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The primary person responsible for the induction of a parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in a child is the litigating parent who hopes to gain leverage in a court of law by programming in the child a campaign of denigration directed against a target parent. In most cases alienated parents are relatively helpless to protect themselves from the indoctrinations & the destruction of what was once a good, loving bond.

They turn to the courts for help & in most cases in my experience, have suffered even greater frustration & despair because of the courts failure to meaningfully provide them w/assistance.

 It's the purpose of this article to point out the judiciary's deficiencies & even failures in this realm. It's the author's hope that increasing recognition by the judiciary of its failures to deal effectively w/PAS families will play a role in the rectification of this serious problem.

The Role of the Judiciary in the Entrenchment of the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Richard A. Gardner. M.D.
Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry
Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons
New York, New York


The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
 is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Although the litigants are most often the biological parents, the same disorder can arise w/others who may be disputing custody of the child,
e.g., a parent vs. stepparent, parent vs. grandparent & parent vs. relative or family friend.
Dr. Richard Gardner


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How are PAS cases resolved legally?

Judges are inevitably conservative in their orders. Even when the evidence is overwhelming that the alienation is occurring, the court order may still end up saying, "the parents are to make joint decisions about the child's welfare," when this is impossible to do. 


This is further evidence that the judge doesn't understand the magnitude of the problem. The judge in one of the most severe PAS cases I worked on was from the old school. He was tired of having the litigants continue to appear before him. One day he said, "Why don't the two of you go out in the hallway & kiss & make up."


This is an example of how frustrating these cases are for judges. Indeed, these are the hardest cases to decide.


Judges have been slow to place serious sanctions on the alienating parent. If there is no threat of severe fines, jail time or sole custody to the targeted parent, the chances are remote that the out-of-control parent can be stopped.
It usually takes a dramatic situation where court orders are broken to force the court to change primary custody. Often it is only a matter of time before alienating parents become desperate & their unstable mental health gets the better of them.
People in an official position start to recognize the alienating parent as being out of line & become supportive of the targeted parent

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What is the best way to deal w/PAS?

The parents I know who were successful in getting primary custody of their children in a PAS situation shared the following characteristics:

  • They completed a comprehensive parenting course & stuck w/it until they rated excellent in the knowledge, skills & methods taught. Their parenting skills became superior.

  • They were even-tempered, logical & kept their emotions under control. They never retaliated. A person who reacts in anger is proving the alienator's point that he or she is unstable.

  • The children were the primary concern. No matter how awful the harassment got, the fear of keeping their daughter or son in that environment kept them going. They were driven to continue trying to get the court to understand the seriousness of the issues & to change primary custody to them.

  • They were willing & able to go to the financial expense of seeing it through.

  • They got help from a skilled family lawyer who had experience w/parent alienation syndrome.

  • They became good at understanding how the courts work & the law as it applied to their case. In many cases, because of excessive expenses, parents even ended up as pro per (called pro se in some states) where they were representing themselves w/out a lawyer.

  • They had a case where a forensic evaluator made a strong statement about the alienation & recommend changing legal & primary custody to the alienated parent. Some parents had to go back to the evaluator to demonstrate that his or her earlier recommendations were not working.

  • They persevered in demonstrating that they were rational, reasonable & had the best interest of the child at heart.

  • They provided the court w/an appropriate parenting plan that showed how the child would be well taken care of in their care.

  • They understood the nature of the problem & focused on what to do about it, even though they & their children were being victimized. (Alienated parents who got caught up in "how terrible it all is" & spent time judging the situation, went under emotionally.)

  • They didn't live a victim's life.

  • They were proactive in seeking constructive action.

  • They avoided adding to the problem. One father expressed it like this: "I don't know how to make it better w/the mother, but I do know how to make it worse."

  • They kept a diary or journal of key events, describing what happened & when.

  • They documented the alienation with evidence that was admissible in court.

  • They always called or showed up to pick up their children, even if they knew that the children would not  be there. This was often very painful, but necessary. You must be able to document that you tried. The alienator alleges that you have no interest in the child.

  • They focused on enjoying their children's company & never talked to their children about their case. They always took the high road & never talked badly about the other parent to their children. They absolutely never showed a child any court orders or other sensitive documents. They didn't let the children overhear inappropriate conversations on the telephone.

  • They didn't violate court orders. They paid their child support on time & proved that they could live w/in the letter of the law.

  • They were truly decent, principled people. It was obvious that they loved their children.

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How to Recognize Severe Case PAS
The very first thing to look for in severe cases of PAS is irrational behavior in a child who for no good or properly explained reasons, tells you they want nothing further to do w/one of their parents.
This is the #1 tip off that this child is in severe emotional trouble & is definitely suffering from a well-advanced case of extreme PAS.

The 2nd most easily identifiable symptom of PAS is when a child shows no ambivalence whatsoever toward their parents, stating that one parent is all good & the other parent is all bad.

This portends something we all know is not right w/the child because a lack of ambivalence is unnatural behavior in human beings. No one of any basic intelligence, maturity or emotional stability can support the notion that one thing or one person is all good & the other all bad.

We all must have ambivalent feelings or else we couldn't survive in this world.

The 3rd most easily recognized symptom of severe PAS is when the child also displays their unjustified & open hostility, anger & hatred to all of the other members of the so-called "hated" parents extended family, also for no good or properly explained reasons.

It's as if both the so-called "hated" parent & their entire extended family were made completely non-existent & rendered totally unimportant in the syndrome induced child's life.

Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces all seem to suddenly disappear from the childs life never to be heard from, spoken to or seen again.

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The key to all of this totally unnatural & extreme behavior is this.

When such a child who is suffering form a severe case of PAS can't & will not provide you w/a good & plausible & logically intelligent reason why they are behaving in this fashion, then you will know exactly what is going on.

A trained psychologist doesnt have to tell you plain, good old-fashioned common sense & logic will tell you that you have a severely emotionally disturbed child on your hands who needs help.

Child abuse, which PAS children are definitely victims of, is a very serious matter. Adult victims of child abuse, later on in life, will tell you that they were very good at hiding their abuse, both from others & from themselves.

They were able to put on a happy face & put up a good front on the outside, while they died a thousand deaths of extreme anxiety, guilt, emotional turmoil & fear on the inside.

It's important, then, that you not allow yourself to be fooled by a child suffering from severe PAS who will tell you everything is just wonderful & happy in their life, but you know from the symptoms I just described that this is just flat out not true.

If you should ever encounter such a child, I would urge you to call us for more information & do everything in your power to direct them to some very skilled & professional counseling. You very well might just be saving their life by doing so.

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Custody Disputes Fuiling "Parental Alienation Syndrome"
Richard A. Gardner, M.D.- 1990

New York: With increasing child custody disputes has come a growth in "parental alienation syndrome," Dr. Richard A. Gardner said at a meeting of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis.

Abetted by one parent, the child develops an obsessive, irrational hatred of the other, who is "viewed as the incarnation of evil," said Dr. Gardner, a child psychiatrist at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York.

90% of the time, the father is the victim; but in 10% the roles are reversed. There is no history of abuse. "To call it brainwashing would be an oversimplification...the child jumps on the mother's bandwagon...but adds his own scenario," he said.

In the typical presentation, which may arise within days of the announcement of custody conflict, the child obsessively denigrates the father, w/no empathy & little guilt. The denigration has a litany quality; every altercation of the past is used to justify his hatred.

Lack of Normal Ambivalence

When asked why he never wanted to see his father again, one little boy said that "he chewed too loud" & added, "He used to say, `Don't interrupt.' "

Bizzare charges, condoned by the mother, may be made. One child said that his father had murdered his grandfather, who had actually died, at age 85, in the hospital.

The father "was the kind of person who would do it," the boy declared, supplying details of the crime.

When asked what she thought, the mother said she didn't actually believe the murder had happened, adding "but I wouldn't put it past him," Dr. Gardner said.

A hallmark of the syndrome is the child's lack of normal ambivalence toward both parents: He can find nothing he dislikes about his mother & nothing he likes about his father.

The hatred may extend to the father's family; grandparents, aunts, uncles & cousins w/whom relations had previously been good are now viewed as despicable, Dr. Gardner said.

Evidence that might counteract the distortions is met w/rationalization & delusion. Asked about a photograph from happier times in which the family was together at Disney World, one boy explained that

"if I didn't smile for the picture, he'd beat me."

He believes the syndrome has arisen as a result of social & legal changes of the last 15 or 20 years. In the mid-1970's, the presumption that the mother is the de facto preferred custodial parent gave way to an "egalitarian" commitment to determine the child's best interests in a gender-blind fashion.

Custody disputes burgeoned & the erosion of the mother's position deepened in the late 1970's & early 1980's w/the increasing popularity of the joint custody concept...

In severe cases of parental alienation syndrome, the alienating parent is unamenable to therapy & so filled w/rage, paranoia, & delusions that a virtual folie a deux has developed w/the child, the only hope is court ordered removal of the child to the other parent's home. In this case, the primary psychological bond is strong but "sick," he said.

In more moderate cases, the bond must be respected but the child induced to see the other parent. "Being respectful of the child's wishes won't work," Dr. Gardner said.

To give the child no choice but to see the father provides an excuse that allows him to protect his relationship w/the mother ("I still hate him, but the judge says I have to").

In moderate & milder cases, truncating custody litigation is probably more therapeutic than any intervention in resolving the syndrome. "Once the threat is gone, there's no need for the scenario," he said.

The syndrome may be seen at any age past 3 or 4 years. When a couple in their fifties divorces acrimoniously, a variant may occur in children in their twenties.

In severe cases, lifelong alienation from one parent may ensue, Dr. Gardner said.

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Family volitility
       These are volatile families.

The father may have indeed spanked a child, or lashed out at the mother physically or emotionally. An isolated incidence can turn into a holocaust. One father spanked his rebellious child & ended up in jail on child abuse charges, followed by a 6 week trial to determine his guilt.

The jury returned w/a not guilty verdict in 20 minutes. The verdict didn't end it as far as the mother was concerned, however.

The alienating parent's hatred can have no bounds. The severest form will bring out every horrible allegation known, including claims of domestic violence, stalking & the sexual molestation of the child.

Many fathers say that there have been repeated calls to the Dept. of Family & Child Services alleging child abuse & neglect. 

In most cases the investigators report that they found nothing wrong. However, the indoctrinating parent feels that these reports are not fabrications, but very, very real. She can describe the horror of what happen in great detail. Regardless of the actual truth, in her mind, it did happen. 

Most of the alienated fathers that I work w/are continually befuddled by her lying. "How can she lie like that?" They don't realize that these lies are not based on rational thinking. They are incapable of understanding the difference between what is true & what they want to be true.

A vital part of fighting PAS is to understand the severity of the psychological disturbance that is the source of it.

Intergenerational patterns
      What makes this problem very complicated is that PAS is often intergenerational in dysfunctional families. Almost always the alienator has people w/in the family who support the alienation.

It might be the mother, father or grandparent who encourage fighting. They're likely to support the parent financially or even provide massive amounts of money to fund litigation.

This is further proof to the PAS parent that he or she is justified in what he/she does.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

"A severe emotional & psychological disorder in children brought on by highly contested custody battles in our Family Court System."

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is best defined by the well known child psychologist, Dr. Richard Gardner, as "a disturbance in which children are obsessively preoccupied w/the deprecation &/or criticism of a parent, denigration that is unjustified &/or exaggerated."

Children of PAS show negative parental reactions & perceptions which can be grossly exaggerated & entirely lack any ambivalence. Put simply, they profess rejection & hatred of a previously loved parent, most often in the context of divorce & child custody conflicts.

Parental alienation has become an increasingly common element in the "battlefield" of divorce & custody litigation. In the 60's, the accusation most often used between embittered spouses was infidelity; in the 70's, homosexuality; in the 80's we saw allegations of sexual abuse used to "eliminate" the other parent entirely, a situation which has become epidemic in the 90's.

Now the final frontier has been reached. In PAS, children's psyches are manipulated to make them hate & reject a person they need & love, their mother or their father.

Parental alienation is a form of psychological kidnapping which has a devastatingly destructive effect on a parent-child relationship.

Frequently PAS is found in cases of allegations of physical or sexual abuse & is a major factor in child abduction.

"The most important factor which produces Parental Alienation Syndrome in a child is fear; fear, not of the parent for whom the child professes hatred, but fear of the so-called loved parent, the hostage taker."

The psychological process of alienation resembles that observed in hostage-takings, where the captive identifies w/the aggressor to the point of rejecting all outside influencesthe "Stockholm Syndrome," best known in North America in the Patty Hearst case. Cult control methods also produce a similar pathology.

The process of alienation is complex, but the symptoms are remarkably easy to distinguish, although each case has its own particular psychological & legal dynamics. One factor is common to all, however & that is the destructive effects on both child & parent.

Because of more egalitarian family laws, custody is no longer the presumed right of one parent, (usually the mother) resulting in a huge increase in custody litigation. Although our laws are designed to protect childrens rights & best interests, the opposite is happening more & more. Parental Alienation is being used to distort our family court systems role & duty to protect both children & parents.

Actually the legal process, w/its concomitant evaluations, interventions & delays, may aggravate the pathology, or even create it, the so-called "Iatrogenic Phenomenon."

While the courts tend to hand down judgments favorable to the "hated" parent, the latter is often powerless to implement these because of:

  • the alienating parents sabotage
  • the childrens extreme hostility & disregard for any form of authority (another classic symptom of PAS)
  • the draconian measures that have to be taken to implement any court ruled measures (draconian -  Exceedingly harsh; very severe)

Successful reintegration is rarely addressed by our legal system & social services.

After a judgment is rendered, the parent is left alone to pick up the pieces of a shattered bond, often dealing w/hostile or severely disturbed children.

Treatment of PAS

Methods are still experimental & professional opinions often vary.
Study of the most severe cases shows that successful reintegration can be achieved only by complete separation from the alienating parent & this for a substantial period (minimum of 6 months to as much as 2 years).
In many cases recently, re-integration was successfully achieved in severe cases through "implosion" or "immersion" therapy & complete separation from the alienating parent indefinitely.
Moderate & mild cases may not require such drastic measures. Much depends on the age of the child, whether pre-adolescent, adolescent or adult, the factor, which determines what legal or therapeutic steps, can be undertaken.

A parent who succeeds in regaining custody of a hostile, alienated child needs practical and professional support, particularly during the preliminary re-integration period. Traditional therapy is useless in severe cases. What is needed is a 24-hour supervised nurturing environment, supportive to both parent and child and meeting BOTH their needs.

do you know anything about?

Betrayal Trauma

Refers to trauma induced at least in part by the abuse of trust. Betrayal Trauma may occur without an immediate threat to life and for this reason it is sometimes contrasted with fear-based trauma. The betrayal may be by an individual, e.g. parental abuse


Betrayal Trauma Theory

How people who are abused by trusted others process and remember information in ways that are adaptive. Leads to the inability to know or recollect that betrayal until such time as the betrayed person is no longer dependent on the betrayer.


Bonding refers to the process of how people form more emotionally intimate relationships with each other.

Flooding (implosion)

A behavior therapy procedure for phobias & other problems involving maladaptive anxiety, in which anxiety producers are presented in intense forms, either in imagination or in real life. Therapy continued until stimuli no longer produce disabling anxiety

Implosion Therapy: A behavioral therapeutic technique that exposes a client to anxiety-provoking stimuli, through his or her own imagination, in an attempt to extinguish the anxiety associated with the stimuli.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Sufferers have the need for admiration, they exaggerate their achievements/talents to make them feel better. Fantasize about their uniqueness, brilliance, success, power, beauty or love. Feeling they can only be understood by other 'special' people.

NO-FAULT DIVORCE - a type of divorce that may be granted even though either spouse has not performed any kind of marital misconduct.

NON-CUSTODIAL PARENT - the parent who does not have physical custody of the child, and who typically is paying child support to the child.

NON-MARITAL PROPERTY - property considered by the courts to belong to one spouse or another and that which is not available for equitable distribution.

NULLITY - a decree indicating that a marriage is null and void.
OBJECTION - the verbal response of a lawyer when something inappropriate is happening during a trial or deposition. It is one of many steps involved in protecting the record.

OBLIGEE - the person to whom money or property is owed by a judgment.

OBLIGOR - the person who owes money or property as the result of a judgment.

OBSOLESCENCE - one of the causes of depreciation: an impairment of desirability and usefulness caused by new inventions, current changes in design, improved processes of production, or external factors that make a property less desirable and valuable for a continued use.

OPENING STATEMENT - a lawyer's opening remarks in the beginning of a trial. They are addressed to the judge.

OPINION - a belief held by a person. In court, a witness is restricted to stating facts and are not permitted to given an opinion. They can, however, express an opinion if they are qualified as an expert witness.

ORDER - a court's specific ruling on a disputed issue.

ORDER AFTER HEARING - a written order issued after a hearing and signed by a judge.

ORDER OF EXAMINATION - a court proceeding during which a judgment debtor is questioned about his or her assets. The questioning is done under oath.

ORDER OF PROTECTION - an order assigned by the court to prevent one spouse from doing something. Typically, this is assigned in cases where one spouse is harassing the other. If the spouse refuses to abide by the order, he or she may be arrested and end up in jail.

ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE - a court order requiring a party to a civil action to appear in court on a specific date and time. This is scheduled to explain why the court should not take a particular action in the case.

PALIMONY - support paid from one person to another even though they were never married.

PARALEGAL - a trained person who assists a lawyer.

PARENS PATRIAE - a doctrine whereby the state takes jurisdiction over a minor living within its border. It is the basis for deciding what state will assume jurisdiction in a child custody case.

PARENTING CLASSES - organized classes designed to teach parents how to minimize the negative aspects of divorce on their children.

PARTY - a plaintiff or a defendant in a legal proceeding.

PATERNITY - the legal biological relationship between father and child.

PERJURY - the act of lying under oath in court.

PERSONAL JURISDICTION - the power of the court to make orders regarding an individual and have them enforced.

PERSONAL PROPERTY - property that is not real estate.

PETITION - the title given to the first document filed in pursuit of a divorce.

PETITIONER - the person who initiates the divorce by filing the petition.

PHYSICAL CUSTODY - it is in reference to the parent with whom the child resides. Depending upon arrangements, it may be joint or sole custody.

PLAINTIFF - the individual who files the divorce petition, thereby initiating the divorce.

PLEADING - a formal written application to the court which requests action by the court.

POSTNUPTIAL - a written contract between husband and wife that states all of their present and future rights in view of their impending divorce.

PRAECIPE - an order asking the court to act. It is addressed to the clerk of court.

PRAYER - the portion at the end of the pleading which states the relief that is requested of the court.

PRECEDENT - something that has already happened that will influence how future similar events will be viewed by the court.

PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT - a legal contract signed by two people before they get married. It typically involves limitations on a spouse's rights to property, support, and inheritance upon divorce.

PRESENT VALUE - the value of a future payment or series of future payments discounted to the current date or to time period zero.

PRIMARY CARETAKER - the parent who provides majority of the child's day to day care.

PRIVILEGE - the right a spouse has to make admissions to an attorney or counselor that can not be later used as evidence.

PRO SE DIVORCE - a divorce in which each spouse represents themselves in court without an attorney.

PROTHONOTHARY - the court clerk in charge of civil filings.

PURPOSE OF AN APPRAISAL - the states scope of an appraisal assignment, i.e., to estimate a defined value of any real property interest, or to conduct an evaluation study pertaining to real property decisions.

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