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Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is proposed as a syndrome of behaviours arising from a process of parental alienation claimed to have been observed in situations where one parent is implacably hostile to the other. The term PAS was originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner (his formulation required that there also be false allegations of child sexual abuse). It is a term that applies to the children and not to the alienating parent. Those who claim that PAS is a legitimate syndrome say it occurs in a child when one parent causes the child to express hatred toward the other parent, and there are not clearly identifiable justifications for that.

The term has aroused controversy because of the use of the word syndrome, which has a special meaning in a medical context. PAS, however, shares certain characteristics with Stockholm syndrome, so it is not necessary to infer that syndrome is being used in a medical sense when using the term. Controversy also surrounds the methods used to indicate that PAS has occurred, and those claiming it has occurred may not always take adequate account of the views of children themselves in family break-up situations. When a child decides to blame one parent for the demise of their family unit, this is not necessarily the result of the other parent's machinations, though in practice this may be very difficult to ascertain.

A number of other groups question whether PAS is a litigation strategy used to give men an advantage in family court proceedings and that in particular abusive men use it to punish and exert control over their ex-partner. There are concerns that PAS is a legal strategy used to switch custody to men in any situation where the mother expresses justified concern about the father's ability to parent safely and responsibly. Thus it is feared it may lead to the (mis)handling of abuse cases in high conflict custody disputes accomplished with the suggestion that mothers' allegations that fathers have abused their children are false and are thus dismissed with mothers' attempts to protect, or even parent, their own children are pathologized. Use of PAS "threat therapy" has been linked to at least one child's death (Nathan Grieco) and to the punishment of children in mental institutions for reporting abuse [1] [2].

There has been limited research on PAS and it is not accepted as a clinical diagnosis by most mental health practitioners.

Legal situation in the US

In the United States, approximately 40 percent of children live without their own biological father. Most of these cases reflect situations where the father is incarcerated, abusive, or abandoned the family. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, "usually judges are not required to make a finding of domestic violence in civil protection order cases."[3]

Legal systems usually require the views of the child to be known to the court. For example, in the UK there is a welfare checklist which the court must follow (The Children Act 1989 s.(3)) The first item on the list is to establish "the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)." Fathers' rights campaigners claim that the courts do not try to detect whether the mother has alienated a child against their father and consequently the father is unjustly excluded from the life of their child. Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the Family division, (i.e. the top UK family court judge) stated in (Re L, V, M, H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2002] 2 FLR 334 at 351):

There is, of course, no doubt that some parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for alienating their children from their fathers without good reason and thereby creating this sometimes insoluble problem. That unhappy state of affairs, well known in family courts, is a long way from a recognized syndrome requiring mental health professionals to play an expert role.

Some father's rights groups have lobbied for acceptance of the parental alienation syndrome in the family courts in the United States, or have sought acceptance for parental alienation as a legal concept to be applied in custody cases. (There is scholarly controversy regarding the difference between 'parental alienation syndrome' and 'parental alienation'. Some critics suggest that 'parental alienation syndrome' cannot be referred to as a 'syndrome' since it does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, nor is the syndrome recognized by the American Medical Association, or the American Psychological Association. But the American Psychological Association has announced it officially takes no position, meaning that it does not dis-recognize PAS. Advocates of the concept have largely side-stepped this debate by simply referring to it as 'parental alienation.') Parental alienation and 'parental alienation syndrome' have been readily accepted by father's groups who believe that there is a persistent pattern of falsified allegations of abuse made by women against fathers in custody cases.

Women's advocacy groups argue that the syndrome is gender-biased or biased in favor of non-custodial parents. See e.g. Zorza, 'Friendly Parent' Provisions in Custody Determinations, 26 CLEARINGHOUSE REV. 921-25 (1992). Gardner has been generally criticized for having formulated a theory based upon a number of false assumptions. An interesting general critique can be found at [4]. Although 'parental alienation syndrome' is often raised by the parent who does not have primary caretaking responsibilities (statistically more likely to be fathers), in practice,'parental alienation syndrome' is a concept which can be raised by parents of either gender.

Courts have generally declined to rely upon the 'parental alienation syndrome' as the basis for a child custody determination. See e.g. In the Interest of T.M.W, 553 So. 2nd 260, 262 Fla. Dist. Ct. App., 1988. Critics of 'parental alienation syndrome' generally point out that it is not a generally accepted theory within the scientific community and that it lacks a widely agreed upon definition, firm diagnostic criteria, and empirically based research studies. Warshak, Richard A., "Current Controversies Regarding Parental Alienation Syndrome", American Journal of Forensic Psychology, Volume 19, No. 3, 2001, p. 29-59.

In order for a scientific theory to be accepted in the courts of the United States, the trial court must find under the state or federal rules of evidence that the theory can be admitted on scientific grounds. See generally Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Many courts have failed to recognize parental alienation as admissible under evidentiary standards set forth in either Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013, 34 A.L.R. 145 (D.C. Cir. 1923), or Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993).

Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin are currently engaged in a high profile PAS case over their daughter, Ireland.

Legal situation in the UK

UK family law discussions have focussed mainly on parental alienation as is illustrated by comments the folowing :

  • Lady Justice Hale (in Re K (Contact: Psychiatric Report) [1995] 2 FLR 432) stated:
It is my unhappy experience, borne out by other anecdotal evidence and confirmed by the Official Solicitor's department that there seems to be an increasing number of cases coming before the family courts where contact between a young child and the absent parent has become bedevilled by stubborn opposition to contact being shown by the child which may, or may not, be evidence of some implacable hostility on the part of the other parent for good reason or for no reason at all.

Since The Children Act requires that the views of the child need to be made known to the court, fathers' rights campaigners claim that the mother sometimes alienates a child against his or her father and that this then supports the mother's case in court to banish the father.

  • Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the Family division, (the top UK family court judge) stated (in Re L, V, M, H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2002] 2 FLR 334 at 351):
There is, of course, no doubt that some parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for alienating their children from their fathers without good reason and thereby creating this sometimes insoluble problem. That unhappy state of affairs, well known in family courts, is a long way from recognised syndrome requiring mental health professionals to play an expert role.


  • The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals by Richard A. Gardner, Creative Therapeutics; 2nd edition (March, 1998) ISBN 0933812426
  • Parental Alienation Syndrome in Court Referred Custody Cases by Janelle Burrill, Dissertation. Com. (October, 2002) ISBN 1581121490
  • Divorce Poison: Protecting the Parent-Child Bond from a Vindictive Ex by Richard A. Warshak, Regan Books (March 1 2003) ISBN 0060934573

See also

External links

Further reading

de:Eltern-Kind-Entfremdung he:תסמונת הניכור ההורי nl:Ouderverstotingssyndroom

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