Injustices faced by non-custodial parents
Submitted by stepmom008 on Wed, 02/24/2010 – 2:12pm.
A group of 50 mental health experts from 10 countries are part of an effort to add Parental Alienation to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses. According to psychiatrist William Bernet, adding PA “would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.”
Few family law cases are as heartbreaking as those involving Parental Alienation. In PA cases, one parent has turned his or her children against the other parent, destroying the loving bonds the children and the target parent once enjoyed.
Fathers & Families wants to ensure that the DSM-V Task Force is aware of the scope and severity of Parental Alienation. To this end, we are asking our members and supporters to write DSM. If you or someone you love has been the victim of Parental Alienation, we want you to tell your story to the DSM-V Task Force. To do so, simply fill in our form by clicking here.
Once you have filled out our form, Fathers & Families will print out your letter and send it by regular US mail to the three relevant figures in DSM-V: David J. Kupfer, M.D., the chair of the DSM-V Task Force; Darrel A. Regier, M.D., vice-chair of the DSM-V Task Force; and Daniel S. Pine, M.D., chair of the DSM-V Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence Work Group.
DSM V is struggling with many weighty matters and as things currently stand, Parental Alienation might not get much notice or attention. By having our supporters write to leading DSM figures, we hope to draw attention to the issue.
Again, to tell your story, click here.
Supporters can send letters to DSM until the middle of 2010. In 2011, DSM will be considering the issue. In 2012, DSM V will be written, and in 2013 DSM V will be published. When you write your letter, please:
1) Keep the focus on your child(ren) and how the Parental Alienation has harmed them.
2) Stick to the facts related to the Parental Alienation.
3) Be succinct.
4) Fill in all fields on our form.
5) Be civil and credible, and avoid any profanity or use of insulting language
Again, to write the DSM Committee about your story, click here.
Running these campaigns takes time and money–the postage and supplies alone on this campaign will be several thousand dollars. To make a tax-deductible contribution to support this effort, click here.
Together with you in the love of our children,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families
Frequently Asked Questions about Parental Alienation
1) What is Parental Alienation?
Parental Alienation is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of divorce/separation and/or child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) of a parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the targeted parent. Parental Alienation is also sometimes referred to as “Parental Alienation Disorder” or “Parental Alienation Syndrome.” To learn more, click here.
2) Most claims of Parental Alienation are made by divorced or separated fathers. When fathers have custody of their children, do they sometimes alienate them from the noncustodial mothers?
Yes, both genders can be perpetrators and victims of Parental Alienation, but those hurt the worst are always the children, who lose one of the two people in the world who love them the most.
3) Do fathers (or mothers) sometimes make false claims of Parental Alienation against mothers (or fathers)?
Yes. There are parents who have alienated their own children through their abuse or personality defects, and who attempt to shift the blame to their former spouses or partners by falsely claiming the other parent alienated the children from them.
4) How common is Parental Alienation?
Parental Alienation is a common, well-documented phenomenon that is the subject of numerous studies and articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. A longitudinal study published by the American Bar Association in 2003 followed 700 “high conflict” divorce cases over a 12 year period and found that elements of PA were present in the vast majority of the cases studied. Some experts estimate that there are roughly 200,000 children in the U.S. who have PAD, similar to the number of children with autism. To learn more, click here.
5) Opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation claim that abusive fathers often employ Parental Alienation as a way to wrest custody from protective mothers in family court. They’ve promoted several cause celebre cases in recent years as a way to garner public sympathy and political support for their agenda. Is their portrayal of these cases accurate?
No–most of these cases are being misrepresented by opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation. Examples include: Genia Shockome (publicized by Newsweek magazine and others); Sadia Loeliger (one of the alleged heroines of a 2005 PBS documentary called Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories; and Holly Collins (publicized by Fox News, Inside Edition and others.) In each of these three cases, opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation badly misrepresented the cases, turning reality on its head. To learn more about these cases, click here and here.
Despite this, opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation push for reforms which will make it easier to deny parents shared custody or visitation rights based on unsubstantiated abuse claims. They also push for laws to exclude evidence of Parental Alienation in family law proceedings. One example is California AB 612, a bill that a bill that would have prevented target parents of Parental Alienation from raising PA as an issue in their cases. In 2007 and 2009, Fathers & Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson helped build a professional coalition to scuttle AB 612.
6) Opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation, as well as some mental health professionals, claim that Parental Alienation should not be recognized by DSM as a mental disorder. What’s Fathers & Families’ position on this aspect of the issue?
Many intelligent, accomplished mental health authorities do believe that Parental Alienation Disorder should be considered a mental disorder, but there are also credible experts who do not. DSM has accepted several relational disorders, such as Separation Anxiety Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and PAD is a typical relational disorder. Any target parent of Parental Alienation would certainly believe that his or her child’s sudden, irrational hatred constitutes some sort of a mental disorder. In Parental Alienation Disorder and DSM-V, numerous mental health authorities make the case for including PAD–to learn more, click here.
Dr. Richard A. Warshak explains:
PAS fits a basic pattern of many psychiatric syndromes. Such syndromes denote conditions in which people who are exposed to a designated stimulus develop a certain cluster of symptoms.
Nonetheless, Fathers & Families’ emphasis is not on these technical aspects of the issue, but instead on the harm Parental Alienation does to children. The malignant behavior of alienating a child from his or her mother or father after a divorce or separation is a widespread social problem which merits a much more vigorous judicial and legislative response.
7) How will children caught in Parental Alienation be helped if Parental Alienation is included in DSM V?
Inclusion of Parental Alienation in DSM V will increase PA’s recognition and legitimacy in the eyes of family court judges, mediators, custody evaluators, family law attorneys, and the legal and mental health community in general. Psychiatrist William Bernet says that adding PA “would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.” To learn more, click here.
8) What is the child’s part in PAS?
The child denigrates the alienated parent with foul language and severe oppositional behavior. The child offers weak, absurd, or frivolous reasons for his or her anger. The child is sure of him or herself and doesn’t demonstrate ambivalence, i.e. love and hate for the alienated parent, only hate. The child exhorts that he or she alone came up with ideas of denigration. The “independent-thinker” phenomenon is where the child asserts that no one told him to do this. The child supports and feels a need to protect the alienating parent. The child does not demonstrate guilt over cruelty towards the alienated parent. The child uses borrowed scenarios, or vividly describes situations that he or she could not have experienced. Animosity is spread to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent.
In severe cases of parent alienation, the child is utterly brain-washed against the alienated parent. The alienator can truthfully say that the child doesn’t want to spend any time with this parent, even though he or she has told him that he has to, it is a court order, etc. The alienator typically responds, “There isn’t anything that I can do about it. I’m not telling him that he can’t see you.” (excerpted from Dr. Jayne A. Major’s Parents Who Have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation Syndrome).
9) Are there varying degrees of Parental Alienation?
Yes. Dr. Douglas Darnall, in his book Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation, describes three categories of PA.
The mild category he calls the naïve alienators. They are ignorant of what they are doing and are willing to be educated and change.
The moderate category is the active alienators. When they are triggered, they lose control of appropriate boundaries.
In the severe category are the obsessed alienators or those who are involved in PAS. They are committed to destroying the other parent’s relationship with the child. In the latter case, Dr. Darnall notes that we don’t have an effective protocol for treating an obsessed alienator other than removing the child from their influence.
An important point is that in PAS there is no true parental abuse and/or neglect on the part of the alienated parent. If this were the case, the child’s animosity would be justified. (excerpted from Dr. Jayne A. Major’s Parents Who Have Successfully Fought Parental Alienation Syndrome).
Parental Alienation Disorder and DSM-V was written by psychiatrist William Bernet, M.D., Wilfrid v. Boch-Galhau, M.D., Joseph Kenan, M.D., Joan Kinlan, M.D., Demosthenes Lorandos, Ph.D., J.D., Richard Sauber, Ph.D., Bela Sood, M.D., and James S. Walker, Ph.D. In it, they make the case for including Parental Alienation Disorder in DSM V.
Their proposal was submitted to the Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence Work Group for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition in August of 2008. Below are some excerpts from their paper.
Bernet & Co. write:
Although parental alienation disorder has been described in the psychiatric literature for at least 60 years, it has never been considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). When DSM-IV was being developed, nobody formally proposed that parental alienation disorder be included in that edition. Since the publication of DSM-IV in 1994, there have been hundreds of publications (articles, chapters, books, court opinions) regarding parental alienation in peer reviewed mental health journals, legal literature, and the popular press. There has been controversy among mental health and legal professionals regarding parental alienation…
Regarding our proposed diagnostic criteria, we say that the essential feature of parental alienation disorder is that a child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a hostile divorce – allies himself or herself strongly with one parent (the preferred parent) and rejects a relationship with the other parent (the alienated parent) without legitimate justification. The primary behavioral symptom is the child’s resistance or refusal to visit or have parenting time with the alienated parent…
For purposes of this proposal, we are referring to the mental condition under consideration as parental alienation disorder (PAD). Depending on the context, we sometimes refer to parental alienation syndrome (PAS). Our primary criteria for PAD are the attitudes and behavior of the child, that is, the child essentially has a false belief that the alienated parent is a dangerous person and must be avoided. We reserve the word alienation for individuals with this false belief, whether the false belief was brought about by the alienating parent or by other circumstances, such as the child who avoids being caught between warring parents by gravitating to one side and avoiding the other side of the battle…
Bernet & Co. believe that PAD should be included in DSM-V for the following reasons:
Relational disorders are being considered for DSM-V, and PAD is an exemplar of this type of mental disorder.
Despite controversies regarding terminology and etiology, the phenomenon of PAD is almost universally accepted by mental health and legal professionals. Research indicates that PAD is a valid and reliable construct.
Establishing diagnostic criteria will make it possible to study PAD in a more systematic manner.
Establishing diagnostic criteria will reduce the opportunities for abusive parents and unethical attorneys to misuse the concept of PAD in child custody disputes.
Establishing diagnostic criteria will be helpful for: clinicians who work with divorced families; divorced parents, who are trying to do what is best for their children; and children of divorce, who desperately need appropriate treatment that is based on a correct diagnosis.
One of the important points that Bernet & Co. make is that PA is not new. They write:
The phenomenon of PAD has been described in the mental health literature for at least 60 years and the concept is almost universally accepted by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who evaluate and treat these children. Also, the concept of parental alienation is generally understood and accepted by legal professionals. The symptoms of PAD were described in the mental health literature long before Richard Gardner coined the term “parental alienation syndrome” (in 1985).
In 1949, Wilhelm Reich wrote in his classic book, Character Analysis, that some divorced parents defend themselves against narcissistic injury by fighting for custody of their child and defaming their former spouse. These parents seek “revenge on the partner through robbing him or her of the pleasure in the child. … In order to alienate the child from the partner, it is told that the partner is an alcoholic or psychotic, without there being any truth to such statements”.
In 1952, Louise Despert referred in her book, Children of Divorce, to the temptation for one parent “to break down” their child’s love for the other parent.
In 1980, Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly referred to an alliance between a narcissistically enraged parent and a particularly vulnerable older child or adolescent, who “were faithful and valuable battle allies in efforts to hurt and punish the other parent. Not infrequently, they turned on the parent they had loved and been very close to prior to the marital separation”.
Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee later discussed how court-ordered visitation can “be entangled with Medea-like rage.” They said, “A woman betrayed by her husband is deeply opposed to the fact that her children must visit him every other weekend. … She cannot stop the visit, but she can plant seeds of doubt – ‘Do not trust your father’ – in the children’s minds and thus punish her ex-husband via the children. She does this consciously or unconsciously, casting the seeds of doubt by the way she acts and the questions she asks…”
Bernet & Co. write:
In 1994, the American Psychological Association published “Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings”…the authors of the guidelines provided a bibliography of “Pertinent Literature,” which included The Parental Alienation Syndrome and two other books by Richard Gardner.
In 1997, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) published “Practice Parameters for Child Custody Evaluations.” This document, an “AACAP Official Action,” referred explicitly to “Parental Alienation” and said, “There are times during a custody dispute when a child can become extremely hostile toward one of the parents. The child finds nothing positive in his or her relationship with the parent and prefers no contact. The evaluator must assess this apparent alienation and form a hypothesis of its origins and meaning. Sometimes, negative feelings toward one parent are catalyzed and fostered by the other parent; sometimes, they are an outgrowth of serious problems in the relationship with the rejected parent”…
There has been an enormous amount of research on the psychosocial vicissitudes of children of divorced parents, including children with PAS. The most exhaustive single volume regarding PAS is The International Handbook of Parental Alienation Syndrome, published in 2006. More than 30 mental health professionals wrote chapters for this book, including authors from Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany, Israel, Sweden, and the United States.
PAS was the focus of major national conferences in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, in 2002 and in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, in 2008. A scholarly article by Warshak cited a list of references that currently numbers 213, most of which were published in peer reviewed journals (http://home.att.net/~rawars/pasarticles.html)…
We conclude that mental health professionals (taken as a group) and the general public recognize parental alienation as a real entity that deserves considerable attention.
How common is Parental Alienation, and how many cases are there nationwide? Bernet & Co. estimate that there are roughly 200,000 children in the U.S. who have PAD, similar to the number of children with autism. They write:
In general, PAD is more likely to occur in highly conflicted, custody-disputing families than in community samples of divorcing families. Even in highly conflicted divorces, only the minority of children experience PAD. The following studies indicate that approximately 25% of children involved in custody disputes develop PAD.
Johnston – in California – found that 7% of the children in one study and 27% of the children in a second study had “strong alignment” with one parent and rejection of the other parent. Kopetski – in Colorado – found that 20% of families involved in custody disputes manifested parental alienation syndrome. Nicholas reported that 33% of families involved with custody disputes manifested parental alienation syndrome, based on a survey of 21 custody evaluators. Berns reported a study of divorce judgments in Brisbane, Australia, and said parental alienation syndrome was present in 29% of cases.
The prevalence of PAD can be roughly estimated as follows. The U.S. Census Bureau says approximately 10% of children under age 18 live with divorced parents. Approximately 10% of divorces involve custody or visitation disputes. Approximately 25% of children involved in custody or visitation disputes develop PAD. Multiplying these percentages yields a prevalence of 0.25%, or about 200,000 children in the U.S. For comparison purposes, this prevalence is the same order of magnitude as the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders.
Bernet & Co. believe that “controversies related to definitions and terminology have delayed and compromised systematic research regarding [PAD]” and that “Establishing diagnostic criteria will make it possible to study parental alienation in a more methodical manner.” They write:
[Despite controversy] There is consensus among almost all mental health professionals who have written about parental alienation regarding the following: (1) PAD is a real entity, that is, there really are children and adolescents who embark on a persistent campaign of denigration against one of the parents and adamantly refuse to see that parent, and the intensity of the campaign and the refusal is far out or proportion to anything the alienated parent has done. (2) There are many causes of visitation refusal, and PAD is only one of them. (3) PAD is not the correct diagnosis when the child’s visitation refusal is caused by child maltreatment or serious problematic behavior of the alienated parent.
Dr. Richard A. Warshak makes the case for accepting PAD/PAS:
PAS fits a basic pattern of many psychiatric syndromes. Such syndromes denote conditions in which people who are exposed to a designated stimulus develop a certain cluster of symptoms. ‘Posttraumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD) refers to a particular cluster of symptoms developed in the aftermath of a traumatic event. … These diagnoses carry no implication that everyone exposed to the same stimulus develops the condition, nor that similar symptoms never develop in the absence of the designated stimulus. … Similarly, some, but not all, children develop PAS when exposed to a parent’s negative influence. Other factors, beyond the stimulus of an alienating parent, can help elucidate the etiology for any particular child.
Bernet & Co. add “We hope that the Work Group will not reject this proposal simply because of this 20- year-old argument about the concept, the terminology, and the criteria for PAD. There is no lack of controversy regarding conditions that are quite prominent in the DSM.”
Bernet & Co. also address the important issue of the misuse of PA/PAD. As we’ve often noted, claims of Parental Alienation can be used by abusive parents as a cover for their abuse, such as in the Joyce Murphy case.
More commonly, one parent may have damaged his or her relationships with his children due to his or her own personality problems, narcissism, substance abuse issues, erratic behavior, etc., but then, rather than assuming responsibility for his or her actions, instead blames the bad relationship on the other parent, under the rubric of Parental Alienation. Fathers & Families sometimes hears from parents, usually mothers, who say that they are being unfairly blamed for the deterioration of their children’s relationships with their former partners, who claim Parental Alienation. We believe that these are legitimate concerns.
However, as we’ve often noted, simply because false claims of Parental Alienation can and are made doesn’t mean that Parental Alienation doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem. Bernet & Co. believe that acceptance of PA/PAD by DSM V will “reduce the opportunities for abusive parents and unethical attorneys to misuse the concept of parental alienation in child custody disputes.” They write:
Having established criteria for the diagnosis of PAD will eliminate the Babel of conflicting terminology and definitions that currently occurs when parental alienation is mentioned in a legal setting. More important is that the entry regarding PAD in DSM-V will include a discussion of the differential diagnosis of visitation refusal. It will be clear that the clinician should consider a number of explanations for a child’s symptom of visitation refusal and not simply rush to the diagnosis of PAD. Also, it will be clear that the diagnosis of PAD should not be made if the child has a legitimate, justifiable reason for disliking and rejecting one parent, for instance, if the child was neglected or abused by that parent.
We believe that when everybody involved in the legal procedures (the parents, the child protection investigators, the mental health professionals, the attorneys, and the judge) has a clear, uniform understanding of the definition of PAD, there will be fewer opportunities for rogue expert witnesses and lawyers to misuse the concept in court. What really matters is whether PAD is a real phenomenon, a real entity. If PAD is a real clinical entity, it should be included in the DSM. If PAD is a real clinical entity, the possibility that the diagnosis will sometimes be misused should not be a primary or serious consideration.
They also note:
[T]he psychiatric diagnosis that is most misused in legal settings is posttraumatic stress disorder. In personal injury lawsuits, the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder in an alleged victim is used to prove that the individual actually sustained a severe trauma. Also, military veterans and workers’ compensation claimants sometimes malinger posttraumatic stress disorder in order to receive disability benefits. However, we are not aware that anybody has ever proposed that posttraumatic stress disorder should be deleted from the DSM because it is sometimes misused.
Establishing diagnostic criteria will be helpful for: clinicians who work with divorced families; divorced parents, who are trying to do what is best for their children; and children of divorce, who desperately need appropriate treatment that is based on a correct diagnosis. According to Barbara-Jo Fidler, clinical observations, case reviews and qualitative comparative studies uniformly indicate that alienated children may exhibit a variety of symptoms including poor reality testing, illogical cognitive operations, simplistic and rigid information processing, inaccurate or distorted interpersonal perceptions, self-hatred, and other maladaptive attitudes and behaviors. Fidler’s survey of the short-term and long-term effects of pathological alienation on children reviewed more than 40 articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 1991 and 2007…
The authors of this proposal believe that if PAD were an official diagnosis, counselors and therapists from all disciplines will become more familiar with this condition. As a result, children with PAD will be identified earlier in the course of their illness while it is more easily treated and even cured. Also, if PAD were an official diagnosis (with clear criteria for the diagnosis and for severity of the condition), it will be possible to conduct coherent research regarding its treatment.
A. The child – usually one whose parents are engaged in a hostile divorce – allies
himself or herself strongly with one parent and rejects a relationship with the other,
alienated parent without legitimate justification. The child resists or refuses visitation or
parenting time with the alienated parent.
B. The child manifests the following behaviors:
(1) a persistent rejection or denigration of a parent that reaches the level of a
(2) weak, frivolous, and absurd rationalizations for the child’s persistent
criticism of the rejected parent
C. The child manifests two of the following six attitudes and behaviors:
(1) lack of ambivalence
(2) independent-thinker phenomenon
(3) reflexive support of one parent against the other
(4) absence of guilt over exploitation of the rejected parent
(5) presence of borrowed scenarios
(6) spread of the animosity to the extended family of the rejected parent.
D. The duration of the disturbance is at least 2 months.
E. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social,
academic (occupational), or other important areas of functioning.
F. The child’s refusal to have visitation with the rejected parent is without legitimate
justification. That is, parental alienation disorder is not diagnosed if the rejected parent
maltreated the child.
Send Your Letter to the DSM-V Task Force and Tell Them Your Story
To write your letter to the DSM-V Task Force, please fill out the form below. Fathers & Families will print out your letter and send it by regular US mail to the three relevant figures in DSM-V. When you write your letter, please:
1) Keep the focus on your child(ren) and how the Parental Alienation has harmed them.
2) Stick to the facts related to the Parental Alienation.
3) Be succinct.
4) Fill in all fields on our form.
5) Be civil and credible, and avoid any profanity or use of insulting language
Together with you in the love of our children,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families
Families torn apart … the stories behind the divorces
More than one in three youngsters – 38 per cent – go without having their father around after their parents split, and nearly one in ten are so traumatised they consider SUICIDE.
The findings, by a leading law firm, also discovered children are being caught in bitter custody battles, and many later turn to drink and drugs.
Sandra Davis, head of family law firm Mishcon de Reya, which surveyed 4,000 people, said: “This research shows that, despite their best intentions, parents are often using their children as emotional footballs.”
Here NIKKI WATKINS, NICK FRANCIS and JENNA SLOAN speak to four people who have been affected by divorce.
We hear from a mum whose husband left for Australia, a man who tracked down his long-lost dad and two fathers who haven’t seen their kids in years.
RICHARD separated from his long-term partner in May 1998, after six years.
The 43-year-old, from Carshalton, Surrey, who is on sick leave from his job as a train-driving instructor, has not seen his 15-year-old daughter for more than eight years, despite suffering with leukaemia.
His ex-partner moved 600 miles away, which makes visiting impossible as his leukaemia treatment is carried out in his home town.
Richard says: “We came to an understanding about contact times that worked out initially.
“Then my ex started mucking about with it. I said, ‘we need to sort this out’, as I didn’t want to go down the route of court because it is expensive and pits parent against parent.
“It becomes a battle of parents rather than what is right for the child.
“The advice I got at the time was to avoid the court system.
“I said that it was in our daughter’s best interests to continue seeing me.”
Richard eventually ended up seeking the advice of a solicitor.
He says: “The day before we were due for a directions hearing my ex phoned me and asked me what I wanted. I said the same as before and she said, ‘that is fine’.
But the situation changed when Richard’s ex got engaged and moved to Scotland.
Richard says: “I got a letter from her solicitor saying the contact schedule wouldn’t work.”
He has since been diagnosed with leukaemia and when faced with chemotherapy told doctors not to worry about his fertility, as he was too traumatised to have more children.
He wrote to his ex and daughter to explain about his illness, but says he got no response.
Richard says: “I don’t get anything back – I haven’t in eight years. I just want an acknowledgement to say my daughter is aware of what has happened and sends her love. It’s an awful situation.
“I know they get to the address because everything is recorded delivery, the birthday presents and Easter eggs.
“I had to have counselling about losing my daughter. It has affected me in a big, big way.
“Children have a right to know both parents.”
MELANIE divorced her husband of 13 years after he left her and their two sons without warning.
When Melanie, 33, came home one day to find hubby Trevor leaving, she thought for a moment that he was going to the shops – before realising he meant he was going for good.
He left for a new life in Australia, since then having no contact with sons Oliver, then 3, and Joshua, then 8.
Melanie, a photographer from Durham, says: “Trevor left on March 8, 2008. I wasn’t aware of any real problems in our marriage, just the usual bickering. I came home from work and he said he was leaving.
“My oldest boy Joshua, who is now ten, has a lot of issues and has to see a counsellor.
“Because he was there when his dad was packing his things in the car, he blames himself for his dad leaving.
“My other son, Ollie, who’s five, was only three when his dad left so I think he has got off a bit lighter.
“They are both very clingy, though. I con-stantly have to reassure them.
“I’m worried about how it’s going to affect Ollie in the future. I also worry about my boys because there isn’t a male role model in the house.
“Trevor has my numbers and can get in touch with the boys if he wants, he just chooses not to.
“He took me to court this year to try and get access.
“We came to an agreement that he could come and see them over the summer but just one week before he was due, he cancelled.
“After spending thousands of pounds on a court case in this country, despite not having paid any money for the boys, he goes and disappoints them like that.
“If Trevor is the kind of man who can do this to his family then he’s not the sort of person I want around my kids.”
JAMES TAYLOR tracked down his long-lost dad, James Dennis, 52, through the internet after his parents divorced.
James 33, a mortgage adviser from Glasgow. says: “My mum and dad married when they were 17 and 18, which was very young.
“My dad, who was a welder, moved to Reading to find work and initially my mum went with him. But things didn’t work out and my mum came back to Scotland.
“My parents ended up divorcing and lost contact. I think it was a combination of the pressure on them, as they were so young, and the distance between them.
“I was their only child, and I saw my dad once when I was about seven, but that was it. It didn’t really occur to me to ask about him.
“All I’d ever known was my mum, Brenda, who remarried. But when I went to secondary school I began to wonder why I didn’t have a dad like the other kids did.
“When I was 17 my mum passed away due to complications in childbirth. It really made me think about things and start to question who my family was.
“I have four step-daughters with my wife Georgina and we have a boy Joshua, who is seven. I also have two step-granddaughters.
“Having my own children did make me think even more about getting in touch with my dad. My wife was very supportive but I was worried about finding Dad. What if he didn’t like me?
“In 2006 I logged on to the Genes Reunited website and typed in my father’s name. I hadn’t seen him for 23 years. One match came up that turned out to be my aunt, I was delighted when I got an email from her.
“She passed my contact details on to my dad and we arranged to meet.
“Going to meet him for the first time was very emotional. I’d only seen him in his old wedding picture, with long hair in the 1970s, so I didn’t recognise him straight away.
“But when it finally dawned on me that this was my dad I was thrilled. We have some of the same characteristics – our eyes are similar – and we have similar mannerisms too.
“And I have a half-brother and half-sister that I’d never met, along with aunties, uncles and cousins. I’m so glad I logged on to that website.”
DAD Paul is a full-time carer for his elderly father.
He split with his wife of 25 years and lost contact with his son, then aged seven, 12 years ago.
Paul, 57, from Hampshire, is still coming to terms with his loss. He says: “My wife decided that she wanted the relationship to finish and we divorced.
“Very quickly it became difficult to have contact with my son.
“You get cursory visits once every two weeks. It was difficult right from the beginning, but I saw him for about a year, every other weekend. That isn’t sufficient for a relationship.”
Paul went to court to try tomaintain the contact but thesituation deteriorated.
He says: “If one parent is trying hard to stop contact, the court doesn’t really do anything to enforce contact with the absent parent.”
That is why Paul finds the new statistics about so many children not seeing their fathers unsurprising.
He says: “I wrote many articles and did some charity work for a time for all of the charity groups who were trying to get the system changed.
“I did it because there are probably about a million kids out there who have not got what you could call a decent family.
“If you include the extended family then the number of people involved is just colossal. The figure of 38 per cent doesn’t surprise me at all. It almost destroys you. You miss everything.
“I don’t even know categorically if my son is alive – simple as that.
“I took it all the way to the highest court and that got me experienced in the legal system.
“So I was advising other people how to keep the cost down and how to do it themselves.
“I have moved on now – it took me several years to get to that stage and it was a very desperate state. I have been divorced 12 years now and I fought for five years in the courts. My life could always be better.
“More than anything I would want my son to know that I care and that I am still caring.”
November 22, 2009 – 8:42AM
In recent weeks, I seem to have become a bloke magnet. Two weeks ago at the State Library cafe and one night last week at my usual watering hole, I’ve had men in my ear. Sweet men, sad men, vulnerable men – some recently divorced, others single for years – crooning variations on the same tragic tale. A tale about children they love but no longer see.
Once, I would have called them deadbeat dads. My own parents split when I was young but my father maintained scrupulous contact with my brother and me, and was dismissive of men who didn’t. And I knew the facts: that about 30 per cent of Aussie kids rarely or ever see the father who doesn’t live with them; and that before 1989, when the law gave men a choice about chipping in financially to support their children, only about one-third did.
But as I listened to the stories of these grieving men, the moral issue was no longer clear. There is no shortage of grievances, legitimate and otherwise, when a couple splits. But when fathers want to share care of their children but are granted access only on weekends – leaving the Child Support Agency as the only institution affirming the role of men in their children’s lives post-divorce – something seems amiss.
‘‘I was more than a wallet to those children,’’ the man in the cafe told me. ‘‘I parented them.’’ Later, a diary he had kept of his daughter’s first words and subsequent language development would arrive in the mail: proof of his commitment and grief.
The bloke at the bar, let’s call him Barry, was less certain of what he had to offer to his daughter who is three, no four, no three. He hadn’t seen her in years. ‘‘I don’t even have a place to live at the moment,’’ he confessed. ‘‘Had all my ID stolen a few months ago and been couch-surfing for the past three weeks.’’ I heard the rest of his sentence as if he’d spoken it aloud. ‘‘I wouldn’t be good for her, anyway.’’
‘‘She told me to bugger off,’’ he continued, speaking of his former partner, a girl he’d got pregnant, then agreed to support. He sipped his beer primly before cracking a wooden smile. ‘‘So I did.’’
But here’s the real question. Does the fact that many men feel sad when made to feel surplus to requirements in their own children’s life – disenfranchised by the legal system or their former spouse – mean they’ve been wronged? Not necessarily. The terrible truth is that when relationships break down, what is in the best interests of children may not be what’s best for men.
Research by Australian researcher Jennifer McIntosh finds that shared care is not the best arrangement for very young children and only works well for older kids where parents are emotionally mature and get along well. Men incapable of resolving the substance abuse, anger management or emotional issues that can contribute to relationship breakdown in the first place may not be the best influence on children, including their own.
And according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, there is ‘‘compelling evidence’’ that it is parental conflict and the negative economic consequences of divorce, not fatherlessness per se, that is costly for children of divorce. Deadbeat dads, or desperate, defeated and driven-away ones? You decide.
Do you have a moral issue you need resolve? Send it to Leslie@Cannold.com. All correspondence will be kept strictly confidential.
A case decided November 10, 2009 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could have an enormous impact on fathers’ rights to their children. (Note: The case is not yet published, so I can’t provide a link to it.) It holds that even a divorced father with no right of physical custody must be given the opportunity to have custody of his child before a child protective agency can place it in foster care. Failure to do so by a county child protective agency can subject the county to a suit for damages by the father under the federal civil law governing deprivation of constitutional rights.
To put it bluntly, this is a huge win for non-custodial parents.
The opinion in Burke, et al vs. County of Alameda California, et al now governs everyone within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit which encompasses California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Montana and the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianna Islands. Unless overturned by the United States Supreme Court, Burke is binding precedent throughout the Ninth Circuit.
The Ninth is the largest federal circuit and one of the most influential on the others. Of course the opinion in Burke doesn’t govern cases in other circuits, but, given that it was a case of first impression (i.e. a similar case had never been decided before by that circuit) there, it may well be looked to by other circuits in deciding similar cases. It may also be looked to by the Supreme Court should a similar case reach that level.
David and Melissa Burke lived together and apparently were married. Melissa’s 14-year-old daughter “B.F.” lived with them. She was the natural daughter of Melissa and Clifton Farina who had divorced some years before. David was her stepfather and Clifton was a non-custodial dad. Frustratingly enough, the opinion doesn’t tell us whether Clifton had an order of visitation, but it seems that he did not because the opinion says that he had no right of physical custody. Nevertheless, he saw his daughter fairly often even though B.F. testified that his new wife didn’t like her and being around her was uncomfortable for the girl. Melissa had sole physical custody of B.F.
When B.F. complained to an Alameda County Sheriff’s officer that David hit her repeatedly and often fondled her breasts, the officer, without a warrant, removed her from the Burke home and placed her with the county child protective services agency. CPS in turn placed her in some form of protective care.
David, Melissa and Clifton Farina sued Alameda County and the sheriff’s deputy under federal statute 42 U.S.C. 1983 which allows civil suits against municipal and state entities which “under color of law” deprive someone of their constitutional rights. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, holding that neither the Burkes nor Farina had any claim against the county on which they could prevail at trial. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the Burkes had no claim and that the sheriff’s deputy was immune from suit.
But the circuit court reversed the trial court as to Clifton Farina. It said that, even though he had no right of physical custody, Alameda County could not lawfully ignore Clifton as a possible custodian of B.F. Failure by the county to “explore the possibility of putting B.F. in his care” violated his constitutional right to a familial relationship and association with his daughter. His case was returned to the trial court so a jury could hear and decide his claim for damages against the county.
On this blog, both Glenn and I have written about the outrageous preference on the part of CPS agencies for foster care over father care. Those agencies routinely bypass fathers altogther and place children in foster care. I reported on an Urban Institute study that showed that, even though CPS agencies know who the father is in some 88% of cases that come before them, attempts to contact him are made in barely over half those cases. Glenn has written about a girl to whom Orange County, California lied repeatedly over many years, solely to keep her from her father and in foster care.
In short, after this case, CPS agencies can no longer do that without getting sued. The Burke opinion is not clear on exactly what a county must do to comply with it. But as I see it, they’ll have to make diligent efforts to locate the father and assess whether his care would be superior to that of a foster home. If it would be, he would get custody. In short, when taking a child from its custodial parent due to abuse or neglect, a state within the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction may no longer simply ignore the non-custodial parent.
Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.
Lisa Scott’s RealFamilyLaw.com
Shared Parenting Advocate/Family Law Attorney Lisa Scott’s RealFamilyLaw.com exposes the truth about what is happening in our family law system. Lisa, the all-time leader in appearances on His Side with Glenn Sacks, says that she was “tired of having her stuff rejected by elitist bar publications and politically-correct newspapers” and decided to start her own website. RealFamilyLaw.com
Children’s Day Rally for Parental Rights
November 20 has been designated “Children’s Day” by the internationalists. But what greater way to support children than to protect their families? So, we’re celebrating Children’s Day with a Parental Rights Rally in Washington, D.C.
The rally will be held at the U.S. Capitol, on the East Lawn across from the Rayburn House Office building. It is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with several very special guests invited to speak, including Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Sen. Jim DeMint, the lead sponsors of the Parental Rights Amendment; Gerard Robinson with Black Alliance for Educational Options; William Estrada of Homeschool Legal Defense Association; Dean and Julie Nelson of National Black Home Educators; and Steven Groves of Heritage Foundation.
We know most of you won’t be able to come all the way to D.C. If you are among those who can, give us a call at 540-751-1200 for further details or directions.
Tell Us YOUR Story
Too many Americans – including congressmen – think the proposed Amendment is just about stopping the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But threats to parental rights are already going on in our nation today. You have seen them. You have experienced them, and we need to hear from you.
Have you: been harassed about your child’s school attendance? Had your child immunized without your consent? Been harassed for your decision over whether to immunize your child or not? Been denied your child’s library records? Had to fight to (or been refused to) opt your child out of specific classes, activities, or events at school? Been harassed for opting them out? Been denied access to your child’s health records, or been kept from staying with them at the doctor’s office? Had your child subjected to health screenings, drug tests, etc., without your knowledge or consent? Had your child obtain an abortion or birth-control prescription without your knowledge or consent? Received threats or had your child removed by social services without cause and a fair trial?
Please, email us at email@example.com with a brief description of your run-in with parental rights limitations. (Remember, we will have to read every email sent in, so brevity will be greatly appreciated. We can always write you back if we need more information!) And pass this email along to anyone you know whose parental rights may have been violated, so that they will know to share their story with us, too!
Being the glutton for punishment that I obviously was in the summer of 2005, part 6 was a morning phone call. I actually took an evening phone call from her the same day.
PEW: Hello? You recording?
LM Hey. Yes, I sure am.
PEW: Okay, good.
PEW: Yeah, you change your mind?
LM No, I didn’t change my mind, did you change yours?
LM I did speak with my father, though.
LM He asked me to ask you what he told you.
LM To ask you what he told you.
PEW: Well, I didn’t really talk to him.
I knew this. She often lied about such things. I’m not sure I even talked with my father at that point, but I did confront her with the above – mostly because that’s what my father probably would have said to me, had I talked to him or not.
LM Why would you suggest then that my father would be calling me?
PEW: I don’t know. I can’t believe that you did this to the kids.
QUICK! MUST CREATE DIVERSION! MUST CREATE DIVERSION!!!
LM I really wish you would stop saying that I did anything to the kids. The kids are, again, downstairs having a grand old time. Disappointed that you’re not coming down here to get them.
PEW: That was never… that was never supposed to happen.
LM Well, I guess you didn’t communicate very well, then. But all I told them is that we forgot to work on the specifics and that uh, if things didn’t work out for today that I would take them back on Tuesday night because I had to go back up there anyway.
PEW: Well the, I want to call them back at bedtime.
LM You can talk to them now if you want.
PEW: No, I don’t want them getting all upset and then (long pause) (inaudible) This definitely has to be the most vindictive thing you ever did.
LM I’m not doing anything to you and I’m not doing anything to the kids. I, I don’t know where you conjure up these things. You know, I’m sorry that our signals got crossed…
PEW: No signals got crossed…
LM …stop acting like I promised you any such thing, cause I didn’t.
PEW: No signals got crossed.
LM Please don’t act like I promised you any such thing, cause I didn’t. Number one. And number two, please don’t intimate that I’m doing anything to the kids. I said it before and I’ll say it again, just like two weeks ago. Your coming down here is… is of your own free will.
LM If you want to come down here, I’m not keeping the kids from you, I’m not telling you you can’t see the kids, I’m just telling you that circumstances are not gonna permit me to bring them all the way back today, so…
PEW: Well, you wouldn’t even meet me in [halfway point]. That’s wrong. It’s wrong.
LM Why is that wrong?
PEW: And you know what? Tomorrow, I am having the contempt thing trialed. I’m not, not going to spend 14 years like this, no.
LM I don’t intend to spend 14 years like this either, I just don’t know what “like this” means.
PEW: Mmmhmm. Well, what would make you think after all, I’ve never driven down there except for the one time that you refused to meet me…
PEW logic: Since she has never driven down “there” before, she should never have to drive down “there.” I wonder how she would react if I were to use such a childish approach?
LM You mean, the one time that I made you stand by your commitment to come down like you had promised all week.
PEW: Right. Then why would I… why would I come down there?
LM You’re the one saying that you really miss the kids.
LM You’re the one saying that you really miss the kids.
PEW: I do really miss them, LM, but…
LM Stop making it out like I’m keeping them from you, because I’m not.
PEW: You are.
LM No, I’m not.
PEW: You are. I can’t drive my car down there. First of all, my lawyer said I can’t. I shouldn’t.
Which is it? Can’t? or Shouldn’t? Let this be lesson 1,478,522 of how lawyers can be such scumbags… that is, assuming her lawyer actually told her that. Her last one told her to move back into the marital home and so she broke in, so it’s entirely believable. Maybe this new attorney was the same as the old.
LM Shouldn’t and can’t are two different things.
PEW: Yeah, I shouldn’t. And, advised strongly against it, so. (Long pause) (Inaudible) I mean, I can’t, I’m not gonna feel bad about what… whatever consequences you have tomorrow.
LM You don’t feel bad about anything.
PEW: Yeah, I do.
LM No, you don’t.
PEW: I felt more bad, obviously I feel the worst about the kids, but whatever you’ll sustain as a result of what you did today, I can’t feel sorry for you.
LM What exactly did I do today?
PEW: LM, you and I both know what you did today.
LM What did I do today? I’ve asked you repeatedly to send me the evidence that you have that I told you…
PEW: I did. Did you see the email I sent you?
PEW: Oh, it says in there three separate times that your vacation was over.
PEW: Right. And you’ve returned them. Since you moved in March, you have done all the returning. So how all of a sudden…
Notice how it didn’t say, “I will bring the children back to you this weekend.”
LM Not since school I didn’t, I haven’t. I’d come up and get them, you came down and retrieved them. I came to [your vacation home location] to get them, and here we are again, I mean…
PEW: That’s bull and you know it.
LM That isn’t what happened?
LM Okay, so I came, I picked up and dropped off during the school year. Then I didn’t come get them on the 25th, right? Is that what you’re telling me? I didn’t get them on the 25th when I came back from my trip. You didn’t come down here on the 2nd to get them.
PEW: Only because you refused to meet me. You said that…
LM No, only because I made you stand by your commitment. That you promised all week that you were coming down to get them and then changed your mind the day before. So, you keep saying the one version of events and I’ll bring the documentation and the evidence that you said you were going to come down and get them and only changed your mind Friday morning. It might have even been Friday afternoon.
PEW: No, I changed my mind after I talked to DW and she said that I was mentally unstable and my kids were… have mental health issues.
LM No, I don’t think that’s what happened. You keep saying that’s what happened, but I’m sure conveniently your recorder wasn’t working that day.
PEW: Yeah, is she coming with you?
PEW: Is she coming to court, too?
LM I’m not telling you anything.
PEW: I hope so. I want my lawyer to have her testify, too. You made a big mistake today. A big one.
LM I don’t know what mistake you say I made.
PEW: You made a mistake LM. And the mistake was leading our kids to believe that you were bringing them home.
Click HERE: for a definition of projection…
LM No, I’m gonna tell you again, and I have mountains of evidence to the contrary. The only person that suggested to the kids that I was bringing them home was you and you had no business doing that, because I never told you that and I never told the kids that. Never, never, never. Okay? So stop saying that’s what you did, unless you can produce it, then you’re lying, okay?
PEW: So, there’s no… I will not… after Wednesday, I will never be required to drive again, anywhere.
Wrong again, PEW!
LM That may be.
LM That may be.
PEW: That is gonna be, LM.
LM That may be.
PEW: And you’ll have yourself to thank for whatever, whatever trouble you get into because of being in contempt, I have… I cannot feel bad for you.
LM I… my understanding is that I’m not in contempt.
PEW: Well, your understanding is wrong. And you can claim that you’re innocent, but you’re not.
LM I keep missing the part where the custody agreement requires that I drop them off to you.
PEW: Well, the part where you moved 4 hours away, that’s the part.
LM No, that, I checked, I called Domestic Relations and you know what? I found no provision in the state law that says if I move out of state that automatically means that I have to pick up and drop off.
PEW: Well, then why would Gloria suggest that?
LM I can’t speak for Gloria.
PEW: Right. Well. She has me doing no driving.
LM She also suggests during the summer, meeting in [halfway exchange point].
LM Yeah, I know.
PEW: And I’ve offered to do that.
LM What’s that?
PEW: I’ve offered to do that today.
On the off-chance you’re not paying attention, try to recognize this for what it is. She always “offers” things that benefit only her under the guise of doing me a favor. The ONLY times she EVER offered to “meet” was when she was required to drive further. Never has she offered anything to the benefit of someone else to her own detriment. PEW is a taker, not a giver.
LM You offered it today?
PEW: Yeah. I also offered to do that two weeks ago when you forced me to drive 10 hours in one day.
LM No, I didn’t force you to do no such thing. The only thing I did was say you need to honor your commitment.
LM For once you need to honor an agreement. One time. In the whole situation, one time you needed to honor an agreement.
PEW: You’re a disgrace, LM.
LM I understand that. I understand that from you.
PEW: You are. Seriously, I don’t know how you live with yourself. And total disregard for the fact that I did give you some happy years. I did give you two beautiful children and this is just typical of what I’ve gotten back out of this.
LM No, it’s what you try to convince yourself is reality and reality is something vastly different.
PEW: No… (inaudible) …talking.
LM You gave me 10-years of verbal abuse, mental abuse, threats to leave, leaving dozens of times, forcing major life-decisions like moving and cars and everything. (Inaudible) …and everything else under threat of divorce and abandonment and it’s all in your own words.
Can you feel the love?
PEW: Yeah, and those letters saying that you spent the happiest years of your life with me.
LM You know, there were times where I tried really hard to make you happy.
PEW: Yeah, well.
LM Cards, were just totally smashed in my face. Christmases that were destroyed, because you were just so… I don’t what’s wrong, but something was not right. The things you’ve done over the course of the years.
PEW: Well everything is fine now, so…
LM It can’t possibly be fine now, all you do is confrontation, and arguments, and go back on your word, and all you want to do is make an issue out of everything that comes up, PEW, I don’t know what, I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know how to explain it. I just don’t know how to explain it. (Long pause) I try to make the most of my time with the kids and you’re calling me 6, 7 times a day, I mean it’s just so…
PEW: Did you explain this situation to your dad?
LM What’s that?
PEW: Did you explain this situation to your dad?
LM No I didn’t explain the situation to my dad. Oh, yeah, wait I did, I told him that you were mad that I wasn’t dropping them off or something.
PEW: What did he say?
LM He asked me if there were any provisions in the agreement regarding pick-ups and drop-offs. I told him “no, not to my knowledge.”
PEW: Mmmhmm. Right. Tell him that the kids cry every day? To talk to their mom?
LM No, they don’t cry every day. They only cry when you prompt them to cry.
LM Yeah, they do.
PEW: No they don’t.
LM I told him, “yeah, you know, I feel bad, the kids miss their mother and she just doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by driving down here to get them.” That’s the reality. It was the reality two weeks ago, you decided, you know what, you know what, after a commitment to come down here you decided on Friday, “you know what? I don’t feel like driving all that way.” (Long pause) And what’s scary is you do nothing to, you do nothing to help me out in a pinch and then you, then you have this expectation that all you gotta do is ask and just eh…
PEW: I didn’t have to give you two weeks in the summer so far. I could have waited. I could have waited until I was court-ordered to do that.
LM I gave you plenty of notice for vacation time.
PEW: It doesn’t matter. I didn’t have to voluntarily give you two weeks out of the summer already and now you’re taking advantage of that.
LM Taking advantage of what?
PEW: You’re taking advantage of how nice I am.
LM No, I’m taking advantage? By what?
PEW: I let you try the every-other-weekend thing.
LM You let me? I did it because it was what was right for the kids. Do you want to talk about letting? I mean, I could have followed the custody agreement and taken them all but one weekend per month.
Gate-keeping mother, supported by the government. Man, it’s good to be a father in this day-and-age.
PEW: What was Gloria’s suggestion for the school year?
LM The forthcoming school year is every other weekend.
PEW: No, every other weekend with one weekend in [custody state].
LM Yeah, but that’s not gonna work out either.
PEW: It’s gonna have to.
LM No, it won’t have to.
PEW: Yes, it will.
LM No, I don’t think it will because you know what? I don’t think the court is going to sanction me and sanction the grandparents of the children and everybody else who I might have opportunity to visit by telling me that I have to bear the expense of a stay in a hotel. What kind of… and that’s the extra interesting thing about this, you want to talk about doing what’s best for the kids, how is it best for the kids that I spend a weekend in a hotel room without their toys, without their friends, and I mean, what kind of a weekend are you setting your kids up to have by making that a stipulation?
PEW: Well, I was thinking more along the lines that you would stay with one of your brothers.
Oh, you were, were you? Now you’re going to take command of what goes on in their homes to, Your Heinous? The unmitigated gall…
LM They have families. They have plans. You just assume these people…
PEW: Okay, you know what…?
LM …can put up and adult and two children on a… on a whim. I mean that’s a pretty big assumption.
PEW: Well then you’ll get them once a month.
LM That might, that might be in the offing.
PEW: That is in the offing. It’s in the offing.
LM We’ll see.
PEW: And you know what? I don’t want to talk to you again. Could you please put the kids on now?
LM Yeah, I can put them on now, are you going to not incite them into crying and suggesting…
PEW: I don’t incite them into crying and you know I don’t.
LM Yes, you do. Yes, you do and you know, I’ll show that you do that. By asking “Oh, are you bored? You sound sad.” And even when S1says three times “No everything’s fine, everything’s fine” you say “you sound like you’re going to cry” You just pepper him until he does what you want him to do and that is cry into the phone to you. (Short pause) You do. You can say you don’t, I can show you that you do.
PEW: Okay. Show me.
LM I will.
PEW: Mmmhmm. It will backfire, LM, trust me.
LM There is nothing to backfire. I’m going to come down there and make a case for me spending meaningful time with the kids.
PEW: And it’s all going to backfire.
LM I don’t what you think I’m trying to do here…
PEW: Put the kids on I’m done talking to you.
LM I don’t know what you think I’m trying to do here…
PEW: Put the kids on I’m done talking to you.
LM You know, this whole backfiring thing…
PEW: I… am… done… listening… to… you… put… my… kids… on.
LM Are you okay?
LM Are you okay?
PEW: No, I’m not okay. I miss my kids.
LM Come and get them.
PEW: You bring them home like you were supposed to.
LM Before I put them on, I want you to hear how much fun they’re having so that when they start crying… [Holds the phone over the stairs as the kids are laughing down below.]
PEW: The only reason they’re having fun… hello? The only reason they’re having fun is cause SD1 and SS1 are there.
LM No, they’re not.
PEW: They’re not having so much fun with you as they are with SD1 and SS1. No. You and Miss Personality.
LM SD1 and SS1 are at their father’s.
Oh, burn! How devastating it must have been to learn that the children can actually have a wonderful time with their father and step-mother. What a terrible shame for the poor, poor perpetual victim.
LM Had a nice day, planting flowers in the nice picnic area that they made for themselves. Played bottlecaps in the driveway together.
PEW: You’re a great dad, LM.
You bet your ass I am.
LM I try my best given the circumstance.
LM I tell them to love their mom. I don’t manipulate them and make suggests to them that they do things to undermine their time with me.
PEW: (SCREAMS) SHUT UP! And put the kids on.
LM I’m just trying to tell you how… you know, you talk about co-parenting and doing the right things by the children and you say one thing and do something else.
PEW: I’m taping this, did I tell you that?
LM Well no, but I have no problem with that.
PEW: Well this is bordering on harassment. I’m asking you to let me talk to the kids and…
LM I’m just answering your contention that they don’t…
PEW: And I said I don’t want to talk to you anymore. All you do is blow hot air. Nobody cares. Nobody believes you. Only you and DW are the only two people that believe your little stories about having to move to [home state] and you know, that I’m mentally unstable and…
LM She never said that.
PEW: Well, where does she get that idea then? I’m a respected person in my community and nobody even knows you in your community.
LM Is there where you start with the insults and the storytelling again?
LM Because you can’t help yourself?
PEW: Mmmhmm. What storytelling (inaudible)? Did you not abandon your kids, yes or no?
LM No, I didn’t abandon my kids.
PEW: Yeah you did.
LM I told you before, anytime you’re ready to give me primary custody… (a beep is heard)
PEW: What did you say?
LM I said, anytime you’re ready to turn over primary custody to me I’d be more than happy to take it, I…
PEW: (SCREAMS) NEVER! NEVER! NE-VER!!! It’s never gonna happen, LM.
LM Can you keep yourself under control, PEW?
PEW: I am under control. But I would never, I would… I would never give you custody ever. Not a psycho sociopath like yourself, no way. Put the kids on.
LM Is this the kind of talk that fosters goodwill between the parents?
PEW: I know, well… I’m telling you that there is nothing more infuriating to a parent than when the other parent is supposed to drop the kids off and…
LM I don’t know where you got that contention…
PEW: I haven’t seen them in a week and you’re not dropping them off. When they were supposed to be dropped off.
LM I don’t know that they were supposed to be dropped off and if you provided me evidence that I said that I’d do that, I would do that, but with that…
[LM calls to S1 “Hey, S1, you ready for your turn?” and S1 gets on the phone with PEW.]
S1: Mom, are you able to come down half-way?
PEW: Umm, buddy, we’re, me and daddy can’t like, get it worked out, so…
S1: (Sad) Can you ask him again?
PEW: I did, I did.
S1: Please, can you try again?
S1: Can you try again?
PEW: Can I try again?
S1: Yes, cause I just can’t take it without you. I just can’t do it any longer.
PEW: Daddy says you guys are having a great time.
PEW: Are you faking?
S1: I miss you, so badly.
PEW: Okay, well listen, you are a good boy right? And you can stay there for two more days, I have a great surprise for you for you when you get home.
Here we go again… with the manipulation…
S1: (whining) What is it?
PEW: (laughs) I can’t tell you.
S1: (laughs and whines)
PEW: But… but… can you be a good boy for two more days?
S1: (whines) Well, can you just tell me what it is?
PEW: (laughs) I can’t tell you what it is that’ll ruin the surprise…
S1: (whines) Tell me!
PEW: (laughs) Listen, you can’t cry anymore.
S1: (whines) Tell me!
PEW: (laughs) Listen, you can’t cry anymore.
PEW: Okay I’ll give you a hint but I can’t tell you what it is
S1: (whining) why?
PEW: if I (hears whining)
PEW: It’s alive (laughs) That’s all I can tell you
S1: Is it a fish
PEW: I don’t know, I said I can’t tell you
The stringing him along is completely painful to hear and read…
S1: Please, you have to tell me if I get it right
PEW: It’s a surprise so don’t
PEW: So, listen, listen, you cannot cry anymore
S1: You can tell me, I won’t tell S2, I promise
PEW: (laughs) Try to guess again
S1: Ahh, lizard?
PEW: Ahh, can’t tell you
S1: Tell me
PEW: No, it’s not a lizard
S1: Is it a parrot?
S1: What is it?
PEW: I don’t know, I can’t tell you because I don’t wanna ruin the surprise
S1: (whining) please
PEW: You’re gonna love it
S1: (whining) tell me
PEW: but wait, listen, you have to um, you can’t be sad, you have to be happy for the next two days
S1: Alright I’ll be happy, if you’ll let me know, or tell me what it is
PEW: (laughs) Aunt DUI is here, [to Psycho-SIL]: he said he’ll be happy for the next two days if I tell him what it is.
S1: Mommy can you tell me what it is
PEW: It’s a lizard
S1: It is?
S1: Yes! (yelling something in a happy voice, inaudible)
PEW: Okay, but you can’t be upset anymore
S1: (again making happy noises)
PEW: So you’re not gonna be sad anymore?
This is what she’ll never get – she’s just gifted his compliance. She’ll never get that this is precisely why he does what he does. If he gives her the sad, crying act, she’ll buy him something. When she complies with his manipulation, he’s happy. It’s basic Pavlovian theory. She teaches him to act the way he does and then rewards him for his behavior. Hostile-Aggressive Parenting 101.
PEW: So you’re happy now
PEW: I know
S1: (making happy noises)
S1: What color lizard is it?
PEW: It’s a green one
S1: Okay (making happy noises)
PEW: You’re funny
S1: Oh wait, can I tell S1?
PEW: Um, yea
S1: S2, Mom bought a lizard for us. Dad, you wanna know what Mom bought for us? (LM answers: a lizard?) Yep. K, I guess, Mom?
S1: Um, he has his food?
PEW: Yes, does um, he’s really (inaudible)
S1: Was it big or little?
PEW: He’s medium, so you gotta do me a favor and be happy til Tuesday when you come home okay?
In her head now, his happiness is predicated solely on what she’s done. In her mind, she’s the sole reason he is happy with me now, because of the gift. He’s to be happy as a “favor” to her.
S1: Okay, I’m so happy, woohoo
PEW: It’s only two more days okay? You know, you know Mommy loves you so much right
S1: What happens if we’re not happy? You’re giving the lizard back?
PEW: (laughs) No, I’ll be sad if you guys aren’t happy, I just want you to be happy while you’re at Daddy’s, okay? Cuz what? It’s only two more days right?
S1: Well all we have to play with is some Power Rangers and Buzz Light Year, and a movie and that’s all we got to play with, SD1 and SS1 aren’t here
PEW: Well you’ll have a good time, it’s only two…
S1: And we have some board games and the bottle cap game.
Yes, PEW… games their father plays with them. It’s why they’re having such a happy week.
S1: Right, Mom, now I got an idea
S1: Um on the driveway
S1: If you move your car a little back
S1: Guess what we can do?
S1: We can draw a big giant square on the driveway
S1: I mean big, and a 1 in one corner and a 1 in the other corner, and then you make a 7 in the other corner and an 8 in the other corner
S1: And then on the side you make a rectangle, then put a line down in the middle and then put 9 then you pt 11 with it
S1:And then you put, then you make another one and there’s 12 and 10, and then you have another spot where 1, 3 and then the other spot there is 6 and 4, and then in the middle, you have to make a smaller square in the middle and then make a skeleton face in the middle
S1: And then put cross bones, you know it’s just like cross bones, and then what you have to do is, you make a skeleton
S1: A skeleton head, and then you make two really skinny rectangles all the way to the other side and then you write 13 and 14
S1: And then you need bottlecaps, so you can use your Corona bottlecaps in that game
PEW: Okay, can you show me how to do that square thing
S1: Um, I’ll show you how daddy makes the square
S1: And I’ll help you out with it
PEW: Okay, sounds good, you’re funny
S1: Um is it, wait, does the lizard have that thing coming out of it? Like that neck thing coming out of it
PEW: Um, no it’s not there at all
S1: Can you go look at it?
S1: Are you looking at it now
S1: Okay well does like some of that long neck part there
PEW: Um, it’s like medium sized neck
S1: Um, that’s an iguana
PEW: Oh (laughs)
S1: Yea, so you called it a lizard, it’s an iguana. Ewwwww
S1: S2 had a Corona bottle cap in his mouth and hit had permanent marker on it
PEW: Uhoh, did he get it in his mouth?
S1: Yes, he put it in his mouth
PEW: Oh no, oh boy, oh boy
S1: I know, I thought he had nothing in his mouth, and then he spits it out at me, a bottle cap falls in his hands
PEW: (laughs) you’re funny, you’re a funny guy
PEW: What are you gonna name him?
S1: Um, Rocky, S2 I need to know the lizards name, name it Rocky? Okay me and S2 both agreed on naming him rocky, so it’s Rocky
PEW: Okay that sounds good, I like that name
PEW: Okay well I wanted to say goodnight, cuz I guess I won’t talk to you again tonight
S1: Does he eat live worms
S1: And (inaudible) I’ll feed him don’t worry
PEW: Okay, you don’t mind?
S1: Yea, but guess what, if he ever escapes guess what I’ll do
S1: Don’t worry, I’ll chase him around and I’ll get him
PEW: Okay (laughs)
S1: I’ll make sure we have the door closed though (inaudible) it would be a problem if we had an iguana running all around our house
PEW: That would be
S1: Where is it, in our room or in our playroom or what?
PEW: Downstairs by the hermit crabs
S1: If he moves, does he move a lot?
PEW: Yes, he does, he likes it here
PEW: Yea, he needs some friends
S1: I can’t wait until I get to see him
PEW: Yea, so that’s what you can look forward to when you come home okay? And don’t be sad anymore
PEW: I love you so much, you’re the best little boy in the world
S1: Alright, I’m so happy
S1: I can’t wait to see my lizard
PEW: Lizard boy
S1: (inaudible) if I can find them
PEW: Well we got bugs, and betas, your betas are still doing good
S1: Good, you know what I would do, if I’m quick enough, I’d grab the iguana and (inaudible) (laughs)
PEW: (laughs) you’re funny, you’ll like him
S1: And guess what
PEW: Aunt DUI said to tell you hi.
S1: Alright. None of the fished died right?
PEW: No, no they are both still doing good
S1: Is the shark still alive, the shark
PEW: No, he died, we still got the hifin tetra and the Danube and the two betas that you and S2 got, or that you won down the shore. And I’m proud they’re still alive
PEW: So does S2 wanna talk to me?
PEW: Does S2 wanna talk or no?
S1: Um I wanna talk to you for a little bit
PEW: Oh okay
S1: You know you didn’t have to buy me a lizard, but I want him anyway
S1: How big is the cage
PEW: About, bigger than the hermit crab cage, um
S1: Does it have like little um platforms where he can climb up on
S1: I knew it
PEW: Which would you rather have, a lizard or a snake?
S1: I’d have both
PEW: Both? (laughs)
S1: Did you get two?
PEW: No, but I was debating whether to get the snake because I knew that you kept saying that you wanted a cord snake, remember?
S1: Oh yes
PEW: But I’m a little scared of snakes
S1: Alright I’ll have the iguana
PEW: (laughs) You’re funny (inaudible)
“You’re funny.” “You’re a funny guy.” “You’re a good boy.” Over and over and over again. She has no idea how to talk to the children. When in doubt – buy them a gift so that you can have a discussion about what PEW did and not what’s going on in the children’s lives. It’s all about PEW. All the time.
S1: I know, woohoo
S1: If you ever get a lizard, it’s not a lizard
PEW: (laughs) They also had some cute parakeets at the pet store
PEW: I said they also had some cute parakeets there
S1: Awwww guess what they have, the birds that can fly free
PEW: is that where you guys go?
S1:: Yea, the birds, they have no cages
S1:: Yea, they were flying up on top of the cage, they can fly out anytime they want
PEW: Wow, that’s cool
S1: And guess what
S1: He was flying up (unaudible) he was like ahh (more inaudible)
PEW: Oh yea, was he like a big huge parrot?
S1: Yea he was, he had the white and then the black circles around his eyes
PEW: Oh okay, it’s not a parrot it’s a cockatoo
S1: Yea? Isn’t a cockatoo the pretty one with red and green and blue and stuff
PEW: Oh okay, and a mackaw?
S1: Yea, they had a big mackaw too and a baby
S1: Either that or a (inaudible)
PEW: You’re funny
“You’re funny.” Where have I seen that before?
S1: I love you and guess what, they also have some turtles at the store, no wait they weren’t turtles they were tortoises
PEW: Oh really?
PEW: They got some tortoises at our pet store
S1: They do?
PEW: Um yea
S1: Were they grey and really little?
PEW: They were grey and really big, about the size of your head
S1: Oh my
PEW: Then they have big ones like big as a dog, yea, but I think I’d be afraid, what would you do with it?
S1: Um you could leave it out front, or out to the wild
PEW: You think?
PEW: You’re such an animal lover huh?
PEW: I know, you take after me, I love animals too.
You ARE me. I have no concept of the children as being their own individuals. They are just an extension of me. Me me me me my my my my me my me.
S1: Guess what, there’s this snake, he’s venomous, but guess what
S1: Well he curls up like a ball and you can play catch with him even like throw him up and down
S1: Yea, real quick like a ball. Yea (inaudible) found one and he threw him up and down and he said, he said (inaudible) it’s just another ball
PEW: You’re funny
“You’re funny.” Where have I seen that before?
PEW: Would you pet a snake
S1: Yea if it wasn’t venomous
S1: (inaudible) if it didn’t bite you, did you know that?
PEW: No, and you wouldn’t be afraid
S1: Um, no
S1: This is what I would do, if you were scared to hold it, I would let you real quick (inaudible)
S1: Real quick, get him behind the head and hold him like that you know
S1: And then he won’t bit you then
PEW: Right, yea, well maybe (inaudible) because I don’t think they bite anyway, do you?
S1: I don’t know
S1: Do you know they are actually selling frogs? Even yellow frogs, I don’t know it was either a toad or a frog
S1: Yea yellow, and it had spots
PEW: Oh I never saw that. What else did they have there, did they have cats and dogs?
S1: Um no they don’t have cats and dogs
S1: But they have an animal shelter with a funny looking cat, Sarah was like look at that funny looking cat (laughs) and we all start laughing cuz he’s all funny looking
S1: But he’s nicer than he looks, he was really nice
S1: He was a sweetheart
PEW: So, huh
S1: So he just kept going around in circles and then he comes by and he jumps, you know
PEW: Yea awww
S1: And then there was this big cat, when I would move my finger he would go after it. One time I moved my finger all the way up to the top and he jumps up to get me, all four of his feet weren’t on the ground then he’d move to the side of the cage
S1: Then he came right back down, he was cute, he got me with his teeth one time though.
PEW: Right they like to chew on your fingers.
S1: Yea I hate cats.
PEW: Yea, baby dogs like to do that too, they like to chew.
S1: They won’t on your hand though.
PEW: Right, they’re cute though.
S1: Yea they are cute though.
(A lot of inaudible, can hear words and they’re talking about dogs)
PEW: cutie pie
S1: I’ll ask S2 if he wants to talk
PEW: Okay bud, well you have a good nights’ sleep okay?
PEW: I’ll see you day after tomorrow
S1: Okay, bye
PEW: Love you
The conversation closed with S2…
S2: Hi mom
S2: What is that? What is it? What is it called? (inaudible) Mom, the iguana?
S2: The iguana it’s (inaudible)
PEW: Yes and it also eats lettuce, lettuce and bananas
S2: I wanna, can I give him a banana when I come see you
PEW: Sure, yea
S2: A banana
PEW: Yep. So how you doing bud?
S2: do (inaudible) walk around a lot?
PEW: yea he does
S2: do you have a cage for him?
PEW: yea, you’re funny
“You’re funny.” Where have I seen that before?
PEW: Does he have a long neck?
S2: Did you say yes?
PEW: No he doesn’t have a long neck, he has a medium sized neck
S2: what does, I’ll ask S1, what else did he say?
PEW: the (inaudible) and the cage
S2: what else did he say
PEW: ahh I guess that’s it, he asked me a lot of questions
S2: Good bye I love you
PEW: Oh you’re done?
PEW: I love you baby
PEW: You’re a good boy I’ll see you soon okay
PEW: Night pumpkin
PEW: Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite
S2: Alright, bye
More interesting calls to come… there would be several more before she wises up and disallows any further recording of phone calls.
Does DSM-IV Have Equivalents for the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) Diagnosis?
Richard A. Gardner. M.D.
Department of Child Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
Child custody evaluators commonly find themselves confronted with resistance when they attempt to use the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in courts of law. Although convinced that the patient being evaluated suffers with the disorder, they often find that the attorneys who represent alienated parents, although agreeing with the diagnosis, will discourage use of the term in the evaluators’ reports and testimony. Most often, they will request that the evaluator merely use the term parental alienation (PA). On occasion they will ask whether other DSM-IV diagnoses may be applicable. The purpose of this article is to elucidate the reasons for the reluctance to use the PAS diagnosis and the applicability of PA as well as current DSM-IV substitute diagnoses.
Mental health professionals, family law attorneys, and judges are generally in agreement that in recent years we have seen a disorder in which one parent alienates the child against the other parent. This problem is especially common in the context of child-custody disputes where such programming enables the indoctrinating parent to gain leverage in the court of law. There is significant controversy, however, regarding the term to use for this phenomenon. In 1985 I introduced the term parental alienation syndrome to describe this phenomenon (Gardner, 1985a).
The Parental Alienation Syndrome
In association with this burgeoning of child-custody litigation, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the frequency of a disorder rarely seen previously, a disorder that I refer to as the parental alienation syndrome (PAS). In this disorder we see not only programming (“brainwashing”) of the child by one parent to denigrate the other parent, but self-created contributions by the child in support of the alienating parent’s campaign of denigration against the alienated parent. Because of the child’s contribution I did not consider the terms brainwashing, programming, or other equivalent words to be sufficient. Furthermore, I observed a cluster of symptoms that typically appear together, a cluster that warranted the designation syndrome. Accordingly, I introduced the term parental alienation syndrome to encompass the combination of these two contributing factors that contributed to the development of the syndrome (Gardner, 1985a). In accordance with this use of the term I suggest this definition of the parental alienation syndrome:
The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a childhood disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present, the child’s animosity may be justified and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the child’s hostility is not applicable.
It is important to note that indoctrinating a PAS into a child is a form of abuse—emotional abuse—because it can reasonably result in progressive attenuation of the psychological bond between the child and a loving parent. In many cases it can result in total destruction of that bond, with lifelong alienation. In some cases, then, it may be even worse than other forms of abuse, e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. A parent who demonstrates such reprehensible behavior has a serious parenting defect, their professions of exemplary parenting notwithstanding. Typically, they are so intent on destroying the bond between the child and the alienated parent that they blind themselves to the formidable psychological consequences on the child of their PAS indoctrinations, both at the time of the indoctrinations and in the future.
Most evaluators, family law attorneys, and judges recognize that such programming and child alienation is common in the context of child-custody disputes. They agree, also, that there are situations in which the child’s alienation is the result of parental programming. Some object to the use of the term syndrome and claim that it is not a syndrome, but that the term parental alienation (PA) should be used. The problem with the use of the term PA is that there are many reasons why a child might be alienated from parents, reasons having nothing to do with programming. A child might be alienated from a parent because of parental abuse of the child, e.g., physical, emotional, or sexual. A child might be alienated because of parental neglect. Children with conduct disorders are often alienated from their parents, and adolescents commonly go through phases of alienation. The PAS is well viewed as one subtype of parental alienation. Accordingly, substituting the term PA for PAS cannot but cause confusion.
Is the PAS a True Syndrome?
Some who prefer to use the term parental alienation (PA) claim that the PAS is not really a syndrome. This position is especially seen in courts of law in the context of child-custody disputes. A syndrome, by medical definition, is a cluster of symptoms, occurring together, that characterize a specific disease. The symptoms, although seemingly disparate, warrant being grouped together because of a common etiology or basic underlying cause. Furthermore, there is a consistency with regard to such a cluster in that most (if not all) of the symptoms appear together. The term syndrome is more specific than the related term disease. A disease is usually a more general term, because there can be many causes of a particular disease. For example, pneumonia is a disease, but there are many types of pneumonia—e.g., pneumococcal pneumonia and bronchopneumonia—each of which has more specific symptoms, and each of which could reasonably be considered a syndrome (although common usage may not utilize the term).
The syndrome has a purity because most (if not all) of the symptoms in the cluster predictably manifest themselves together as a group. Often, the symptoms appear to be unrelated, but they actually are because they usually have a common etiology. An example would be Down’s Syndrome, which includes a host of seemingly disparate symptoms that do not appear to have a common link. These include mental retardation, Mongoloid faces, drooping lips, slanting eyes, short fifth finger, and atypical creases in the palms of the hands. Down’s Syndrome patients often look very much alike and most typically exhibit all these symptoms. The common etiology of these disparate symptoms relates to a specific chromosomal abnormality. It is this genetic factor that is responsible for linking together these seemingly disparate symptoms. There is then a primary, basic cause of Down’s Syndrome: a genetic abnormality.
Similarly, the PAS is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that usually appear together in the child, especially in the moderate and severe types. These include:
Typically, children who suffer with PAS will exhibit most (if not all) of these symptoms. However, in the mild cases one might not see all eight symptoms. When mild cases progress to moderate or severe, it is highly likely that most (if not all) of the symptoms will be present. This consistency results in PAS children resembling one another. It is because of these considerations that the PAS is a relatively “pure” diagnosis that can easily be made. Because of this purity, the PAS lends itself well to research studies because the population to be studied can usually be easily identified. Furthermore, I am confident that this purity will be verified by future interrater reliability studies. In contrast, children subsumed under the rubric PA are not likely to lend themselves well to research studies because of the wide variety of disorders to which it can refer, e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and defective parenting. As is true of other syndromes, there is in the PAS a specific underlying cause: programming by an alienating parent in conjunction with additional contributions by the programmed child. It is for these reasons that PAS is indeed a syndrome, and it is a syndrome by the best medical definition of the term.
In contrast, PA is not a syndrome and has no specific underlying cause. Nor do the proponents of the term PA claim that it is a syndrome. Actually, PA can be viewed as a group of syndromes, which share in common the phenomenon of the child’s alienation from a parent. To refer to PA as a group of syndromes would, by necessity, lead to the conclusion that the PAS is one of the syndromes subsumed under the PA rubric and would thereby weaken the argument of those who claim that PAS is not a syndrome.
The PAS and DSM-IV
There are some, especially adversaries in child-custody disputes, who claim that there is no such entity as the PAS. This position is especially likely to be taken by legal and mental health professionals who are supporting the position of someone who is clearly a PAS programmer. The main argument given to justify this position is that the PAS does not appear in DSM-IV. To say that PAS does not exist because it is not listed in DSM-IV is like saying in 1980 that AIDS (Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome) did not exist because it was not then listed in standard diagnostic medical textbooks. DSM-IV was published in 1994. From 1991 to 1993, when DSM committees were meeting to consider the inclusion of additional disorders, there were too few articles in the literature to warrant submission of the PAS for consideration. That is no longer the case. It is my understanding that committees will begin to meet for the next edition of the DSM (probably to be called DSM-V) in 2002 or 2003. Considering the fact that there are now at least 133 articles in peer-review journals on the PAS, it is highly likely that by that time there will be even more articles. (A list of peer-reviewed PAS articles is to be found on my website, www.rgardner.com/refs, a list that is continually being updated.)
It is important to note that DSM-IV does not frivolously accept every new proposal. Their requirements are very stringent with regard to the inclusion of newly described clinical entities. The committees require many years of research and numerous publications in peer-review scientific journals before considering the inclusion of a disorder, and justifiably so. Gille de La Tourette first described his syndrome in 1885. It was not until 1980, 95 years later, that the disorder found its way into the DSM. It is important to note that at that point, Tourette’s Syndrome became Tourette’s Disorder. Asperger first described his syndrome in 1957. It was not until 1994, 37 years later, that it was accepted into DSM-IV and Asperger’s Syndrome became Asperger’s Disorder.
DSM-IV states specifically that all disorders contained in the volume are “syndromes or patterns” (p. xxi), and they would not be there if they were not syndromes (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Once accepted, the name syndrome is changed to disorder. However, this is not automatically the pattern for nonpsychiatric disorders. Often the term syndrome becomes locked into the name and becomes so well known that changing the word syndrome to disorder would seem awkward. For example, Down’s syndrome, although well recognized, has never become Down’s disorder. Similarly, AIDS (Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome) is a well-recognized disease but still retains the syndrome term.
One of the most important (if not the most important) determinants as to whether a newly described disorder will be accepted into the DSM is the quantity and quality of research articles on the clinical entity, especially articles that have been published in peer-review journals. The committees are particularly interested in interrater reliability studies that will validate the relative “purity” of the disease entity being described. PAS lends itself well to such studies; PA does not. One of the first steps one must take when setting up a scientific study is to define and circumscribe the group(s) being studied. PAS lends itself well to such circumscription. PA is so diffuse and all-encompassing that no competent researcher would consider such a group to be a viable object of study. Whether one is going to study etiology, symptomatic manifestations, pathogenesis, treatment modalities, treatment efficacy, or conduct follow-up studies, one is more likely to obtain meaningful results if one starts with a discrete group (such as PAS) than if one starts with an amorphous group (such as PA). One of the major criticisms directed against many research projects is that the authors’ study group was not “pure” enough and/or well-selected enough to warrant the professed conclusions. Studies of PAS children are far less likely to justify this criticism than studies of PA children.
Whereas the PAS may ultimately be recognized in DSM-V, it is extremely unlikely that DSM committees will consider an entity referred to as parental alienation. It is too vague a term and covers such a wide variety of clinical phenomena that they could not justifiably be clumped together to warrant inclusion in DSM as a specific disorder. Because listing in the DSM ensures admissibility in courts of law, those who use the term PA instead of PAS are lessening the likelihood that PAS will be listed in DSM-V. The result will be that many PAS families will be deprived of the proper recognition they deserve in courts of law, which often depend heavily on the DSM.
Recognition of the PAS in Courts of Law
Some who hesitate to use the term PAS claim that it has not been accepted in courts of law. This is not so. Although there are certainly judges who have not recognized the PAS, there is no question that courts of law with increasing rapidity are recognizing the disorder. My website (www.rgardner.com/refs) currently cites 66 cases in which the PAS has been recognized. By the time this article is published, the number of citations will certainly be greater. Furthermore, I am certain that there are other citations that have not been brought to my attention.
It is important to note that on January 30, 2001, after a two-day hearing devoted to whether the PAS satisfied Frye Test criteria for admissibility in a court of law, a Tampa, Florida court ruled that the PAS had gained enough acceptance in the scientific community to be admissible in a court of law (Kilgore v. Boyd, 2001). This ruling was subsequently affirmed by the District Court of Appeals (February 6, 2001). In the course of my testimony, I brought to the court’s attention the more than 100 peer-reviewed articles (there are 133 at the time of this writing) by approximately 150 other authors and over 40 court rulings (there are 66 at the time of this writing) in which the PAS had been recognized. These lists of the PAS peer-reviewed articles and legal citations are frequently updated on my website (www.rgardner.com). I am certain that these publications played an important role in the judge’s decision. This case will clearly serve as a precedent and facilitate the admission of the PAS in other cases—not only in Florida, but elsewhere.
Whereas there are some courts of law that have not recognized PAS, there are far fewer courts that have not recognized PA. This is one of the important arguments given by those who prefer the term PA. They do not risk an opposing attorney claiming that PA does not exist or that courts of law have not recognized it. There are some evaluators who recognize that children are indeed suffering with a PAS, but studiously avoid using the term in their reports and courtroom, because they fear that their testimony will not be admissible. Accordingly, they use PA, which is much safer, because they are protected from the criticisms so commonly directed at those who use PAS. Later in this article I will detail the reasons why I consider this position injudicious.
Many of those who espouse PA claim not to be concerned with the fact that their more general construct will be less useful in courts of law. Their primary interest, they profess, is the expansion of knowledge about children’s alienation from parents. Considering the fact that the PAS is primarily (if not exclusively) a product of the adversary system, and considering the fact that PAS symptoms are directly proportionate to the intensity of the parental litigation, and considering the fact that the court that has more power than the therapist to alleviate and even cure the disorder, PA proponents who claim no concern for the long-term legal implications of their position are injudicious and, I suspect, their claims of unconcern are specious.
Sources of the Controversy Over the Parental Alienation Syndrome
There are some who claim that because there is such controversy swirling around the PAS, there must be something specious about the existence of the disorder. Those who discount the PAS entirely because it is “controversial” sidestep the real issues, namely, what specifically has engendered the controversy, and, more importantly, is the PAS formulation reasonable and valid? The fact that something is controversial does not invalidate it. But why do we have such controversy over the PAS? With regard to whether PAS exists, we generally do not see such controversy regarding most other clinical entities in psychiatry. Examiners may have different opinions regarding the etiology and treatment of a particular psychiatric disorder, but there is usually some consensus about its existence. And this should especially be the case for a relatively “pure” disorder such as the PAS, a disorder that is easily diagnosable because of the similarity of the children’s symptoms when one compares one family with another. Why, then, should there be such controversy over whether or not PAS exists?
The PAS and the Adversary System
The PAS is very much a product of the adversary system (Gardner, 1985a, 1986, 1987a, 1987b, 1989, 1992, 1998). Furthermore, a court of law is generally the place where clients attempt to resolve the PAS. Most newly developed scientific principles inevitably become controversial when they are dealt with in the courtroom. It behooves the attorneys — when working within the adversary system — to take an adversarial stand and create controversy where it may not exist. In that setting, it behooves one side to take just the opposite position from the other if one is to prevail. Furthermore, it behooves each attorney to attempt to discredit the experts of the opposing counsel. A good example of this phenomenon is the way in which DNA testing was dealt with in the OJ Simpson trial. DNA testing is one of the most scientifically valid procedures for identifying perpetrators. Yet the jury saw fit to question the validity of such evidence, and DNA became, for that trial, controversial. I strongly suspect that those jury members who concluded that DNA evidence was not scientifically valid for OJ Simpson would have vehemently fought for its admissibility if they themselves were being tried for a crime, which they did not commit. I am certain, as well, that any man in that jury who found himself falsely accused of paternity would be quite eager to accept DNA proof of his innocence.
The Denial of the PAS is the Primary Defense of the Alienator
A parent accused of inducing a PAS in a child is likely to engage the services of a lawyer who may invoke the argument that there is no such thing as a PAS. The reasoning goes like this: “If there is no such thing as the PAS, then there is no programmer, and therefore my client cannot be accused of brainwashing the children.” This is an extremely important point, and I cannot emphasize it strongly enough. It is a central element in the controversy over the PAS, a controversy that has been played out in courtrooms not only in the United States but in various other countries as well. And if the allegedly dubious lawyer can demonstrate that the PAS is not listed in DSM-IV, then the position is considered “proven” (I say “allegedly” because the lawyer may well recognize the PAS but is only serving his client by his deceitfulness). The only thing this proves is that in 1994 DSM-IV did not list the PAS. The lawyers hope, however, that the judge will be taken in by this specious argument and will then conclude that if there is no PAS, there is no programming, and so the client is thereby exonerated. Substituting the term PA circumvents this problem. No alienator is identified, the sources are vaguer, and the causes could lie with the mother, the father, or both. The drawback here is that the evaluator may not provide the court with proper information about the cause of the children’s alienation. It lessens the likelihood, then, that the court will have the proper data with which to make its recommendations.
Which Term to Use in the Courtroom: PA or PAS?
Many examiners, then, even those who recognize the existence of the PAS, may consciously and deliberately choose to use the term parental alienation in the courtroom. Their argument may go along these lines: “I fully recognize that there is such a disease as the PAS. I have seen many such cases and it is a widespread phenomenon. However, if I mention PAS in my report, I expose myself to criticism in the courtroom such as, ‘It doesn’t exist,’ ‘It’s not in DSM-IV’ etc. Therefore, I just use PA, and no one denies that.” I can recognize the attractiveness of this argument, but I have serious reservations about this way of dealing with the controversy—especially in a court of law.
Using PA is basically a terrible disservice to the PAS family because the cause of the children’s alienation is not properly identified. It is also a compromise in one’s obligation to the court, which is to provide accurate and useful information so that the court will be in the best position to make a proper ruling. Using PA is an abrogation of this responsibility; using PAS is in the service of fulfilling this obligation.
Furthermore, evaluators who use PA instead of PAS are losing sight of the fact that they are impeding the general acceptance of the term in the courtroom. This is a disservice to the legal system, because it deprives the legal network of the more specific PAS diagnosis that could be more helpful to courts for dealing with such families. Moreover, using the PA term is shortsighted because it lessens the likelihood that some future edition of DSM will recognize the subtype of PA that we call PAS. This not only has diagnostic implications, but even more importantly, therapeutic implications. The diagnoses included in the DSM serve as a foundation for treatment. The symptoms listed therein serve as guidelines for therapeutic interventions and goals. Insurance companies (who are always quick to look for reasons to deny coverage) strictly refrain from providing coverage for any disorder not listed in the DSM. Accordingly, PAS families cannot expect to be covered for treatment. I describe below additional diagnoses that are applicable to the PAS, diagnoses that justify requests for insurance coverage. Examiners in both the mental health and legal professions who genuinely recognize the PAS, but who refrain from using the term until it appears in DSM, are lessening the likelihood that it will ultimately be included, because widespread utilization is one of the criteria that DSM committees consider. Such restraint, therefore, is an abrogation of their responsibility to contribute to the enhancement of knowledge in their professions.
There is, however, a compromise. I use PAS in all those reports in which I consider the diagnosis justified. I also use the PAS term throughout my testimony. However, I sometimes make comments along these lines, both in my reports and in my testimony:
Although I have used the term PAS, the important questions for the court are: Are these children alienated? What is the cause of the alienation? and What can we then do about it? So if one wants to just use the term PA, one has learned something. But we haven’t really learned very much, because everyone involved in this case knows well that the children have been alienated. The question is what is the cause of the children’s alienation? In this case the alienation is caused by the mother’s (father’s) programming and something must be done about protecting the children from the programming. That is the central issue for this court in this case, and it is more important than whether one is going to call the disorder PA or PAS, even though I strongly prefer the PAS term for the reasons already given.
In addition, if the court does not wish to recognize the PAS diagnosis there are other DSM-IV diagnoses that are very much applicable in this case. For the alienating father (mother) the following diagnoses are warranted: (the examiner can select from the list provided in the next section of this article). For the PAS child the following DSM-IV diagnoses are warranted: (the examiner can select from the list provided in the next section of this article). With regard to the alienated parent, the mother (father), no DSM-IV diagnosis is warranted. (However, a DSM-IV diagnosis may be warranted, but generally it is not related to the PAS as the symptoms have not played a role in contributing to the disorder).
I wish to emphasize that I do not routinely include this compromise, because whenever I do so, I recognize that I am providing support for those who are injudiciously eschewing the term and compromising thereby their professional obligations to their clients and the court.
Warshak (1999, 2001), has also addressed the PA vs. PAS controversy. He emphasizes the point that espousers of both PA and PAS agree that in the severe cases the only hope for the victimized children is significant restriction of the programmer’s access to the children and, in many cases, custodial transfer—sometimes via a transitional site. Warshak concludes that the arguments for the utilization for PAS outweigh the arguments for the utilization of PA, although he has more sympathy for the PA position than do I. Elsewhere, I have also addressed myself to this issue (Gardner, 2002).
DSM-IV Diagnoses Related to the Parental Alienation Syndrome
Examiners writing reports for and testifying in courts of law can generally find diagnoses in DSM-IV that are immune to the argument, “It doesn’t exist because it’s not in DSM-IV.” These diagnoses are not identical to the PAS, but they have common elements that can justify their utilization. None of them, however, are identical to the PAS and cannot be used as substitutes for it. I present here those that are most applicable and potentially useful in courts of law.
Diagnoses Applicable to Both Alienating Parents and PAS Childrem
297.3 Shared Psychotic Disorder
This DSM-IV diagnosis is warranted in some of the severe PAS cases in which the programmer is paranoid, and the child’s campaign of denigration incorporates the same paranoid ideation. In a sense, most of the moderate, and even some of the mild cases of PAS, are examples of the folie à deux phenomenon. However, one cannot justifiably consider the mild and moderate cases of PAS to warrant the label psychotic with the implication of complete break with reality. In severe cases we do see bona fide delusions of persecution that can justifiably be considered paranoid. Most often, the delusional system is circumscribed to the alienated parent. It is important to note that this single diagnosis can be applied to both the alienator and the alienated child.
V61.20 Parent-Child Relational Problem
This category should be used when the focus of clinical attention is a pattern of interaction between parent and child (e.g., impaired communication, overprotection, inadequate discipline) that is associated with clinically significant impairment in individual or family functioning or the development of clinically significant symptoms in parent or child.
This diagnosis generally applies to a dyad. Obviously, there are a wide variety of parent-child relational problems that have nothing to do with PAS. In fact, it is reasonable to state that parent-child relational problems probably began with the first families that existed. This diagnosis is an excellent example of the aforementioned principle that none of the DSM-IV diagnoses described here can be reasonably substituted for the PAS. Rather, they are best viewed as disorders that have some symptoms in common with the PAS and may therefore justify being listed as additional diagnoses.
In the PAS situation there is a pathological dyad between the alienating parent and the child and another pathological dyad between the alienated parent and the child. The pathological dyad between the alienated parent and the child is one in which the child is being programmed into a campaign of denigration against the previously loving parent. The child is being programmed to exhibit any and all of the primary symptomatic manifestations of the PAS. With regard to the relationship between the child and the alienated parent, the child exhibits inordinate hostility, denigration, and fear of the target parent to the point where that parent is viewed as noxious and loathsome. Examiners using this criterion do well to emphasize that two separate parent-child relational problems are manifested.
Diagnoses Applicable to Alienating Parents
297.71 Delusional Disorder
Of the various subtypes of delusional disorder, the one that is most applicable to the PAS:
Persecutory Type: delusions that the person (or someone to whom the person is close) is being malevolently treated in some way
This diagnosis is generally applicable to the PAS indoctrinator who may initially recognize that the complaints about the behavior of the alienated parent are conscious and deliberate fabrications. However, over time, the fabrications may become delusions, actually believed by the programming parent. And the same process may ultimately be applicable to the child. Specifically, at first the child may recognize that the professions of hatred are feigned and serve to ingratiate the child to the programmer. However, over time the child may come to actually believe what were originally conscious and deliberate fabrications. When that point is reached the delusional disorder diagnosis is applicable to the child. Generally, this diagnosis is applicable to relentless programmers who are obsessed with their hatred of the victim parent, by which time the child will have probably entered the severe level of PAS. It is to be noted that when the PAS is present, most often one observes a circumscribed delusional system, confined almost exclusively to the alienated parent. This diagnosis may also be applicable to the PAS child, especially the child who is in the severe category.
301.0 Paranoid Personality Disorder
PAS programmers who warrant this diagnosis would often satisfy these criteria before the marital separation. A detailed history from the victim parent as well as collaterals may be important because the programming parent is not likely to directly reveal such symptoms. They may, however, reveal them in the course of the evaluation, because they are such deep-seated traits, and are so deeply embedded in their personality structure, that they cannot be hidden. Most people involved in protracted child-custody litigation become “a little paranoid,” and this is often revealed by elevations on the paranoid scale of the MMPI. After all, there are indeed people who are speaking behind the patient’s back, are plotting against them, and are developing schemes and strategies with opposing lawyers. This reality results in an elevation of the paranoid scale in people who would not have manifested such elevations prior to the onset of the litigation. We see here how adversarial proceedings intensify psychopathology in general (Gardner, 1986), and in this case, paranoid psychopathology especially. The PAS child is less likely to warrant this diagnosis. When the severe level is reached PAS children may warrant the aforementioned Shared Psychotic Disorder diagnosis. On occasion, the diagnosis Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type (295.30) is warranted for the programming parent, but such patients generally exhibited other manifestations of schizophrenia, especially prior to the separation. It goes beyond the purposes of this paper to detail the marital symptoms of schizophrenia which should be investigated if the examiner has reason to believe that this diagnosis may be applicable.
It is important for the examiner to appreciate that there is a continuum from delusional disorder, to paranoid personality disorder, to paranoid schizophrenia. Furthermore, in the course of protracted litigation, a patient may move along the track from the milder to a more severe disorder on this continuum.
301.83 Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
Note:Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
- a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
- identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
- impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
Note Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
- recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
- affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g. intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
- chronic feelings of emptiness
- inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
- transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
Some alienators may exhibit some of these symptoms prior to the separation. However, as a result of the stresses of the separation, the symptoms may progress to the point where the diagnosis is applicable. Criterion (1) is likely to be exhibited soon after the separation because the marital dissolution is generally associated with real feelings of abandonment. Criterion (2) is often seen when there is a dramatic shift from idealization of the spouse to extreme devaluation. The campaign of denigration is the best example of this manifestation of BPD.
Criterion (4) may manifest itself by excessive spending, especially when such spending causes significant stress and grief to the alienated parent. Following the separation, alienating parents may satisfy Criterion (6) with affect instability, irritability, and intense episodic dysphoria. Although such reactions are common among most people involved in a divorce, especially when litigating the divorce, patients with BPD exhibit these symptoms to an even greater degree. Chronic feelings of emptiness (Criterion ) go beyond those that are generally felt by people following a separation. Criterion (8) is extremely common among PAS programmers. The tirades of anger against the alienated parent serve as a model for the child and contribute to the development of the campaign of denigration. The stress-related paranoia, an intensification of the usual suspiciousness exhibited by people involved in litigation, may reach the point that Criterion (9) is satisfied.
The examiner should note which of the symptoms are present and comment: “Five criteria need to be satisfied for the BPD diagnosis. Ms. X satisfies four. Although she does not qualify for the diagnosis at this point, she is at high risk for its development. Furthermore, when one lists diagnoses at the end of the report one might note the DSM-IV diagnosis and add in parenthesis “incipient.”
301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- requires excessive admiration
- has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
My experience has been that most PAS indoctrinators do not satisfy enough criteria (five) to warrant this diagnosis. However, many do exhibit three or four of them, which is worthy of the examiner’s attention and should be noted in the report.
Criterion (5) is especially common in PAS indoctrinators. They act as if court orders have absolutely nothing to do with them, even though their names may be specifically spelled out in the ruling. Unfortunately, they often violate these orders with impunity because courts are typically lax with regard to implementing punitive measures for PAS contemnors. As mentioned in other publications of mine (Gardner, 1998; 2001), the failure of courts to take action against PAS programmers is one of the most common reasons why the symptoms become entrenched in the children.
Criterion (6) is often frequently satisfied by the programmer’s ongoing attempts to extract ever more money from the victim parent, but feels little need to allow access to the children. There is no sense of shame or guilt over this common form of exploitation. The programmer’s lack of empathy and sympathy for the victim parent is quite common and easily satisfies Criterion (7). The PAS, by definition, is a disorder in which a programmer tries to destroy the bond between the children and a good, loving parent. In order to accomplish the goal, the alienator must have a serious deficiency in the ability to empathize with the target parent. Criterion (9) is often seen in that PAS indoctrinators are often haughty and arrogant and this symptom goes along with their sense of entitlement. Again, if warranted, the diagnosis can be listed as “incipient.”
DSM-IV Diagnoses Applicable to PAS Children
312.8 Conduct Disorder
This diagnosis is often applicable to the PAS child, especially in situations when the conduct disturbances are the most salient manifestation. Under such circumstances, an examiner who is not familiar with the PAS may erroneously conclude that this is the only diagnosis. Such a conclusion necessitates selective inattention to the programming process, which is the hallmark of the PAS. Once again, we see here how a diagnosis, although in DSM-IV, cannot be used as a substitute for the PAS, but may be used as an additional diagnosis. I will not list here all 15 of the DSM-IV criteria, but only those that are most applicable to the PAS:
Aggression to people and animals
- often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
- often initiates physical fights
- has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)
- has been physically cruel to animals
- has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery) Destruction of property
- has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage
- has deliberately destroyed others’ property (other than by fire setting)Deceitfulness or theft
- often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations (i.e., “cons” others)
- has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (e.g., shoplifting, but without breaking and entering; forgery)Serious violations of rules
- has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate home (or once without returning for a lengthy period
As can be seen, most of the 15 criteria for the conduct disorder diagnosis can be satisfied by PAS children, especially those in the severe category. The target parent is very much scapegoated and victimized by PAS children. In severe cases they are screamed at, intimidated, and sometimes physically assaulted with objects such as bats, bottles, and knives. The child may perpetrate acts of sabotage in the home of the victim parent. Destruction of property in that person’s home is common and, on rare occasion, even fire setting. Deceitfulness is common, especially fabrications facilitated and supported by the alienator. Stealing things, such as legal documents and important records, and bringing them to the home of the alienator is common. Running away from the home of the target parent and returning to the home of the alienator is common, especially in moderate and severe cases.
309.21 Separation Anxiety Disorder
I reproduce here those of the eight criteria that are applicable to the PAS:
1) recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated
4) persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of fear of separation
8) repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated
It is important for the reader to appreciate that the original diagnosis for separation anxiety disorder was school phobia. The term separation anxiety disorder is a relatively recent development emerging from the recognition that the child’s fear was less that of the school per se and much more related to the fear of separation from a parent, commonly an overprotective mother (Gardner, 1985b). DSM-IV recognizes this and doesn’t necessarily require the school to be the object of fear, but rather separation from the home, especially from someone with whom the child is pathologically attached.
It is important to note that the PAS child’s hatred of the victim parent has less to do with actual dislike of that parent and has much more to do with fear that if affection is displayed toward the target parent, the alienating parent will be angry at and rejecting of the child. At the prospect of going with the victim parent, the child may exhibit a wide variety of psychosomatic symptoms, all manifestations of the tension associated with the visit. The distress may be especially apparent when the alienating parent is at the site of the transfer. The child recognizes that expression of willingness or happiness to go off with the alienated parent might result in rejection by the alienator. The separation anxiety disorder diagnosis is most often applicable to the mild and moderate cases of PAS. In the severe cases, the anxiety element is less operative than the anger element.
When applying these criteria to the PAS child, one does well to substitute the PAS indoctrinating parent for the parent with whom the child is pathologically attached. At the same time one should substitute the alienated parent for the school or other place outside the child’s home. When one does this, one can see how most of the aforementioned criteria apply. When the child with a separation anxiety disorder is fearful of leaving the home to go to many destinations, the school is the destination the child most fears. It is there that the child feels imprisoned. In contrast, PAS children generally fear only the target parent and are not afraid to leave the programming parent and go elsewhere, such as to the homes of friends and relatives. In short, the PAS child’s fear is focused on the alienated parent. In contrast, the child with a separation anxiety disorder has fears that focus on school but which have spread to many other situations and destinations.
300.15 Dissociative Disorder
Not Otherwise Specified
This category is included for disorders in which the predominant feature is a dissociative symptom (i.e., a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment) that does not meet the criteria for any specific Dissociative Disorder. Examples include:
- States of dissociation that occur in individuals who have been subjected to periods of prolonged and coercive persuasion (e.g., brainwashing, thought reform, or indoctrination while captive).
Of the four categories of dissociative disorder (NOS), only Category 3 is applicable to the PAS. This criterion was designed for people who have been subjected to cult indoctrinations or for military prisoners subjected to brainwashing designed to convert their loyalty from their homeland to the enemy that has imprisoned them. It is very applicable to PAS children, especially those in the severe category. Such children have been programmed to convert their loyalty from a loving parent to the brainwashing parent exclusively. Cult victims and those subjected to prisoner indoctrinations often appear to be in a trance-like state in which they profess their indoctrinations in litany-like fashion. PAS children as well (especially those in the severe category) are often like robots or automatons in the way in which they profess the campaign of denigration in litany-like fashion. They seem to be in an altered state of consciousness when doing so.
The following subtypes of adjustment disorders are sometimes applicable to PAS children:
309.0 With Depressed Mood.
309.24 With Anxiety.
309.28 With Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood.
309.3 With Disturbance of Conduct.
309.4 With Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct
Each of these types of adjustment disorders may be applicable to the PAS child. The child is indeed adjusting to a situation in which one parent is trying to convince the youngster that a previously loving, dedicated, and loyal parent has really been noxious, loathsome, and dangerous. The programmed data does not seem to coincide with what the child has experienced. This produces confusion. The child fears that any expression of affection for the target parent will result in rejection by the alienator. Under such circumstances, the child may respond with anxiety, depression, and disturbances of conduct.
313.9 Disorder of Infancy, Childhood or Adolescence Not Otherwise Specified
This category is a residual category for disorders with onset in infancy, childhood, or adolescence that do not meet criteria for any specific order in the Classification.
This would be a “last resort” diagnosis for the PAS child, the child who, although suffering with a PAS, does not have symptoms that warrant other DSM-IV childhood diagnoses. However, if one still feels the need to use a DSM-IV diagnosis, especially if the report will be compromised without one, then this last-resort diagnosis can justifiably be utilized. However, it is so vague that it says absolutely nothing other than that the person who is suffering with this disorder is a child. I do not recommend its utilization because of its weakness and because it provides practically no new information to the court.
DSM-IV Diagnoses Applicable to Alienated Parents
In most PAS cases, a diagnosis is not warranted for the alienated parent. On occasion that parent does warrant a DSM-IV diagnosis, but its applicability usually antedated the separation and usually has not played a role in the PAS development or promulgation. As mentioned elsewhere (Gardner, 2001), the primary problem I have seen with alienated parents is their passivity. They are afraid to implement traditional disciplinary and punitive measures with their children, lest they alienate them even further. And they are afraid to criticize the alienator because of the risk that such criticism will be reported to the court and compromise even further their position in the child-custody litigation. Generally, their passivity is not so deep-seated that they would warrant DSM-IV diagnoses such as avoidant personality disorder (301.82) or dependent personality disorder (301.6), because such passivity does not extend into other areas of life and did not antedate the marital separation. One could argue that they have an adjustment disorder, but there is no DSM diagnosis called “adjustment disorder, with passivity.” Accordingly, I will often state for alienated parents, “No Axis 1 diagnosis.”
If, indeed, the alienated parent did suffer with a psychiatric disorder that contributed to the alienation, then this should be noted. Certainly, there are situations in which the alienated parent’s psychiatric disorder is so profound that it is the primary cause of the children’s alienation. In such cases, the PAS diagnosis is not warranted. Under such circumstances, this disorder should be described instead as the cause of the children’s alienation.
Final Comments About Alternative DSM-IV Diagnoses for the PAS
As mentioned, the primary reason for using these diagnoses is that the PAS, at this point, is not recognized in some courts of law. They cannot be used as substitute diagnoses for the PAS, but sometimes share in common some of the symptoms. Accordingly, they can be used as additional diagnoses. It is too early to expect widespread recognition because it was not feasible for the PAS to have been placed in the 1994 edition, so few were the publications on the disorder when the preparatory committees were meeting. This will certainly not be the case when the committees meet in the next few years for the preparation of DSM-V, which is scheduled for publication in 2010. None of the aforementioned substitute diagnoses are fully applicable to the PAS; however, as mentioned, each one has certain characteristics which overlap the PAS diagnosis. Because no combination of these alternative diagnoses can properly replace the PAS, they should be used in addition to rather than instead of the PAS. There is hardly a diagnosis in DSM-IV that does not share symptoms in common with other diagnoses. There is significant overlap and often fluidity in DSM diagnoses. None are “pure,” but some are purer than others, and the PAS is one of the purer ones.
At this point, examiners who conclude that PAS is an applicable diagnosis do well to list it in the appropriate place(s) in their reports (especially at the end). At the same time, they do well to list any DSM-IV diagnoses that are applicable for the alienator, the alienated child, and (if warranted) for the alienated parent. Accordingly, even if the court will not recognize the PAS diagnosis, it will have a more difficult time ignoring these alternative DSM diagnoses.
Controversies are likely when a new disorder is first described. This is predictable. The PAS, however, has probably generated more controversy than most new diagnostic contributions. The primary reason for this is that the PAS is very much a product of the adversary legal system that adjudicates child-custody disputes. Under such circumstances, it behooves opposing attorneys to discredit the contribution and to find every argument possible for obstructing its admission into courts of law. And this is what happened with the PAS. The purpose of this article has been to help evaluators involved in such disputes understand better the nature of the controversy and to deal with it in the context of the present legal situation. Like all compromises, the solution is not perfect. None of the additional diagnoses are identical to the PAS, but they do serve a purpose in a court of law in that they are established psychiatric diagnoses that are applicable to PAS alienators, PAS children, and (on occasion) the alienated parent. Ultimately, if PAS is admitted into DSM-V, the main argument for its inadmissibility in courts of law will no longer be applicable and the need for listing these additional diagnoses in courts of law will be reduced.
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Boyd v. Kilgore, 773 So. 2d 546 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000) (Prohibition Denied)
Kilgore v. Boyd, 13th Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, FL., Case No. 94-7573, 733 So. 2d 546 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000) Jan 30, 2001
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©2002 Richard A. Gardner, M.D.