Tackling Parental Alienation

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services

Justice of the Peace 2001, Vol 165, No. 6, 10 February 2001, p 102

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), like many imports from across the Atlantic, has come into the news and is being recognized increasingly in Great Britain. Attention has been drawn to it by barristers such as Willbourne and Cull (1997) and by Lowenstein (1998 a,b; 1999 a,b,c,d).

A political party has been developed by Coe: The Equal Parenting Party. Another organization that has become involved is the Association for Shared Parenting. Rand (1997) has produced a 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. There are exceptions, eg, 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) featured in Family Law, was one of the first to approve the imprisonment of mothers 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, plus the likelihood of being castigated by the press. 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. Most cases related to lack of co-operation of a parent regarding contact rights involve mothers refusing fathers.

Sometimes, following and acrimonious separation or divorce, the alienating parent, who is usually the mother, will claim serious causes for concern about the father, eg, that he is excessively punitive, permissive, a substance abuser, or even 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 reverse. It appears, therefore, in cases of PAS, justice often seems to be stood on its head.

Judges are naturally adverse to imprisoning mothers for failing to honour contact arrangements with fathers. This is because mothers are usually responsible for the day-to-day care of the children. As already mentioned, Judges are not unaware of the adverse publicity which follows imprisoning a mother in cases of this kind.

There are alternatives that could have been used but they often fail to achieve what is desired, namely acceptance of offers of mediation (see Lowenstein, 1999 a,b,c,d). The threat of punishment, including the possibility of imprisonment hanging over the head of an uncooperative parent, like the sword of Damocles, may bring such mothers 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 judgment 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. The only possible solutions are:

  • In extreme cases threatening imprisonment, 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, in the last resort imprisonment. 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 courageous footsteps of earlier pioneering Judges. These Judges were not deflected from doing the just and right thing, despite criticism from individuals and the mass media.


  1. Coe, Tony. Equal Parenting Party. Headquarters: 30-40 Gloucester
  2. 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.
  3. Lowenstein, L. F. (1998n) “Parent alienation syndrome: A two step approach toward a solution.” Contemporary family
  4. Therapy, December 1998, Vol 20 (4), pp. 505-520. Lowenstein, L. F. (1998b) “Parent alienation syndrome”, ch.20.
  5. Paedophilia, published by Able Publishers. Lowenstein, L. F. (1999a) “Parent alienation syndrome” (PAS).
  6. (1999) 163 JPN pp. 47-50. Lowenstein L. F. (1999b) “Parent alienation syndrome: What the legal profession should know”. Medico-leqal Journal, Vol 66 (4) 1999, pp. 151-161.
  7. Lowenstein, L. F. (1999e) “Mediation in the legal profession”. (1999) 163 JPN, pp. 709-710. Lowenstein, L. F. (1999d) “Parent alienation and the judiciary”