WHAT IS PAS?
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the systematic denigration of one parent by the other with the intent of alienating the child against the other parent. The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the father. It is often practiced because custodial parents are advised by their attorneys how they can effectively deny or restrict visitation to achieve other desired goals in the divorce litigation. The alienation usually extends to the family and friends of the non-custodial parent as well.
(Before reading the following quote from Dr. Richard Gardner, an authority on PAS, please understand that his references to “mothers” and “fathers” could be interchangeable. I did not write the book, he did. But his point is important, even if he was insensitive at the time he wrote it to how mothers can be victims and fathers can be perpetrators, too.)
Dr. Richard Gardner in his book ‘The Parental Alienation Syndrome’ states (P.74) “Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own. They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognize the importance of such involvement, yet such a mother’s every act indicates otherwise. Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mothers guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions. Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers. The child will usually appreciate that “the truth” is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer – couched as “the truth” – which will protect them from their mother’s anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers. It is important for the reader to appreciate that after a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth any more and come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved.”
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Nearly every community has some experience of it. There are cases where children as young as two years old ‘claim’ not to want to see their father again, and cases where all children of a family will all decide that they do not wish to see their father again. (Again, the same could be said of families in which children declare their desire to not see their Mom, if Dad is the one they live with.) It comes up to some degree in virtually every case where one parent is attempting to get or extend contact, and most appeals will include aspects of PAS being a factor in the stopping or disruption of access.
WHY IS IT SO COMMON?
It is a very effective legal device for achieving what is effectively sole custody, even when the court has ruled otherwise. There are two reasons for this. First the Children Act of 1989 took more consideration of ‘the child’s wishes’, and secondly most Child Support agencies separate the issues of court orders for maintenance and contact.
A parent who stops or disrupts contact ‘defined by a court order’ is actually in contempt of court, and in some states may be fined or jailed. However, there are very few cases of this actually happening because the courts will state “it is of no benefit to the child for the custodial parent to be punished.” And while it does mean that he or she may be repeatedly brought back to court for being obstructive, it is the non-custodial parent who usually ends up paying the legal fees because the custodial parent claims to be without the funds.
To avoid being held in contempt the custodial parent will state “The child does not wish to see the other parent”. A Court Welfare Officer (who is either ignorant of or untrained how to recognize PAS) will then interview the child and usually echo the child’s statement that it does not wish to see the other parent. The ‘child’s wishes’ will then be taken into consideration and the court will stop the other parent’s contact. The custodial parent will have prevailed and the non-custodial parent will have lost contact, probably for several years until the child is old enough to become independent of the parent they lived with growing up. In some cases the child will eventually return to the other parent, but it is often too little, too late and the lost years of relationship cannot be recovered. Interviews with adults who have been through this experience as children make the common statement that ‘they did not know how to cope with the situation, so they avoided their other parent rather than hate him or her’.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
One thing we can do is the stated goal of this Facebook group: work together to make PA a crime in family courts from coast-to-coast. Presumably, this group will bring together many people from diverse backgrounds and regions who can pool resources and information for everyone’s benefit. Twenty years ago, the media coined the term “deadbeat dad” to raise public awareness about the plight of single moms who cannot collect the child support they are owed. However, nobody has ever published the studies that illustrate the high percentage of cases in which support is withheld as a counter-measure to visitation interference and PAS behavior. As we have learned much in recent decades about how to treat behavioral diseases like alcoholism, we have work to do to protect children and non-custodial parents from the damaging effects of PAS behavior. When the day comes that PAS behavior is considered child-abuse, we will know we have succeeded.