Recent Changes in the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) Approach by the Judiciary
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Referral to publication
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) like many imports from across the Atlantic has come into the news and is being recognised increasingly in Great Britain. Attention has been drawn by Barristers such as Willbourne and Cull (1997) and by Lowenstein (1998 a,b; 1999 a,b,c,d).
There has even been a political party developed by Coe: The Equal Parenting Party. Another organisation that has become involved is the Association for Shared Parenting. Rand, (1997) produced her series of articles, The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome, published in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology. In Britain the voice of parental alienation syndrome has been less vocal but one particular article appearing in the Sunday Times, May 22, 2000, entitled “Children with Fathers in Family Have Head Start in Life” points to the importance of both parents playing a role in the rearing of children.
There have recently been some remarkable cases that have highlighted the importance of judging parental alienation in the Courts. Judges are becoming bolder in insisting that all things being equal, both parents have the right to contact with their children. The exceptions are of course, when one or both parents have proclivities towards violence or paedophilia, to name but a few negative features which must be considered.
The case of Cox v Cox (1990) in Family Law, was one of the first to prove the sentencing and imprisonment of parents who refused access to fathers for contact with the child. This was done by a highly courageous Judge, who truly believed in ‘justice for all’, even though there was considerable embarrassment in having to put a mother into prison. This was despite the likelihood of also being castigated by the press by sending the mother into a prison cell. What is often not mentioned are the efforts made beforehand to gain the assent of the obdurate parent for such contact before such an action is taken and by threatening less stringent means than imprisonment. In most cases of lack of co-operation of a parent regarding contact rights, it is the mothers refusing fathers. Sometimes, following and acrimonious separation or divorce, the alienating parent, who is usually the mother, will claim there to be serious causes for concern about the father, such as being excessively punative, permissive, being a substance abuser, and even being a paedophile. In most cases such allegations are unfounded.
In cases such as this fathers are often considered guilty by allegation alone and need to prove their innocence rather than the alienator having to prove the guiltiness of the alienated father! It appears therefore, in cases of PAS, justice often seems to stand on its head, rather than the head being used to achieve justice and equality for all!
Judges are naturally averse to imprisoning mothers for failing to honour the contact arrangements with fathers. This is because mothers usually are responsible for the day to day care of the children. As already mentioned Judges are not unaware also of the adverse publicity which follows imprisoning a mother in cases such as this kind.
There are alternatives however, that could have been used but they often fail to achieve what is desired with the alienating parent, that is, to comply with offers of mediation such as recommended by one psychologist (Lowenstein, 1999 a,b,c,d) . By having the threat of punishment, including the possibility of imprisonment hanging over the head of an uncooperative parent, like the sword of Damacles, there is a possiblity that such mothers can be brought to the “negotiating table”. Mothers and fathers who alienate children, much as anyone else, must stand before the law as either innocent or guilty of such an offence. Failing to adhere to the judgement of a Court must be considered as the breaking of the Law, with threatened punishment following.
Parents who thus fail to observe their legal responsibility to co-operate, are likely to suffer from severe and often unfounded hostility towards the other parent. Such hostility, can and often does, reach pathological proportions. There are only two possible solutions:
- In extreme cases imprisonment must be threatened, until the parent is willing to co-operate with the law.
- Accepting some form of mediation and treatment by a qualified psychologist over a prescribed period, normally two weeks to a month, in order to resolve the impasse.
- Failure by the alienating parent to co-operate must lead to punishment including imprisonment as a final alternative only. It could also result in the alienated parent being given custody of the children temporarily or permanently.
Most alienating parents would and should learn to co-operate under such strictures and resolve the matter of parental alienation syndrome. It is hoped that future legal procedures will find it easier to deal with such cases and follow the couragous footsteps of earlier pioneering Judges. These Judges were not deflected from doing the just and right thing, despite the criticism from individuals and the mass media.
- Coe, Tony. Equal parenting party. Headquarters: 30-40 Gloucester Road, Kensington, London SW7 4QU
- Dobson, R. Children with father in family have a head start in life. Article in the Sunday Times, May 21, 2000
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1998a) Parent alienation syndrome: A two step approach toward a solution. Contemporary Family Therapy, December 1998, Vol 20(4), pp 505-520.
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1998b) Parent alienation syndrome, Chapter 20. Book: Paedophilia, published by Able Publishers, 13 Station Road, Nebworth, Hertfordshire, SG3 6AP.
- Lowenstein L.F. (1999a) Parent alienation syndrome (PAS). Justice of the Peace, Vol 163 (3), January 16th 1999, pp 47-50.
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1999b) Parent alienation syndrome: What the legal profession should know. Medico-Legal Journal, Vol 66 (4) 1999, pp 151-161.
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1999c) Mediation in the legal profession. Justice of the Peace, Vol 163, 4 Sept. 1999, pp709-710.
- Lowenstein, L.F. (1999d) Parent alienation and the judiciary. Medico-Legal Journal (1999), Vol 67, Part 3, pp121-123.
- Rand, Diedre C. The spectrum of parental alienation syndrome (Part II). The American Journal of Forensic Psychology, Vol 15, No 4, 1997, pp1-13.
- Willbourne, Caroline; Cull,, Leslie-Ann. The emerging problem of parental alienation. Family Law, Dec 1997, pp 807-808.