?”
- “Please tell me why you feel as you do. . . what are your goals?”
- “Do you want me to help you and your child in this manner?”
- “Would you do what you can for the benefit of your child now and in the future?”
If the answer is yes, the programmer may be open to suggestions of a more rational nature and this could be beneficial to reverse the process of negative programming. Great care must be taken by the deprogrammer to appear to be as “neutral” as possible, while at the same time reducing the effects of the unhealthy and destructive effects of brain washing which has been carried out.
7. What is the judicial recourse?
The alienated parent will turn to the legal profession and the courts if all other methods have failed. They feel justice must surely prevail when an independent judge is made aware of PAS. This is now a common scenario in the United States, but less so in the UK. Judges are naturally influenced by a number of traditions and are unaware in many cases, of the effects of PAS.
- Mothers, on the whole, are regarded as preferable to fathers having custody of children, all things being equal.
- The older child should have a final say with whom to be with. This does not, however, take account of the programming which the alienating parent has carried out beforehand.
- In the case of a younger child, many judges will favour the mother as main or sole custodian, all things being equal. When they don’t favour the mother, or alienating parent, they will be viewed as unfair and siding with the other parent.
- Sometimes judges will recommend family therapy and the involvement of psychiatrists, paediatricians or clinical psychologists to assess and treat the conflict between opposing parents. These professionals also often fail to be aware of the PAS which has eliminated or reduced the role of the alienated parent.
It is vital that decisions are made which are fair and just for all concerned. PAS cannot be allowed to deprive a stable and capable parent of their parenting role. Any parent who practises PAS should be dealt with severely by the courts. This should be done initially with the “voluntary cooperation” of all concerned as previously mentioned. If this does fail with the help of a professional involved, then more stringent pressure must be expected by the courts. PAS is a type of brainwashing which leads to suffering for all concerned, either in the short or long term. Both parents must be viewed as having the right and the obligation to play a vital role in the care, guidance and love provided for their children.
The judiciary must be educated to realise that many potential parents who have been the victims of adverse brainwashing of their children give up the fight. They do this for a variety of practical reasons including:
- The feeling that they are doing more harm to their children than good by fighting over them.
- Lack of financial resources.
- The view that they simply do not think they can win against a determined alienating former partner.
- It takes much determination and is extremely time consuming, when one is already fully stretched in earning a living in order to provide for the children.
It is unfortunate that many children view the fact that a parent does not fight for them in the courts, as rejection by that parent of themselves.
8. What does research say about PAS in the UK?
There is a considerable amount of research in the United States as published by Gardner and by Clawar & Rivlin Child Held Hostage, a book recently mentioned. There has however been very limited research in the UK. As already mentioned about 75 per cent of cases of PAS indicate the mother to be the alienator with about a quarter being the father.
Table 1 shows both the sex and the severity of the alienation derived from a study of 60 consecutive referrals involving alienation of some kind by one of the partners.
In the case of mild, one refers to negative comments made by one partner or another. Moderate refers to disparaging remarks made at least 2-3 times per week. In the case of severe, we refer to daily or more negative comments about the alienated parent to children.
Table 2 refers to the kind of negative or disparaging statements made. In most cases there is a reference to more than one descriptive phrase (1-6) as to why the alienated partner is disparaged to the children. Hence, for example, 9 women stated that the male failed to provide financially. The males only state 3.
Table 3 indicates the variety of reactions of children to the alienating process being waged by a parent. It will be noted from Table 3 that virtually all the children suffered one way or another including gender identity problems from the alienating process. Some became psychologically disturbed by withdrawing into themselves. Others showed behavioural symptoms such as aggression, lowered school attendance and performance. There are also the long term effects of failure to realise educational-vocational potential. Finally, although the data is incomplete, there is evidence that some youngsters eventually turned against the instigator of the alienation process. This could well be a warning to those who alienate by programming or brainwashing children against another parent!
Table 3 – Types and frequency of reaction of child to alienation
|Confusion: this includes frustration and not knowing what to believe
|Becoming alienated towards one parent
|Later failing to develop educationally, vocationally their potential
|Becoming withdrawn and depressed, having sleep disorders, regressing, developing suicidal ideation, obsessive compulsive behaviour, enuresis, anxiety, daydreaming, psychosomatic disorders etc.
|Turning elsewhere for stability to grandparents peers etc
|Problems with sexual identity
|Becoming a behaviour problem with lack of impulse control with siblings and in school
|Lack of school attendance and deterioration in school performance
|Later turning against alienator and the process of alienation
|Partly ignoring alienation process i.e. becoming more independent
Conclusions and Recommendations
- The legal profession and most importantly the courts must be aware of the insidious influence of PAS, how it functions and what should be done to counteract it.
- Having understood that PAS is unfair, unjust and detrimental to the present and future of brainwashed children, appropriate action should be taken by the courts.
- The court, in conjunction with an experienced Expert Witness in PAS who ideally should be appointed by the court rather than by one of the solicitors, on one side or the other, should be empowered to take steps to reduce the impact of PAS.
- All evidence indicates that children who have contact with both stable parents, even if they are seprated, are better adjusted now and in the future than those who are alienated from one of their parents due to the effects of PAS.
- It is the role of the Expert Witness to help the child to understand the way PAS works and to encourage the child not to be influenced by it or to become embroiled in it. Loyalty and love to both parents is the order of the day. This will benefit the child in the short term and even more in the longer term.
- There are both short and long term affects of PAS. This includes poorer adjustment in future years to a partner in another relationship due to identification and identity problems including one’s own sexuality. Children who have been subjected to programming are more likely themselves to practise this kind of behaviour when they become adults and embroiled in marital difficulties. The process of alienation becomes perpetuated.
Recent Research into Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Until the 1980’s there was minimal research on the subject of PAS. One of the earliest to consider it was Palmer (1988) who addressed the legal remedies to the parental alienation syndrome in the context of divorce proceedings.
Plumb & Lindley (1990) suggest that PAS occurs when parents cannot settle or will not settle the matter of their children’s wellbeing on their own. It becomes of paramount importance that they are given the opportunity, with the aid of appropriately ethical and impartial professionals, to settle the matter of their childrens’ welfare. In this way such professionals can dramatically reduce the psychological and psychophysiological damage typically resultant of adversarial litigation. Once, under current law, the parents have experienced the painstaking Family’s Team evaluation process recommended in this book, they need not remain passive in deciding custody for themselves. The Family’s Team approach has the advantage of providing substantial data and recommendations to the court in its decision making. The book by Plumb & Lindley, Humanizing Child Custody Disputes: The Family’s Team, is written for parents who wish to become more informed as to the criteria and method for objective child custody and visitation recommendations. However, this book is useful for legislators who, after considering the ideas, methods, and rationale contained therein, should recognise that custody matters are not best dealt with in adversarial courts where the participants are often mis- and uninformed victims of not only their own pain and vindictiveness, but also victims of the court’s unpremeditated insistence that there be winners and loser. The book offers a more humane and efficient process for future dispositions of custody/visitation litigation.
Guidelines for using mediation with abusive couples were constructed by Geffner (1992) who focused on techniques and issues concerning mediation of abusive couples during and after separation or divorce. A questionnaire was presented to identify abusive relationships. It was important that the wife and children ware safe during mediation, since research showed that more batterers murdered their wives during the period when divorce was imminent. Since the balance of power was unequal in the relationship mediation had to be modified so that the situation became neutral. Issues facing mediators in these cases also involved living arrangements, conversion changes in children, financial support, joint custody and parent alienation problems.
Efforts were made to expand the parameters of PAS by Cartwright (1993). He suggested, through new evidence, that PAS was provoked by other than custodial matters, that cases of alleged sexual abuse were often hinted at and the slow judgement by courts exacerbated the problem of prolonged alienation of the child. This could trigger a number of mental illnesses. The author also suggested that too little is as yet known of the long term consequences to alienated children and their families.
A number of reviews were carried out in assessing current assessment methods used in child custody litigation and mediation. Hysjulien et al (1994) used psychological tests, semi-structured interviews, behavioural observations of parents and children. The related issues of child abuse, sexual abuses domestic violence, and PAS were discussed. There was little empirical evidence to support the efficacy of methods typically used by professionals in making recommendations to the court.
Of foremost interest is the work of Richard Gardner (1992; 1998) in his book Parental Alienation Syndrome. In addition to the book, there have been Addendums (in November 1996 and September 1997) providing recommendations for dealing with PAS. Gardner divides PAS into three categories depending on the severity: mild, moderate and severe. He has provided legal approaches as well as psychotherapeutic approaches to deal with each in turn. He considers the primary symptomatic manifestations to be:
- A campaign of denigration.
- Weak, frivolous or observed rationalisation for the deprivation.
- Lack of ambivalence.
- The independent thinker phenomenon.
- Reflective support of the loved parent on the parent control.
- Absence of guilt.
- Borrowed scenarios.
- Spread of animosity to the extended family of the hated parent.
Detail on interviewing techniques as well as treatment approaches was suggested by Gardner. Some of these may seem severe and yet no one has provided a more comprehensive and realistic approach.
The work of Clawar & Rivlin (1991) in their book, Children Held Hostage, provides considerable information an the symptoms of PAS and what needs to be done to correct these problems. The book is outstanding in providing meaningful and useful techniques and is part of the section of ‘Family Law’ by the American Bar Association.
Turkat (1994) described the problem of child visitation interference; acute interference PAS, and divorce related malicious mother syndrome. He considered the associated difficulties in handling this problem in the legal system.
An experience with conducting child custody evaluation was explored by Stahl (1994). He explored the professional issues and techniques involved in child custody evaluations. Domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, supervised contacts mental illness, parental alienation syndrome, relocation of one or both parents, and the need for ongoing updated evaluations were considered. The book was intended for evaluators and other mental health professionals, solicitors and judges.
Sixteen selected cases formed the basis of an article by Dunne & Hedrick (1994). Their analysis of 16 divorcing families in which one or more of the children aged 0-24 years had rejected one of the parents was termed parent alienation syndrome. The cases were taken from the caseloads of clinicians working with the families. The cases met the majority of Gardner’s criteria, including an obsessive hatred of the alienated parent on the basis of trivial and unsubstantiated accusations and complete support for the alienating parent. Although the cases showed a wide diversity of characteristics, Gardner’s criteria were useful in differentiating these cases from other post divorce difficulties. PAS appeared to be primarily a function of the pathology of the alienating parent and that parent’s relationship with the children. PAS did not signify dysfunction in the alienated parent or in the relationship between that parent and child.
Mapes (1995) studied child eye witness testimony in sexual abuse investigations. This book was written for psychologists, social workers, guidance counsellors, child welfare workers, physicians law enforcement personnel and solicitors to whom a child may have disclosed allegations of sexual abuse or who may be responsible for the investigation of children’s allegations. Current research and thinking on such topics as symptomatology, psychotherapy, repressed memories, Dissociative Identity Disorders, hypnosis, cults, the Parent Alienation Syndrome, and the non-leading-leading continuum of investigative techniques was presented. The reader was introduced to the sexual abuse investigative process and discussions of practical issues such as the use of anatomically detailed dolls, where interviews should be conducted, the use of medical evaluations and psychological testing. A step by step process for assessing credibility and validity was explained following a four step decision making process.
A therapist’s view of PAS was carried out by Lund (1995). She explored the different reasons why a child might reject one parent in a divorced family and the ways of helping such families. Cases in which a child resisted contact with a parent were not always, but quite often, linked to PAS. The reasons for parental rejection ware mainly due to the following:
- Developmentally normal separation problems.
- Deficits in the non custodial parent’s skills.
- Appositional behaviour.
- High conflict divorced families.
- Serious problems, not necessarily abuse.
- Child abuse.
Lund considered Gardner’s recommendations of legal and therapeutic interventions based on whether the case was assessed to be one of mild, moderate or extreme parental alienation. Success in the treatment of PAS cases had to be defined as the maintenance or removal of some contact between parent and child.
Rand (1997) considered the spectrum of PAS in two articles published in 1997. He reviewed Gardner’s work and concluded that PAS was a distinctive family response to divorce in which the child becomes aligned with one parent and preoccupied with unjustified and/ or exaggerated denigration of the other target parent. In severe cases, the child’s once love bonded relationship with the rejected/target parent was destroyed. Testimony on PAS in legal proceedings sparked debate. Closely associated were high conflict divorce and the involvement of the legal system.
Finally, Johnston & Roseby (1997) concentrated on a developmental approach to understanding and helping children of violent, disputed divorce. They examined the immediate and long term effects of high conflict divorce on children and especially traced the development of problems affecting very young children, through adolescence, with special attention to the impact of family violence and the dynamics of PAS. They described the clinical interventions that had proven to be most effect in their work with individual families and groups along with principles for custody decisions making and service programmes in the courts and communities that helped manage the conflict.
- Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition published in 1992, 1998 by Creative Therapeutics
- Addendum No. 3. November, 1996 Recommendations for dealing with parents who induce a Parental Alienation . Syndrome in their children. Published as an adjunct to the Parental Alienation Syndrome – A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals.
- Addendum No. 5. September, 1997 Recommendations for dealing with parents who induce a Parental Alienation Syndrome in their children. An adjunct to the Parental Alienation Syndrome – A Guide for Mental Health and legal Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey
- Paedophilia – The Sexual Abuse of Children, its occurrence, diagnosis and treatment. Chapter 20. Parental Alienation Syndrome – A two step approach towards a solution. Published 1998 Able Publications, Knebworth, Hertfordshire
- 1998 Children Held Hostage dealing with programmed and brainwashed children by Stanley S Clawar & Brynne Rivlin – Section of Family Law (American Bar Ass).