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Parental Alienation Syndrome: How to Detect It and What to Do About It

In Alienation of Affection, Best Interest of the Child, Child Custody, Children and Domestic Violence, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, Department of Social Servies, Domestic Relations, Domestic Violence, False Allegations of Domestic Violence, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, mothers rights, Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Parental Kidnapping, Parental Relocation, parental rights, Parental Rights Amendment, Parents rights, Protective Dads, Protective Parents, Restraining Orders on November 6, 2009 at 1:45 am

by J. Michael Bone and Michael R. Walsh
THE FLORIDA BAR JOURNAL, VOL. 73, No. 3, MARCH 1999, p 44-48

Although parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a familiar term, there is still a great deal of confusion and unclarity about its nature, dimensions, and, therefore, its detection.(1) Its presence, however, is unmistakable. In a longitudinal study of 700 “high conflict” divorce cases followed over 12 years, it was concluded that elements of PAS are present in the vast majority of the samples.(2) Diagnosis of PAS is reserved for mental health professionals who come to the court in the form of expert witnesses.

Diagnostic hallmarks usually are couched in clinical terms that remain vague and open to interpretation and, therefore. susceptible to argument pro and con by opposing experts. The phenomenon of one parent turning the child against the other parent is not a complicated concept, but historically it has been difficult to identify clearly.

Consequently, cases involving PAS are heavily litigated, filled with accusations and counter accusations, and thus leave the court with an endless search for details that eventually evaporate into nothing other than rank hearsay. It is our experience that the PAS phenomenon leaves a trail that can be identified more effectively by removing the accusation hysteria, and looking ahead in another positive direction.

For the purpose of this article the authors are assuming a fair degree of familiarity with parental alienation syndrome on the part of the reader.(3) There are many good writings on PAS which the reader may wish to consult now or in the future for general information. Our focus here is much more narrow. Specifically, the goal is twofold. First we will describe four very specific criteria that can be used to identify potential PAS.

In most instances, these criteria can be identified through the facts of the case, but also can be revealed by deposition or court testimony. Secondly, we wish to introduce the concept of “attempted” PAS; that is when the criteria of PAS are present, but the child is not successfully alienated from the absent parent. This phenomenon is still quite harmful and the fact of children not being alienated should not be viewed as neutral by the court.

Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood.

The criteria described below are fairly easy to identify separate and apart from the court file. When there is uncertainty about any of them, these criteria can be used to guide the attorney in the deposing of witnesses as well as in their examination in court.

Criteria I: Access and Contact Blocking

Criteria I involves the active blocking of access or contact between the child and the absent parent. The rationale used to justify it may well take many different forms. One of the most common is that of protection. It may be argued that the absent parent’s parental judgment is inferior and, therefore, the child is much worse off from the visit. In extreme cases, this will take the form of allegations of child abuse, quite often sexual abuse.

This will be addressed in more detail in Criteria II, but suffice it to say that often this is heard as a reason for visitation to be suspended or even terminated. On a more subtle and common level, an argument heard for the blocking of visitation is that seeing the absent parent is “unsettling” to the child, and that they need time “to adjust.” The message here is that the absent parent is treated less like a key family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the child must see at times. Over time, this pattern can have a seriously erosive effect on the child’s relationship with the absent parent. An even more subtle expression of this is that the visitation is “inconvenient,” thereby relegating it to the status of an errand or chore. Again the result is the erosion of the relationship between the child and the absent or “target” parent. One phenomenon often seen in this context is that any deviation from the schedule is used as a reason to cancel visitation entirely.

The common thread to all of these tactics is that one parent is superior and the other is not and, therefore, should be peripheral to the child’s life. The alienating parent in these circumstances is acting inappropriately as a gatekeeper for the child to see the absent parent. When this occurs for periods of substantial time, the child is given the unspoken but clear message that one parent is senior to the other. Younger children are more vulnerable to this message and tend to take it uncritically; however, one can always detect elements of it echoed even into the teenage years. The important concept here is that each parent is given the responsibility to promote a positive relationship with the other parent. When this principle is violated in the context of blocking access on a consistent basis, one can assume that Criteria I has been, unmistakably identified.

Criteria II: Unfounded Abuse Allegations

The second criteria is related to false or unfounded accusations of abuse against the absent parent. The most strident expression of this is the false accusation of sexual abuse.(4) It has been well studied that the incident of false allegations of sexual abuse account for over half of those reported, when the parents are divorcing or are in conflict over some post dissolution issue.(5)

This is especially the situation with small children who are more vulnerable to the manipulations implied by such false allegations. When the record shows that even one report of such abuse is ruled as unfounded, the interviewer is well advised to look for other expressions of false accusations.

Other examples of this might be found in allegations of physical abuse that investigators later rule as being unfounded. Interestingly our experience has been that there are fewer false allegations of physical abuse than of other forms of abuse, presumably because physical abuse leaves visible evidence. It is, of course, much easier to falsely accuse someone of something that leaves no physical sign and has no third party witnesses.

A much more common expression of this pattern would be that of what would be termed emotional abuse. When false allegations of emotional abuse are leveled, one often finds that what is present is actually differing parental judgment that is being framed as “abusive” by the absent parent.

For example, one parent may let a child stay up later at night than the other parent would, and this scheduling might be termed as being “abusive” or “detrimental” to the child. Or one parent might introduce a new “significant other” to the child before the other parent believes that they should and this might also be called “abusive” to the child. Alternatively one parent might enroll a child in an activity with which the other parent disagrees and this activity is, in actuality, a difference of parental opinion that is now described as being abusive in nature. These examples, as trivial as they seem individually, may be suggestive of a theme of treating parental difference in inappropriately subjective judgmental terms. If this theme is present, all manner of things can be described in ways that convey the message of abuse, either directly or indirectly. When this phenomenon occurs in literally thousands of different ways and times, each of which seems insignificant on its own, the emotional atmosphere that it creates carries a clearly alienating effect on the child.

Obviously, this type of acrimony is very common in dissolution actions but such conflict should not necessarily be mistaken or be taken as illustrative of the PAS syndrome; however, the criteria is clearly present and identifiable when the parent is eager to hurl abuse allegations, rather than being cautious, careful. and even reluctant to do so. This latter stance is more in keeping with the parent’s responsibility to encourage and affirmatively support a relationship with the other parent. The responsible parent will only allege abuse after he or she has tried and failed to rationalize why the issue at hand is not abusive. Simply put, the responsible parent will give the other parent the benefit of the doubt when such allegations arise. He or she will, if anything, err on the side of denial, whereas the alienating parent will not miss an opportunity to accuse the other parent. When this theme is present in a clear and consistent way, this criteria for PAS is met.

Criteria III: Deterioration in Relationship Since Separation

The third of the criteria necessary for the detection of PAS is probably the least described or identified, but critically is one of the most important. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor children and the now absent or nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a substantial deterioration, of it since then. Such a recognized decline does not occur on its own. It is, therefore, one of the most important indicators of the presence of alienation as well. as a full measure of its relative “success.” By way of example, if a father had a good and involved relationship with the children prior to the separation, and a very distant one since, then one can only assume without explicit proof to the contrary that something caused it to change. If this father is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with the children through observance of visitation and other activities and the children do not want to see him or have him involved in their lives, then one can only speculate that an alienation process may have been in operation. Children do not naturally lose interest in and become distant from their nonresidential parent simply by virtue of the absence of that parent. Also, healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. They must be attacked. Therefore, any dramatic change in this area is virtually always an indicator of an alienation process that has had some success in the past.

Most notably, if a careful evaluation of the pre-separation parental relationship is not made, its omission creates an impression that the troubled or even alienated status that exists since is more or lees an accurate summary of what existed previously. Note that nothing could be further from the truth! An alienated or even partially or intermittently alienated relationship with the nonresidential parent and the children after the separation is more accurately a distortion of the real parental relationship in question. Its follow-through is often overlooked in the hysterical atmosphere that is often present in these cases. A careful practitioner well knows that a close examination is warranted and that it must be conducted with the utmost detail and scrutiny.

If this piece of the puzzle is left out, the consequences can be quite devastating for the survival of this relationship. Also, without this component, the court can be easily swayed into premature closure or fooled into thinking that the turmoil of the separation environment is representative of the true parent-child relationship. Once this ruling is made by the court, it is an exacting challenge to correct its perception.

In a separate but related issue, a word should be said about the use of experts. First, it must be understood that all mental health professionals are not aware of nor know how to treat the PAS phenomenon. In fact, when a mental health professional unfamiliar with PAS is called upon to make a recommendation about custody, access, or related issues, he or she potentially can do more harm than good. For example, if the psychologist fails to investigate the pre-separation relationship of the nonresidential parent and the children, he or she may very easily mistake the current acrimony in that relationship to be representative of it, and recommend that the children should have less visitation with that parent, obviously supporting the undiagnosed PAS that is still in progress. If that expert also fails to evaluate critically the abuse claims or the agenda of the claimant, they may be taken at face value and again potentially support the undiagnosed PAS. If that professional is not also sensitive to the subtleties of access and contact blocking as its motivator, he or she may potentially support it, thereby contributing to the PAS process. When these things occur, the mental health professional expert has actually become part of the PAS, albeit unwittingly. Alarmingly, this happens often. Suffice it to say, if PAS is suspected, the attorney should closely and carefully evaluate the mental health professional’s investigation and conclusion. Failure to do so can cause irreparable harm to the case, and, ultimately to the children.

Criteria IV: Intense Fear Reaction by Children

The fourth criteria necessary for the detection of PAS is admittedly more psychological than the first three. It refers to an obvious fear reaction on the part of the children, of displeasing or disagreeing with the potentially alienating parent in regard to the absent or potential target parent. Simply put, an alienating parent operates by the adage, “My way or the highway.” If the children disobey this directive, especially in expressing positive approval of the absent parent, the consequences can be very serious. It is not uncommon for an alienating parent to reject the child(ren), often telling him or her that they should go live with the target parent. When this does occur one often sees that this threat is not carried out, yet it operates more as a message of constant warning. The child, in effect, is put into a position of being the alienating parent’s “agent” and is continually being put through various loyalty tests. The important issue here is that the alienating patent thus forces the child to choose parents. This, of course, is in direct opposition to a child’s emotional well being.

In order to fully appreciate this scenario, one must realize that the PAS process operates in a “fear based” environment. It is the installation of fear by the alienating parent to the minor children that is the fuel by which this pattern is driven; this fear taps into what psychoanalysis tell us is the most basic emotion inherent in human nature–the fear of abandonment. Children under these conditions live in a state of chronic upset and threat of reprisal. When the child does dare to defy the alienating parent, they quickly learn that there is a serious price to pay. Consequently, children who live such lives develop an acute sense of vigilance over displeasing the alienating parent. The sensitized observer can see this in visitation plans that suddenly change for no apparent reason. For example, when the appointed time approaches, the child suddenly changes his or her tune and begins to loudly protest a visit that was not previously complained about. It is in these instances that a court, once suspecting PAS must enforce in strict terms the visitation schedule which otherwise would not have occurred or would have been ignored.

The alienating parent can most often be found posturing bewilderment regarding the sudden change in their child’s feelings about the visit. In fact, the alienating parent often will appear to be the one supporting visitation. This scenario is a very common one in PAS families. It is standard because it encapsulates and exposes, if only for an instant, the fear-based core of the alienation process. Another way to express this concept would be that whenever the child is given any significant choice in the visitation, he or she is put in the position to act out a loyalty to the alienating parent’s wishes by refusing to have the visitation at all with the absent parent. Failure to do so opens the door for that child’s being abandoned by the parent with whom the child lives the vast majority of the time. Children, under these circumstances, will simply not opt on their own far a free choice. The court must thus act expeditiously to protect them and employ a host of specific and available remedies.(6)

As a consequence of the foregoing, these children learn to manipulate. Children often play one parent against the other in an effort to gain some advantage. In the case of PAS, the same dynamic operates at more desperate level. No longer manipulating to gain advantage, these children learn to manipulate just to survive. They become expert beyond their years at reading the emotional environment, telling partial truths, and then telling out-and-out lies. One must, however, remember that these are survival strategies that they were forced to learn in order to keep peace at home and avoid emotional attack by the residential parent. Given this understanding, it is perhaps easier to see why children, in an effort to cope with this situation, often find it easier if they begin to internalize the alienating parent’s perceptions of the absent parent and begin to echo these feelings. This is one of the most compelling and dramatic effects of PAS, that is, hearing a child vilifying the absent parent and joining the alienating parent in such attacks. If one is not sensitive to the “fear-based” core at the heart of this, it is difficult not to take the child’s protests at face value. This, of course, is compounded when the expert is also not sensitive to this powerful fear component, and believes that the child is voicing his or her own inner feelings in endorsing the “no visitation” plan.


All the criteria listed above can be found independent of each other in highly contested dissolutions, but remember that the appearance of some of them does not always constitute PAS. When all four are clearly present, however, add the possibility of real abuse has been reasonably ruled out, the parental alienation process is operative. This does not necessarily mean, however, that it is succeeding in that the children are being successfully alienated from the target parent. The best predictor of successful alienation is directly related to the success of the alienating parent at keeping the children from the target parent. When there are substantial periods in which they do not see the other parent, the children are more likely to be poisoned by the process. Another variable that predicts success is the child’s age. Younger children generally are more vulnerable than older ones. Also, another variable is the depth and degree of involvement of the pre-separation parent-child relationship. The longer and more involved that relationship, the less vulnerable will be the children to successful alienation. The final predictor is the parental tenacity of the target parent. A targeted parent often gives up and walks away, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.

The question remains: What if all four criteria are present, but the children are not successfully alienated? Should this failure at alienation be seen as nullifying the attempt at alienation? The answer to that should be a resounding “No!” It should be, but often it is not. It is very common to read a psychological evaluation or a GAL’s report that identified PAS but then notes that since it was not successful, it should not be taken very seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any attempt at alienating the children from the other parent should be seen as a direct and willful violation of one of the prime duties of parenthood, which is to promote and encourage a positive and loving relationship with the other parent, and the concept of shared parental responsibility.

It is our feeling that when attempted PAS has been identified, successful or not, it must be dealt with swiftly by the court. If it is not, it will contaminate and quietly control all other parenting issues and then lead only to unhappiness, frustration, and, lastly, parental estrangement.

1 PAS syndrome applies and relates equally to the nonresidential, as well as the residential parent. D.C. Rand, The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome. 15 Am. J. Forensic Psychol. No. 3 (1997).

2 S.S. Clawar and B.V. Rivlin, Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children, A.B.A. (1991).

3 M. Walsh and J.M. Bone. Parental Alienation Syndrome: An Age-Old Custody Problem, 71 Fla. B.J. 93 (June 1997).

4 N. Theonnee and P.G. Tjaden, The Extent, Nature and Validity of Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody Visitation Disputes, 12 Child Abuse and Neglect 151-63 (1990).

5 National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Washington, D.C.: Department of Health and Human Services, 2998, Contract 105-85-1702.

6 The appointment of a guardian ad litem, the appointment of an expert to conduct a psychological evaluation of the child and the parents, the employment of make-up or substitute access and contact, or an enlargement of same to the nonresidential parent, and as previously suggested by the authors in their last article, a consideration for entry of a multidirectional order. Walsh and Bone, supra note .3

J. Michael Bone, Ph.D., is a sole practice psychotherapist and certified family law mediator in Maitland. He concentrates in divorce and post-divorce issues involving minor children, and has a special interest in PAS. He has served as on expert witness on these and related topics and has been appointed by the court to make recommendations involving PAS and families.

Michael R. Walsh is a sole practitioner in Orlando. He is a board certified marital and family law lawyer, certified mediator and arbitrator, and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. For more than 20 years, he has been a frequent lecturer and author for The Florida Bar.

This column is submitted on behalf of the Family Law Section, Jane L. Estreicher, chair, and Sharon O. Taylor, editor.

The original article can be found here: http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/walsh99.htm

Parental rights are first | HeraldTribune.com | Sarasota Florida | Southwest Florida’s Information Leader

In Best Interest of the Child, Civil Rights, education on September 4, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Parental rights are first

Published: Friday, September 4, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 8:24 p.m.

Regarding the article “GOP objects to Obama’s student speech”:

I actually laughed out loud when I read the statement from Rita Ferrandino, the chairman of the Sarasota Democratic Party, who said that parents should be teaching children to respect the presidency. (Excuse me! Where was this attitude less than a year ago?)

This comes from the announcement that next Tuesday Obama will make the first national address directed to students via the Internet. The message is supposed to stress the importance of education, and, of course, the Department of Education is on board. Some parents are concerned, and have every right to be.

Ferrandino goes on to say, “Parents imposing their views on their children around the president’s being able to speak to them sends a very disturbing message and one frankly that I, as an American, am embarrassed by.” The disturbing message that should be embarrassing (not to mention un-American) is the notion that imposing Obama’s views on children takes precedence over a parent’s views.

Change people can believe in. Well, things are certainly changing and not for the better.

Audrey Lanczki


All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Parental rights are first | HeraldTribune.com | Sarasota Florida | Southwest Florida’s Information Leader.

Bayh, Davis Introduce Legislation to Promote Healthy Families, Active Fatherhood

In Best Interest of the Child, Child Custody, Child Support, children legal status, children's behaviour, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, CPS, Department of Social Servies, Divorce, Domestic Relations, family court, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, Freedom, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Marriage, motherlessness, mothers rights, National Parents Day, Non-custodial fathers, Non-custodial mothers, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Parental Kidnapping, Parental Relocation, Parental Rights Amendment, Parentectomy, Parents rights, Restraining Orders, Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, state crimes, Title Iv-D on June 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm
June 19, 2009

Bayh, Davis Introduce Legislation to Promote Healthy Families, Active Fatherhood

Washington—With one in three children in the United States living apart from their biological fathers, Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL) are renewing their efforts to promote healthy families and support American fathers who are trying to earn a livable wage and take a more active role in the lives of their children.

Bayh today introduced his Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009, a bill cosponsored by then-Senator Barack Obama in the last Congress. Bayh’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) and Roland Burris (D-IL).

Davis today introduced companion legislation in the House called the Julia Carson Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009, in honor of Representative Julia Carson, the late Indianapolis congresswoman who championed fatherhood reform throughout her long career.

“It is a sad and sobering fact that one out of every three kids in America will wake up this Father’s Day without their father present,” Bayh said. “Conceiving a child doesn’t make you a man, but raising one responsibly does. Unfortunately, absentee fathers have become a national epidemic. The result is that millions of American children are more likely to struggle in school and have emotional and behavioral problems.”

“The absence of fathers or a father figure often contributes to negative behavior in children and disrupts the normal pattern of social and emotional development,” Davis said. “In many instances it also limits the child’s ability to have necessary economic resources with which to feel secure.”

In the last 40 years, the number of children without fathers in America has more than quadrupled, from five million in 1960 to more than 24 million today.  Nearly 30 percent of children in fatherless households have not seen their fathers in the past year, and only 40 percent have had contact with their father once or more in the last month.

Studies show that children without fathers in their lives are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They also are more likely to have behavioral problems, to run away from home, and to become teenage parents themselves. The bills offered by Bayh and Davis seek to support fathers trying to do the right thing and take steps to collect child support from non-custodial parents shirking their parental responsibilities.

Bayh added, “Our government spends $100 billion a year to deal with the fallout of absent fathers. The government can’t pass a law to make men good dads, but we can support local programs that specialize in job training, career counseling and financial literacy to help those men who embrace their parental responsibility and are trying to earn a livable wage to do right by their kids. I am glad President Obama is starting a national conversation to draw public attention to the critical role that fathers play in raising responsible, healthy adults.”

The legislation offered by Bayh and Davis will:

  • Fund job training programs and community partnerships to help parents find employment;
  • Fund financial literacy programs and budgeting education, employment services, and mediation and conflict resolution for low-income parents;
  • Ensure that child support payments to families do not count as income and result in loss of food stamps;
  • Restore cuts in federal child support enforcement funding to help state and local governments collect $13 billion in additional payments for single parents;
  • Require states to send 100 percent of all child support payments to the single parent within five years, rather than letting states take a portion of money for administrative costs;
  • Prohibit unfair and unequal treatment of two-parent families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), ensuring the state work participation standard is the same for all families;
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to increase the incentive for full-time work and fulfillment of child support obligations; and,
  • Fund programs designed to protect the families who have been affected by domestic violence.

Senator Bayh and Congressman Davis will attend a White House event today with President Obama to honor America’s fathers and urge men to play more active and constructive roles in their children’s lives.


Senator Evan Bayh — Senator for Indiana: News – Press Release.


In adoption abuse, California Parental Rights Amendment, child trafficking, children legal status, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, CPS, cps fraud, deadbeat dads, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, federal crimes, Foster CAre Abuse, judicial corruption, mothers rights, National Parents Day, Obama, parental alienation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, Parental Rights Amendment, Parents rights, state crimes on April 24, 2009 at 5:00 am

Considerations for an Intervention Model

by Anita Vestal
FAMILY AND CONCILIATION COURTS REVIEW, Vol. 37, No. 4, October, 1999, p. 487-503

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a term that originated in the mid-1980s, refers to a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with viewing one parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. Conscious or unconscious words and actions of custodial parents cause the child(ren) to align with them in rejection of noncustodial parents during divorce or custody disputes. Issues of concern for mediators include detection of PAS and an understanding of appropriate remedial plans that will allow the child to restore his or her relationship with the noncustodial parent.

An area of growing demand and concern for family mediators is in the minefields of child custody litigation. With no-fault divorce, and a standard for determining custody in light of the child’s best interests, judges are besieged with a backlog of disputed custody cases without clear and concrete guidelines to follow in deciding whether to favor the mother or the father. Many experts in family law–from both the legal and mental health arenas-have observed an increase in deceptive and manipulative tactics used by divorcing couples. This article looks at parental alienation syndrome (PAS), which is a complex manifestation of mental and emotional abuse resulting from conflicted parents fighting for custody. Recommendations are given for a model that could be employed by family mediators to ensure that families suffering from PAS receive prompt and effective intervention.


The surge in divorce rates during the past two decades, along with major judicial reforms since the 1970s, has led to several significant changes in the ways that courts handle family law cases. Divorce and custody laws have been widely revised by states, and alternatives to litigation have emerged and gained prominence. Mediation has become a popular option, and in many states, mediation is mandatory for divorcing couples. Judicial systems in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were early experimenters with the concept of conciliation courts, where parents were encouraged to work out divorce and custody conflicts. In the past two decades, many states have introduced mandatory mediation of contested child custody.

There has been research that supports mediation as a positive intervention in custody disputes. Studies of custody cases in several large cities report that over one half (between 50% and 90%) of the cases are settled through mediation (Atkinson 1996). A large empirical evaluation of mediation services in three court-based programs showed generally high levels of user satisfaction according to the researchers (Pearson and Thoennes 1986). Both the Denver Mediation Project of the early 1980s and a study conducted in Toronto found mediation to be successful in keeping divorcing families out of court. The Toronto study compared couples that mediated custody with those that litigated without mediation; only 10% of mediated couples returned to the courtroom after 2 years with problems related to custody or visitation, whereas 26% of the non-mediated couples were back in court within 2 years (Herman 1990). These studies of divorcing couples did not focus exclusively on “highconflict” divorce situations.

Herman (1990) challenges the suitability of mediation in some custody disputes. He asserts that the assumption that mediation will deter the bitterness, disappointment, and anger of divorcing couples and lead them toward cooperation, understanding, and tolerance has not been documented. “Even a highly skilled mediator cannot compensate for the sharp differences in sophistication and power that often exist between divorcing spouses” (p. 56). The issue of mandatory mediation of child custody cases has some outspoken critics. Carol Bruch, professor of family law at the University of California at Davis, publicly testified before the New York state legislature about her concerns that children are not best represented in mediation and women are often at a distinct disadvantage. She observes that there is no research evidence to support a claim that children whose parents mediate custody settlements do better than children of litigating parents. Furthermore, she points to her own experience with family law attorneys and mediators to support her assertion that the husband and his views are accorded more respect than the wife and her views (Herman 1990).

These conflicting viewpoints with regard to the pros and cons of mediation in child custody disputes indicate a need for additional research.


The foregoing section reviewed the historical context of mediation in child custody disputes and some of the research findings, both pro and con, relative to the suitability of mediation in custody cases. There are concerns that mediation may not work to the advantage of everyone concerned in all cases of contested custody. “In most divorce cases where there is animosity and conflict between the parents, there is some degree of brainwashing and programming (of children)” (Clawar and Rivlin 1991, 9). This brainwashing and programming may be relatively mild or it may be quite severe. It may be conscious or unconscious on the part of the parent(s). The parent’s conscious or unconscious disparaging of the separated spouse often leads to the phenomenon of PAS.

PAS refers to a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with viewing one parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. The bad parent is hated and verbally maligned, whereas the good parent is loved and idealized. Another hallmark of PAS is the false charging of child abuse, which comes about when one parent is intent upon driving away the other parent (Carper, et al. 1995). Cases in which PAS is suspected require a diagnosis from a mental health expert prior to being referred for mediation.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Richard Gardner originated the term PAS in the mid-1980s; however, the phenomenon was described in an earlier work by Wallerstein and Kelly (1980). They characterize an “alignment with one parent” that is a “divorce-specific relationship that occurs when a parent and one or more children join in a vigourous attack on the other parent” (p. 77). In parental alienation, one parent who has previously had a good relationship with the child becomes the object of hate and degradation by the child due to conscious or unconscious brainwashing by the other parent. Gardner (1992) claims that between 80% and 90% of all custody cases exhibit some form of PAS from mild to moderate to severe symptoms. This claim has not been supported by research, and many experts in the field feel it is an exaggeration of the proportions of the problem. Gardner, however, includes cases that he feels are relatively mild; these very mild cases will improve as soon as the custody decision has been made, according to Gardner. The issue of concern for mediators and court officials is that they may have difficulty recognizing PAS and could easily assume the “rejected” parent is indeed a poor parent and merits the child’s rejection when in fact researchers have shown the opposite is true.

Manifestations of PAS in children consist of eight elements described by Gardner (1992) (see Table 1).

Table 1
Common Characteristics of Children With Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

PAS Trait Description of Behavior
A campaign of denigration The child is obsessed with hatred of a parent. This denigration by the child often has the quality of a litany.
Weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation The child provides irrational and often ludicrous justifications for not wanting to be near the hated parent.
Lack of ambivalence All human relationships, including parent-child relationships, are ambivalent. In PAS, the children have no mixed feelings. The hated parent is all bad, and the loved parent is all good.
The “independent thinker” phenomenon Many children proudly state that their decision to reject the other parent is completely their own; they deny any contribution by the custodial parent.
Reflexive support of the loved parent in parental conflict Commonly, the children will accept as 100% valid the allegations of the loved parent against the hated one, even after seeing evidence that the loved parent was lying.
Absence of guilt The child shows total disregard for the hated parent’s feelings.
The presence of borrowed scenarios There is a rehearsed quality to the scenarios, and they often use language or phrases that are not commonly used by the child.
Spread of the animosity to the extended family of the hated parent The child rejects the network of relatives that previously provided numerous and important psychological gratifications.

Walsh and Bone (1997) refer to parents as the “alienating parent” and the “target parent.” Another terminology, used by Johnston and Roseby (1997), is “aligned parent” and “rejected parent.” Typically, the aligned parent has an agenda for turning the child against the other parent. The motive may include revenge, guilt, fear of loss of the child or loss of the role of primary parent, or the desire to have control or ownership over the child. The aligned parent may be jealous of the other parent, or desire to obtain leverage in the divorce settlement relative to property distribution, child support, or alimony. It may be that the aligned parent suffers from a past history of abandonment, alienation, physical or sexual abuse, or even loss of identity (Walsh and Bone 1997). These motives lead him or her to program the child to deny love for, or even deny the existence of, the target parent.

Johnston and Roseby (1997) offer a more sympathetic portrayal, describing the aligned parent as one who feels rejected, sad, and afraid of being alone as a result of an unwanted divorce. “Consequently these vulnerable people can become acutely or chronically distressed . . . and turn to their children for nurturance and companionship, as allies against the world and salve for their wounded self-esteem” (p. 198). He or she may project all the blame onto the divorcing spouse and view him or her as an incompetent parent. These parents feel self-righteous and compelled to protect their children from the other parent.

The rejected parent becomes the victim of false allegations and may feel frustrated and bewildered over the changes in the childs’s behavior. Although the allegations are grossly distorted, perhaps to the point of being obviously fabricated, nevertheless the child and the aligned parent appear to deeply believe them (Walsh and Bone 1997). Most PAS researchers have described the rejected parents as passive victims of the other parents’ vengeful rage; Johnston and Roseby (1997) depart from this view and characterize rejected parents as “often rather inept and unempathic with their youngsters” (p. 199). Based on their observations, the rejected parent may contribute to the continued alienation by a combination of counter-hostility and dogged pursuit of the child with telephone calls, letters, and appearances at the child’s activities. The argument that a rejected parent should not pursue the relationship may be in contradiction to conclusions made by Clawar and Rivlin (1991) in their 12-year study of 700 PAS cases. They concluded that it may prolong the alienation if a rejected parent loses contact. The longer there is little or no contact between a parent and a child, the more difficult the impact will be to overcome.

In their study of 16 PAS cases, Dunne and Hedrick (1994) found that PAS does not necessarily signify dysfunction in either the rejected parent or in the relationship between the child and rejected parent. Instead, they argue that PAS appears to be attributable to the pathology of the aligned parent and the unhealthy relationship between the aligned parent and the child. All of the aligned parents in their study experienced intense feelings of dysphoria, which were blamed on the former spouse; in addition, the aligned parents predominantly experienced intense narcissistic injuries. Clawar and Rivlin (1991) determined that brainwashing and programming are intensified the more the rejected parent succeeds in life after the separation (financial success, new and happy relationships, etc.).

The child is the most seriously affected victim of PAS. In her study of self-concept of children of divorce, Stoner-Moskowitz (1998) concluded that when the relationship with the rejected parent is abruptly halted, the child’s emotional development is stunted. The aligned parent’s programming creates confusion in the child as a result of internalizing distorted beliefs and perceptions. In an extensive longitudinal study, 40% of the children developed self-hatred and guilt because they were used as an ally in the war against the rejected parent (Clawar and Rivlin 1991). Often, the family has been torn by extremely divergent parenting styles and perhaps a history of parental conflict. Beneath their anger and challenging behavior is a pathetic longing for the rejected parent. “The children want to be rescued from their intolerable dilemma” (Johnston and Roseby 1997, 199).


When these types of cases are referred to mandatory court mediation, the scenarios can be quite difficult for a mediator to sort out. The child and aligned parent will appear to have a very close and loving bond, whereas the other parent (unknowingly) is accused of a long list of horrifying behaviors, which often includes quite credible, although fabricated and false, accusations of child abuse (Gardner 1992).

There are several issues of mediator competence that need to be examined. First, the question of detection of PAS presents itself as a dilemma for mediators who are not trained in mental health diagnostic procedures. Second, once PAS is suspected, detected, or diagnosed, should mediation proceed and, if so, under what circumstances? The education, training, and skills of the mediator obviously come into play when dealing with the highly deceptive and manipulative tactics of parents who have succeeded in programming their children. Mediators need training to understand and recognize the underlying motives for a parent’s refusal to promote accessibility between the child and the other parent. Some motives could be an avenging spouse who wants to punish or get even with the spouse who left him or her; the narcissist who regards custody as a way to prove his or her self-worth to the world after a failed marriage; or a lonely parent who seeks to control the children for fear of losing them, or from a need for emotional support from the children (Warshack 1992).

When divorcing couples voluntarily participate in mediation, there may be an assumption of their willingness to cooperate on a settlement for everyone’s best interests. It may be that PAS families come to mediation not voluntarily but rather as part of a court-ordered or mandatory mediation process. Unfortunately, if one of the parents is unreasonable or uncooperative, the mediation effort can easily be sabotaged (Turkat 1994).

There is a need for training to teach mediators how to detect and deal with PAS families; again, there is no research to date indicating that family mediators are trained in PAS. A thorough literature review for this article showed no such training procedures reported at the time of this writing, although there are several researchers who call for training to help all family intervenors deal effectively with brainwashing, programming, and alienation tactics by separated parents (Cartwright 1993; Clawar and Rivlin 1991; Dunne and Hedrick 1994; Gardner 1992; Hysjulien, Wood, and Benjamin 1994; Lund 1995; Turkat 1994; Walsh and Bone 1997). In their 1994 review of methods for child custody evaluation used in litigation and alternate dispute resolution, Hysjulien, Wood, and Benjamin (1994, 485) concluded that models for training competent evaluators or for educating attorneys and the judiciary about custody evaluation issues are lacking.


It is well documented in the literature on mediation that many perceive a successful mediation as one that produces an agreement (Umbreit 1995). Couple this success indicator with a growing trend for courts to encourage joint legal custody, and a mediator who is not aware of PAS could inadvertently cause negative consequences by attempting an agreement for joint custody. Joint or shared custody normally requires a very high degree of parental cooperation. When an inflexible parent encourages the child to have nothing to do with the other parent, he or she may not be capable of such cooperation. Research has shown that the best predictor that children will adjust well to their parents’ divorce is a low level of parental conflict (Regehr 1994). Unfortunately, joint custody in cases of parental alienation may enhance parent conflict, making the situation worse for the children. There are varying degrees of severity of PAS, and in severe cases the PAS dynamic may be so toxic that a relationship with both parents may not be possible, nor will it be in the child’s best interests (Dunne and Hedrick 1994).

Mediators and other professionals who work with the divorcing population need to be aware of the symptoms of PAS and the difficulties that these cases present. A failure to properly identify and intervene in the early stages of PAS cases may result in the aligned parent being given professional support, thus reinforcing the child’s need to maintain or expand complaints about the rejected parent (Dunne and Hedrick 1994). Saposnek (1998) recommends that mediators in these cases first determine the extent of alienation, putting the child on a continuum of (1) equal attachment, (2) affinity with one parent, (3) alignment with one parent, and (4) alienated from one parent. The continuum was obtained from training materials for seminars on parental alienation developed by Joan B. Kelly (Figure 1). For children who are pathologically alienated, an intensive therapeutic approach is necessary; without it, efforts at mediation are likely to fail (Saposnek 1998). Gardner (1992) suggests that professionals need to understand the therapeutic interventions necessary to treat and alleviate symptoms of PAS before any custody or visitation arrangement can succeed. PAS should be assessed from the perspective of how much the programming process is influencing the child, not on the basis of the aligned parent’s attempts to program (Gardner 1998).

Figure 1. Attachment/alienation continuum.
SOURCE: Developed by Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission. Figure 1

Another major ethical dilemma for a neutral mediator is how to deal with the dishonesty, deception, and unwillingness to cooperate on the part of an aligned parent. These parents can be very skillful at convincing the mediator of their sincerity and create a bias that could be harmful for the rejected parent and the child. Any agreement produced without mental health intervention for the family may only serve to prolong the PAS. In their study of over 700 cases of children who were brainwashed and/or programmed by one parent to hate the other parent, Clawar and Rivlin (1991) conclude that most parents who brainwashed or programmed their children extensively were “poor candidates for re-education and counseling. They were largely ‘other-blamers’ and took no responsibility for their damaging influence on their child” (p. 153).

Thus, mediators have several ethical dilemmas to resolve. Although we know that mediators strive to maintain impartiality and neutrality, many practitioners believe that it is impossible to attain complete impartiality, neutrality, or lack of bias when working with people (Taylor 1997). Regehr (1994) points out that the bias of mediators appears to have a large impact on the decisions reached by parents. Therefore, mediators need to face some tough questions: Who do they believe–the skillful and apparently sincere parent who has the love of the children or the parent who has been rejected by the children for a number of very convincing reasons? What should be done about the obvious power imbalance favoring the aligned parent? After all, the aligned parent has the children, they are well bonded and close to one another, so the court may favor leaving the children in that home when an understanding of PAS is lacking, which is often the case. How does the mediator build trust with a party who is intent on deception and manipulation? Walsh and Bone (1997) warn: “Make no mistake about it; individuals with PAS will and do lie. They leave out . . . pertinent details or they maneuver the facts in such a manner to create an entirely false impression” (p. 94). A study of the characteristics of children who refuse postdivorce visits revealed that the custodial parents of the refusers often exhibited psychopathology (Racusin 1994). Turkat’s (1994) study on visitation interference highlights the cooperation issue. “A parent who has continually interfered with visitation may state . . . that he or she will comply with the nonresidential parent’s visitation request. Immediately following the hearing, the custodial parent returns to the visitation interference pattern, knowing that months may go by before a return to court” (p. 741).


Mediation is an informal, but structured process in which one or more impartial third parties assist disputants in talking about the conflict and in negotiating a resolution to it that addresses the needs and interests of the parties. Mediators do not impose a settlement and participation in the process is usually voluntary. (Umbreit 1995, 24)

By definition, mediation is a voluntary process in which no one is compelled to participate or to reach an agreement. A notable exception to voluntary participation is mediation that is mandatory in many states’ judicial systems. The question is raised whether it is incongruent to require unwilling parties to participate in a process that is designed to be cooperative, interactive, and participatory. In a review of existing literature on mediation, it was concluded that there is a need for empirically sound methods for discriminating between couples who are ready for mediation and those who are not (Hysjulien, Wood, and Benjamin 1994).

Mediation should perhaps be bypassed in cases with severe PAS symptoms. Cartwright (1993) states that whereas negotiation is often a good solution in other forms of litigation, it tends not to be effective in cases of PAS. He asserts that

the lack of a swift, clear, forceful judgement is often perceived by the alienator as denoting approval of the alienating behavior. This tends to reinforce the behavior and renders a great disservice to both the child and the petitioning parent. . . . Courts must not fall victim to the alienator’s scheme of stalling for time in order to continue the program of vilification. (p. 211)

Palmer (1988) also recognizes the duty of judges to take a stronger stand with regard to aligned parents who try to alienate their children from the other parent.

Issues of abuse and violence are prevalent in custody disputes. It has been argued that mediation may not be appropriate for couples who have experienced domestic violence because it may place women and children at risk for ongoing intimidation (Hysjulien, Wood, and Benjamin 1994). The mediation process can and has allowed an abusive spouse to maintain control and domination with the sanction of the courts (Geffner and Pagelow 1990). A number of states now recognize the paradox of mediating in abusive relationships, and mediation is waived where parties allege domestic violence or child abuse (Bruch 1988 and Sun and Thomas 1987 [cited in Geffner and Pagelow 1990]). Although PAS has not been formally linked with domestic violence or spouse abuse cases, the issues of control, domination, and emotional abuse are present in both types of cases. PAS and child brainwashing are forms of child abuse (Clawar and Rivlin 1991; Gardner 1992; Herman 1990; Walsh and Bone 1997) and, as such, could fall under the same mediation precautions as other types of cases that exhibit violence and abuse.

One of the major strategies for protecting domestic violence cases from the limitations of mediation is to use a premediation screening process. Premediation screening is highly recommended by many practitioners in the field to determine which cases can be mediated and which cases are not suitable for mediation (Girdner 1990; Perry 1994; Chance and Gerencser 1996; Pearson 1997; Salem and Milne 1995; Thoennes, Salem, and Pearson 1994). Such a model could be adapted for PAS cases. Those cases that are severe may need the attention of the court immediately rather than delay the case waiting for a mediation process that is not likely to resolve the issue.


The question remains about whether mediation is an appropriate form of intervention in cases of PAS. Pearson and Thoennes (1986) contend that mediation will not transform hostile couples into cooperative ones and will not eliminate future conflict, but it is perceived to be a less damaging intervention than court. Murray (1999) agrees that “children of high-conflict divorce may benefit from the potentially harmful effects of the adversarial approach” (p. 94). Lund (1995, 315) believes that it is important to lower the overt conflict in PAS cases so that the children are not drawn into the parents’ conflicts. A mediator may be successful in helping inflexible custodial parents respond to changes in visitation schedules and other situations that require cooperative interaction between the parents.

Figure 2. Elements of parental alienation syndrome mediation model. Figure 2

Incorporating the issues raised in this article, a mediation model designed to intervene in custody disputes where PAS is suspected must address four areas of concern (Figure 2). The first area is the need for mental health expertise both to diagnose the underlying motives and extent of alienation and to prescribe appropriate therapeutic interventions prior to any agreement or decision on custody and visitation. Second, the mediation process would need the assurance that the court will take swift, clear judicial action when necessary to discourage tactics of stalling and deception by the aligned parent. The third component needs to balance the power discrepancy felt particularly by the rejected parent who has been isolated from the child’s life and love. The last and very critical element of a mediation model is a mechanism to manage the manipulative and deceptive behavior exhibited by the aligned parent, as well as an ongoing process to monitor cooperation with court orders or agreed-upon steps in the mediation process.

An additional critical element, which needs to precede the actual mediation process, is the determination of which PAS families are “ripe” for mediation. It is very possible that in mild to moderate cases of PAS, mediation could be effective for achieving a number of goals to help conflicted parents. However, in severe cases, the research cited herein indicates that negotiating with an aligned parent who exhibits serious psychopathology would be futile. Premediation screening could be used to determine which cases are suitable for mediation, which is also a recommendation for mediation of domestic violence cases advanced by a number of practitioners (Girdner 1990; Perry 1994; Chance and Gerencser 1996; Pearson 1997; Salem and Milne 1995; Thoennes, Salem, and Pearson 1994).

Intervention models that may be useful for PAS cases have been developed and proposed by various researchers. Four such models are referenced in this review, and selected elements from these models support the major areas of concern outlined above. The mediation models are (1) the American Association for Mediated Divorce (AAMD) (Herman 1990), (2) the Stepwise Mediation Process for Psychiatric Family Mediation and Evaluation Clinic at the University of Kentucky Medical Center (Miller and Veltkamp 1987), (3) a three-phase system of child custody dispute resolution proposed by Gardner (1992), and (4) the Remedial Plan described by Michael Walsh, a certified family lawyer, mediator, and arbitrator, and J. Michael Bone, a psychotherapist and certified family law mediator (Walsh and Bone 1997).

In the AAMD process, couples are first screened to determine their suitability for mediation, and their motivation and ability to negotiate with each other are assessed. Couples that seem appropriate and are willing to enter into the process sign a premediation agreement and begin sessions. Co-mediators are suggested by the AAMD (Herman 1990, 48). The concept of comediators representing each gender, and complementing one another’s expertise in mental health, legal background, and mediation skills, fits very well with the criteria established in this article for a useful mediation model.


The attachment/alienation continuum model (Figure 1) would be an excellent tool to determine the extensiveness of the child’s alienation from the noncustodial parent. After that determination is made, Gardner’s (1992, 313) concept of mediation could be initiated. He recommends that training programs be set up to ensure that only qualified mediators will be used. He envisions court-designated mental health clinics that would provide mediation services at a fee commensurate with the parents’ financial situation. Implicit in the stepwise mediation process is the fact that the process is conducted by professionals trained in psychiatry at the Child Psychiatry Clinic of the University of Kentucky Medical Center. In the stepwise model, it is first determined if reconciliation or mediation is possible. When mediation proves unsuccessful, there is a shift toward (psychiatric) evaluation (Miller and Veltkamp 1987). Warshack (1992, 221) also recommends that a professional with a background in child psychology would be preferable to an attorney-mediator in disputes involving children because such a mediator could better evaluate the children’s needs. Johnston and Roseby (1997) caution that children who have witnessed family violence may need to be treated for posttraumatic stress syndrome before relationship rebuilding can be expected to succeed. A well-developed premediation screening process to identify which cases require interventions prior to mediation could reduce the need for mediators to be highly skilled in child evaluative procedures.


Palmer (1988) and Walsh and Bone (1997) argue that successful intervention of PAS requires coordination by the court and all members of the legal and mental health community. The court-appointed psychologist initially identifies the causation factors and determines (1) the motives of all family members, (2) the defense functions of PAS in the family, and (3) the specific techniques and patterns involved. When the psychological evaluation is completed, it is forwarded to the court. At that point, the parents can attempt to negotiate a plan. If the conflict continues, the court must quickly intervene and use its authority (Walsh and Bone 1997).

Gardner (1992, 315) also recognizes the need for court intervention if mediation breaks down. Step two of his three-phase system proposes an arbitration panel consisting of two mental health professionals and one attorney who are empowered to subpoena evidence and interview witnesses. The arbitration panel would work within the court structure. Ideally, the decision of the arbitrators would be timely and clear and have the quality of a binding legal decision. It is certainly likely that arbitration would result in a more expedient decision than court litigation. Gardner’s recommended process, however, could be very expensive for either parents or taxpayers.


In PAS, the aligned parents seem to have power tipped in their favor. The children profess love for them and a desire to live with them. The court and legal and mental health professionals may initially be swayed by the child’s stated preference, particularly if he or she is an older and articulate child. After all, PAS is not widely recognized; there are relatively few individuals with sufficient expertise to diagnose PAS in the early stages. As Walsh and Bone (1997) point out, many therapists shy away from making a PAS diagnosis for fear of being wrong. Clawar and Rivlin (1991) agree, stating that many professionals know it exists but are frustrated with detecting it, objectifying it, and deciding what is best to do for the parents and children.

In its purest form, mediation is expected to be a neutral, impartial, and non-biased process; however, scholars and practitioners alike recognize that the mediator will have subjectivity and that subjectivity can influence the decision of the parents (Regehr 1994; Taylor 1997). To compensate for a natural tendency to favor the aligned parent, mediators must be well trained in detection, causation, underlying motives, and common patterns of deception that may be employed by the family members (including the children). Gardner (1992, 322) recommends that the mediators be trained in mental health, family law, and mediation skills. He believes training in intensive custody evaluations is also necessary. In addition, the natural gender difference can be addressed by using co-mediators of each gender.


The co-mediation team process advocated by the AAMD would consist of an impartial lawyer and an impartial mental health professional meeting with the divorcing couple. The model also uses a process to screen couples prior to mediation, as well as the premediation agreement mentioned earlier. The couple understand that they are working toward a three-part agreement: (1) part one reaffirms the need for both parents to be actively involved with their children after the divorce and the need for mutual cooperation toward this goal, (2) in part two, both parents agree how to share the duties of parenting and how to cooperate when decisions are made, (3) part three includes a foundation for agreement about financial issues and provides for future mediation should problems arise (Herman 1990, 48). Parties who cannot agree to this type of openness and cooperation would be screened out to bypass the option of mediating an agreement.

Additional provisions or ground rules could be addressed up front that specify unacceptable behaviors such as deceptions, fabrication, accusations, allegations, and the like. If the court is already in possession of a psychological evaluation that identifies PAS, the aligned parent may recognize that he or she needs to try to negotiate rather than stall. If the aligned parent is unwilling or incapable of cooperating, he or she may lose custody until he or she is emotionally fit to cooperate with the other parent. Although switching custody may seem like an unwise decision, it is the only recourse proven by various researchers to reverse the damaged relationship between the child and target parent in severe cases of parental alienation (Gardner 1992; Clawar and Rivlin 1991; Dunne and Hedrick 1994). The court must take the swift and forceful action necessary.


Some of the implicit assumptions of this article may lead the reader to assume that mediators are expected to be highly directive in leading parents to a custody decision. The role of the mediator is to honor self-determination, but it is common for parents in protracted disputes to be emotionally and financially drained and ready to settle for almost any reasonable suggestion made. For this and the reasons outlined in this article, mediating cases in which there is severe parental alienation is usually inappropriate. Unsuccessful mediation may prolong emotional damage to the family by delaying the kinds of intervention and treatment necessary to alleviate brainwashing and programming of the children. If PAS symptoms are present in even one half of Gardner’s (1992) estimate of 80% of custody cases, all family mediators dealing with custody cases need a thorough understanding of the challenges prevalent in PAS families.

In their 12-year research study of 700 to 1,000 cases of programmed and brainwashed children, which is published by the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association, Clawar and Rivlin (1991, 163-72) conclude that the legal system in most states is not currently adequate to protect children from this form of abuse. They also determined that 80% of the children wanted the brainwashing detected and terminated, and that there was often a substantial difference between a child’s expressed opinion and his or her real desires, needs, and behaviors.

An intervention model is needed that is appropriate to the capacity of the aligned parent to recognize and abstain from his or her programming tactics, which may be unconscious. A screening process could be used to determine which families are suitable for mediation and which cases require mental health intervention before parties can negotiate. Co-mediators need knowledge and skills that include mental health expertise, an understanding of child custody evaluation techniques, familiarity with the legal system, and communication/facilitation skills that promote building trust and cooperation between disputing parties. Additional skill development techniques are recommended to help professionals (1) detect PAS and methods to objectify it, (2) determine the extent of the psychological and emotional damage done, and (3) determine how to develop an appropriate remedial plan.

With regard to the question of whether PAS cases can be mediated, Ramona Buck, director of mediation services for the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Maryland, advises:

Mediating cases in which parental alienation syndrome is present is usually inappropriate. For one thing, mediating such cases may provide a platform for the accusing parent to continue to espouse his/her hurtful views which causes more pain to the other parent. Secondly, since one parent is framing the other parent as a villain, it is most unlikely that any agreement can be reached. Thirdly, since one parent is, in a sense, psychologically imbalanced, such a psychological problem in one parent is usually an indicator that a case is not appropriate for mediation.


Atkinson, J., and American Bar Association. 1996. Guide to family law. New York: Times Books.

Carper, D. L., N. J. Mietus, T. E. Shoemaker, and B. W. West. 1995. Understanding the law. Minneapolis, MN: West.

Cartwright, G. F. 1993. Expanding the parameters of parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy 21:205-15.

Chance, C. B., and A. E. Gerencser. 1996. Screening family mediation for domestic violence. Florida Bar Journal, April, 54-7.

Clawar, S.S., and B. V. Rivlin. 1991. Children held hostage: Dealing with programmed and brainwashed children. Chicago: American Bar Association.

Dunne, J., and M. Hedrick. 1994. The parental alienation syndrome: An analysis of sixteen selected cases. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 21:21-37.

Gardner, R. A. 1992. The parental alienation syndrome. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

——. 1998. Recommendations for dealing with parents who induce a parental alienation syndrome in their children. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 28 (3-4), 1-23.

Geffner, R., and M.D. Pagelow. 1990. Mediation and child custody issues in abusive relationships. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 8:151-9.

Girdner, L. K. 1990. Mediation triage: Screening for spouse abuse in divorce mediation. Mediation Quarterly 7:365-76.

Herman, S. 1990. Parent vs. parent. New York: Pantheon Books.

Hysjulien, C., B. Wood, and G. A. Benjamin. 1994. Child custody evaluations: A review of methods used in litigation and alternate dispute resolution. Family and Conciliation Courts Review 32:466-89.

Johnston, J. R., and V. Roseby. 1997. In the name of the child: A developmental approach to understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce. New York: Free Press.

Lund, M. 1995. A therapist’s view of parental alienation syndrome. Family and Conciliation Courts Review 33:308-16.

Miller, T. W., and L. J. Veltkamp. 1987. Disputed child custody: Strategies and issues in mediation. Bulletin of American Academy of Psychiatry Law 15 (1): 45-56.

Murray, K. 1999. When children refuse to visit parents. Family and Conciliation Courts Review 37 (1): 83-98.

Palmer, N. R. 1988. Legal recognition of the parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy 16:361-4.

Pearson, J. 1997. Mediating when domestic violence is a factor: Policies and practices in court-based divorce mediation programs. Mediation Quarterly 14:319-33.

Pearson, J., and N. Thoennes. 1986. Mediation in custody disputes. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 4:203-16.

Perry, L. 1994. Mediation and wife abuse: A review of the literature. Mediation Quarterly 11:313-25.

Racusin, R. J. 1994. Characteristics of families of children who refuse post-divorce visits. Journal of Clinical Psychology 50:792-802.

Regehr, C. 1994. The use of empowerment in child custody mediation: A feminist critique. Mediation Quarterly 11:361-71.

Salem, P., and A. Milne. 1995. Making mediation work in a domestic violence case. Family Advocate 17 (3): 34-8.

Saposnek, D. T. 1998. Mediating child custody disputes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stoner-Moskowitz, J. 1998. The effect of parental alienation syndrome and interparental conflict on the self concept of children of divorce. Ph.D. diss., Miami Institute of Psychology of the Caribbean Center for Advanced Studies. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 59:1919.

Taylor, A. 1997. Concepts of neutrality in family mediation: Contexts, ethics, influence and transformative process. Mediation Quarterly 14:215-35.

Thoennes, N., P. Salem, and J. Pearson. 1994. Mediation and domestic violence: Current policies and practices. Denver, CO: Center for Policy Research; Madison, WI: Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Turkat, I.D. 1994. Child visitation interference in divorce. Clinical Psychology Review 14:737-42.

Umbreit, M. S. 1995. Mediating interpersonal conflicts. West Concord, MN: CPI.

Wallerstein, J. S., and J. B. Kelly. 1980. Surviving the breakup: How children and parents cope with divorce. New York: Harper-Collins.

Walsh, M. R., and J. M. Bone. 1997. Parental alienation syndrome: An age old custody problem. Florida Bar Journal, June, 93-6.

Warshack, R. A. 1992. The custody revolution. New York: Poseidon Press.

Author’s Note: This article was selected as the winning entry in the 1998 Student Essay Contest of the American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution. The author appreciates the review and comments made by the following practitioners: Sean Byrne, John Lande, Ramona Buck, Marcia Abbo, Loree Cook-Daniels, and Susan H. Shearouse.

Anita Vestal is a doctoral student in dispute resolution at Nova Southeastern University. She has been recognized by the American Bar Association and the Association of Broward County Mediators for essays on the topic of parental alienation and mediation. She is the principal investigator of the PEACE Project, a research study on conflict resolution strategies for preschool children that is funded by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

The original article is located here: http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/vestal99.htm

Relocation as a Strategy to Interfere with the Child-Parent Relationship

In California Parental Rights Amendment, child trafficking, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, deadbeat dads, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, judicial corruption, mothers rights, Obama, parental alienation, Parents rights, state crimes on April 19, 2009 at 5:00 am

by IRA DANIEL TURKAT, PH.D., Venice, Florida

The custodial parent who seeks to relocate poses a special problem for the noncustodial parent opposed to such a move. Physical distance between the visiting parent and his or her offspring can become a serious impediment to their relationship. When a relocation effort is clearly in the best interest of the children, one is hard-pressed to interfere. However, when it is unclear as to whether relocation is in the best interest of the children, the court must wrestle with a difficult dilemma.

In certain cases, a custodial parent may seek to relocate as a way to interfere with the relationship between the children and the noncustodial parent. However, at times such a motive may remain fairly well concealed. Guidelines for assisting triers of fact in identifying interference-guided relocation efforts have yet to appear. This article provides a beginning set of potential indicators for identifying interference-motivated relocation efforts.


Divorce-related child visitation interference causes special problems for families, attorneys, and judges. It is difficult to manage.(1) When a custodial parent seeks to relocate to hurt the noncustodial parent, the family’s problems multiply significantly. However, from the viewpoint of this type of custodial parent, such a manipulation has obvious benefits.

First, relocation prevents the nonresidential parent who wants an active and ongoing relationship with his or her offspring from having it. A short drive to the former marital home is no longer available. Easy access to the child’s school is a thing of the past. The family pleasures of soccer games, gymnastics, school carnivals, and religious events are no longer easily experienced. The emotional enrichment provided by a full set of readily accessible parents is now denied the child.

Second, relocation of the custodial home increases the financial expenditures the nonresidential parent must incur to visit with his or her children. Short drives are replaced by long journeys. Hotel stays become a necessity. Phone bills increase significantly.

Third, after the relocation has occurred, if the noncustodial parent’s visitation is interfered with, legal recourse becomes more difficult. Jurisdiction becomes a battle. Interstate legal expenditures accrue. Discovery, trial preparation, and hearings become increasingly complicated in their practical and emotional aspects.

Finally, in certain cases of visitation interference,(2) denying exposure to the children becomes even more attractive to the custodial parent who has relocated. Before, the denied parent merely retreated to his or her home a short drive away; now, whenever the visitation interference takes place, he or she has absorbed a significant loss of money, effort, and time. The custodial parent with a sadistic predisposition in this regard(3) gains an additional sense of satisfaction.
It should be noted that each risk factor may operate independently or may coexist with other risk factors.

Given the above factors, the need to identify those custodial parents seeking relocation for malevolent purposes is obvious. Where appropriate and possible, such individuals should be stopped. To aid in the process, this author has approached the problem of identifying potential interference-based relocation efforts through a consideration of “risk factors.”


A risk factor is that which increases the likelihood that a particular problem may emerge. Cigarette smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Multiple partners is a risk factor for transmission of sexual disease. Prior bankruptcy is a risk factor for loan repayment

The presence of a risk factor does not mean that the problem one is concerned with will necessarily emerge. For example, some individuals may smoke cigarettes for a lifetime and never develop lung cancer. Similarly, a person who was forced to declare bankruptcy at one time may have no difficulty keeping up with a hefty mortgage at some point in the future. The presence of a risk factor merely means that the problem of interest has an increased likelihood of occurring. However, even when a risk factor is present, in certain cases the problem of concern may never appear.

The concept of risk factors provides a useful framework for approaching the difficulty imposed by relocation efforts aimed at disturbing the relationship between the noncustodial parent and his or her offspring. Specification of potential indicators for interference-guided relocation efforts can play a valuable role in dealing with such cases.


In a sophisticated field of science, risk factors are systematically studied for their utility. For example, the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer has been investigated extensively. However, the initial development of risk factor identification typically begins at the practitioner level. Such is the case with interference-based relocation efforts.

To this author’s knowledge, a list of potential risk factors for relocation as an interference strategy has yet to appear. Based on exposure to a multitude of clinical and legal cases, this discussion outlines several potential risk factors for identifying when a relocation effort is guided by a desire to interfere with the relationship between the noncustodial parent and his or her offspring.


Listed below are eight potential risk factors for identifying a custodial parent who desires to relocate based on an underlying motivation to interfere in the relationship between the nonresidential parent and his or her offspring:

1. a parent who threatens to relocate the children;
2. a parent with significant anger;
3. a parent who lies repeatedly;
4. a parent with a history of interfering with visitation;
5. a parent who has not been punished by the court for prior interference with visitation;
6. a parent with a history of willfully defying a court order;
7. a parent exhibiting parental alienation syndrome,(4) and
8. a parent exhibiting divorce-related malicious mother syndrome.(5)


Several issues emerge when considering the eight potential risk factors cited above. First, it should be noted that each risk factor may, operate independently or may coexist with other risk factors. For example, a parent with parental alienation syndrome may also be very angry at the nonresidential parent. Relatedly, a parent with a history of defying court orders may evidence none of the other risk factors; he or she may simply enjoy the impulsive thrill of violating rules (as occurs with certain personality disorders).(6)

Second, the time when a risk factor emerges may also vary. For example, in certain cases, before a petition for dissolution of marriage has been filed, the (eventual) primary residential parent may have threatened the (later to be) nonresidential parent with the possibility of moving the children away. Typically, this risk factor emerges when there is major conflict during the marriage. In other cases, however, such a threat may emerge only during the course of a custody battle or perhaps after the final divorce decree has been entered.
Certain risk factors may be present, but the intent to relocate may truly be based on the best interest of the child.

Third, the degree of risk factor intensity is important to consider. A parent may be angry with the other parent, but not enough to deprive that parent the opportunity to be involved in the daily life of their children. On the other hand, some parents may be so angry that the idea of not relocating would seem intolerable. Again, a risk factor may be present, but it does not guarantee that interference-motivated relocation will be attempted. In fact, an angry and psychologically disturbed parent may deliberately not relocate so that he or she can torment the other parent with regular episodes of visitation interference.

A fourth issue to consider is that certain risk factors may be present, but the intent to relocate may truly be based on the best interest of the child. For example, a parent who may have a history of repeated lying in the courtroom may also have a child who has developed a life-threatening medical condition. In such a case, relocation to a home near a specialized treatment facility may be necessary for the child’s survival.


Parents who attempt to relocate as a way to interfere with the relationship between the nonresidential parent and his or her offspring should not be permitted to do so. Too much is at stake. Unfortunately, relocation issues do not always appear in a cut-and-dried manner. Hopefully, the eight risk factors outlined herein will serve a useful role in the consideration of certain relocation issues. They await scientific inquiry.


1 Ira Daniel Turkat, Management of Visitation Interference, 36 Judge’s J. (forthcoming Feb. 1997).

2 Ira Daniel Turkat, Child Visitation Interference in Divorce, 14 Clin. Psychol. Rev. 737 (1994).

3 Ira Daniel Turkat, Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, 10 J. Fam. Violence 253 (1995).

4 Parental alienation syndrome was first described by Gardner in relation to a custodial parent who teaches his or her offspring to hold unjustified antagonistic beliefs and behaviors toward the nonresidential parent. R.A. Gardner, The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse (Creskill. N.J., Creative Therapeutics 1987); R.A. Gardner, Family Evaluation in Child Custody Mediation, Arbitration. and Litigation (Creskill, N.J., Creative Therapeutics 1989). Sec also Kenneth H. Waldron & David E. Joanis, Understanding and Collaboratively Treating Parental Alienation Syndrome, 10 Am. J. Fam. L. 121 (Fall 1996).

5 Divorce-related malicious mother syndrome was first described by this author regarding the custodial mother who aims to hurt her former marital partner through any means, including using the children as a tool for injury. Turkat, supra note 2, and Turkat, supra note 3.

6 Ira Daniel Turkat. The Personality Disorders (New York, Pergamon/Simon & Schuster 1990).

Dr. Ira Daniel Turkat maintains a clinical and consulting practice in Venice, Florida, is on the faculty Of the University of Florida College of Medicine, and is associate editor of the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, which is received in 25 countries throughout the world.

The original article can be found here: http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/turkat96.htm

Parental Alienation: Not In The Best Interest Of The Children

In California Parental Rights Amendment, child trafficking, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, CPS, deadbeat dads, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, federal crimes, Foster CAre Abuse, judicial corruption, mothers rights, National Parents Day, Obama, parental alienation, Parental Rights Amendment, Parents rights, state crimes on April 18, 2009 at 6:00 am

by Douglas Darnall
NORTH DAKOTA LAW REVIEW, Volume 75, 1999, p 323-364

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Douglas Darnall is a practicing licensed psychologist and the CEO of PsyCare, Inc., an outpatient psychiatric clinic in Youngstown, Ohio. He is the author of DIVORCE CASUALTIES: PROTECTING YOUR CHILDREN FROM PARENTAL ALIENATION (Taylor Publishing Company, 1998). In the following essay, Dr. Darnall, drawing largely from his book, discusses how attorneys and judges can serve clients by recognizing, dealing with, and seeking to stop and prevent parental alienation. Because the essay is based largely on Dr. Darnall’s book and because he is not a legal or academic professional, a bibliography of sources employed in his book appears at the end of the essay instead of traditional footnotes.


During the crisis of divorce, most parents fear whether their children will emerge unscathed. Any reasonable and empathetic parent sincerely believes in the value of his or her children having a healthy relationship with both parents. Ideally, parents deliberately work on comforting and reassuring the children that no harm will come to them. At the same time, both try to strengthen their parent-child relationships without degrading the other parent or causing the children to feel divided loyalty. They encourage visits, talk kindly of the other parent in the children’s presence, and set aside their own negative feelings to avoid causing the children distress. They are sensitive to the children’s needs and encourage positive feelings toward the other parent. This outcome is the goal of not only the parents and children, but also the attorneys and judge involved in the case.

However, any number of events can destroy the fragile balance of peace between parents. If this happens, an injured parent may seek comfort by aligning with the children, especially since be or she may feel threatened by the children’s love for the other parent. A pattern of alienation usually begins without any malicious or conscious intent to harm or destroy the relationship between the other parent and the children. Though most parents mean well, they are often unaware of how subtle behaviors and comments can hurt the relationship between the children and the targeted parent. In effect, alienation can occur in even the friendliest of divorces.

In unfriendly divorces, the effects are predictable. Custody litigation or struggles for parenting time creates unavoidable competition between parents. Children feel pulled in many directions as long as both parents want custody or feel they must fight for their fair share of time. Afraid of losing custody, a parent may feel an urgency to align with the children to help ensure victory. The other parent may retaliate with an insurgence of passion for winning their cause. They may have difficulty accepting that they must compete against each other to prove to the court that making them the custodial parent is in the children’s best interest. The struggle between two passionate parents is a byproduct of modern-day divorce, and it sets the stage for alienation.

Alienation will continue as long as divorces — and custody battles — continue to increase at alarming rates. More fathers are becoming more comfortable in a nurturing and caretaking role and no longer adhere to the belief that they are genetically predisposed to be the inferior parent, and as a result they are seeking and being granted custody. Therefore, courts no longer automatically assume children are better off living with their mother. Meanwhile, mothers are realizing that the all-American dream of marriage, a home, and children is not a guarantee of emotional fulfillment. Many women now want an identity in both the workplace and the home. The high costs of living and supporting a family force women to work outside the home even when their children are very young. Consequently, women can no longer argue for custody because of an inherent birthright or ability to care for the children at home.

After the attorneys are gone and the case is closed, the parents must somehow pick up the pieces and establish a working relationship for the children’s best interest. The issue for attorneys and the court is what they see as their role and responsibility for setting the stage in helping families to repair damaged relationships. Attorneys who take an active role in educating clients about parental alienation, parental alienation syndrome and where to get help if needed can help families get on with their lives with some semblance of harmony. While attorneys and judges should not become therapists, they can help set the stage for parents to work together in harmony by educating divorcing parents during litigation about parental alienation and how such behavior impacts the children.


In 1994, approximately 2.4 million Americans obtained divorces, including the parents of more than one million children under the age of eighteen. Nearly as many unmarried couples with children will separate. Thanks to sky-high divorce rates and recent increases in the number and viciousness of child custody battles, there has been a marked increase in parental alienation. Children suffer from a breakup because they are torn, trapped, precariously balanced, as if one wrong move could cost them all their parents’ love and acceptance. This can easily lead to disastrous effects on children. Various studies show that youngsters exposed to even mildly alienating behaviors may have trouble learning, concentrating, relaxing, or getting along with their peers. They have been known to develop physical symptoms and/or serious behavior problems. Clearly then, parental alienation can be a major factor in the pain of divorce.


There has been a lot of confusion about the definitions of parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. For purposes of this essay, parental alienation is any constellation of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious, that could evoke a disturbance in the relationship between a child and the targeted parent.

This definition is not the same as Dr. Richard Gardner’s definition of parental alienation syndrome, which he coined in his 1987 work, “The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse.” Gardner defined parental alienation syndrome as “a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated.” Dr. Gardner explained the term is similar in meaning to brainwashing, except the motivation for the alienating parent has both conscious and “subconscious or unconscious components. Dr. Gardner further explained, in “The Parental Alienation Syndrome: Second Edition,” that parental alienation syndrome “arises primarily 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 a combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrination and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the targeted parent.”

Parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome differ in important respects. First, parental alienation syndrome focuses on the child’s behavior. It is often visible when a child refuses visits, expresses unjustifiable hatred towards the targeted parent, displays no fear of the court, harbors irrational beliefs shared by the alienating parent, and cannot see any good in the targeted parent. Children may have motivations that make alienation worse. Their desires for immediate gratification or avoiding discomfort makes them vulnerable to siding with the alienating parent. Children, often unknowingly, become advocates for alienating parents by serving as spokespeople for their parent’s hatred. The only exception to keep in mind is if children displaying these symptoms have been truly sexually, physically or emotional abused, as the child’s feelings could then be justified.

Parental alienation, on the other hand, focuses not on the child’s behavior, but on the parent’s behavior. Parents can and will alienate without necessarily leading to parental alienation syndrome. The risk is that once severe parental alienation syndrome takes hold of the child, the process is almost impossible to reverse. That is why preventing and understanding parental alienation is so important. Parental alienation is reversible, most often through education. This is where the role of the attorney and the court becomes so important. They are usually the first to see the parental alienation and are in the best position to thwart the potential damage to the children.

There is a second major difference between parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. Dr. Gardner emphasized that parental alienation syndrome requires the child to be an active participant with the alienating parent in degrading the targeted parent. If a child were able to ignore a parent’s persistent attempts to degrade the other parent, then, by definition, parental alienation syndrome could not occur. Parental alienation focuses more on the parent’s behavior than on the child’s role in degrading the victimized parent. Thus, parental alienation can occur well before the parent’s hatred permeates the child’s beliefs about the targeted parent.

It is important to keep in mind that understanding parental alienation is not an issue of who is the alienator, or “bad guy,” versus the targeted parent, or “good guy.” A common mistake made by attorneys and mental health professionals is trying to place blame. Assigning blame is understandable, because many states consider which parent is most willing to foster a healthy relationship between the children and the other parent as a factor in determining the child’s best interests. However, finding the most cooperative parent doesn’t always solve the problem of alienation, since alienators usually feel as victimized as the targeted parent. The roles of the alienator and the target alternate between parents. The same parent can be both the alienator and the target depending on how he or she is behaving. Generally, one parent triggers the other. The targeted parent then feels defensive and, in turn, retaliates with alienating behavior. The roles become blurred, because alienation is a process, not a person or outcome.

Parental alienation varies in severity, as seen in the behaviors and attitudes of both the parents and the children. The severity can be of such little consequence as a parent occasionally calling the other parent a derogatory name or as overwhelming as a conscious campaign to destroy the children’s relationship with the targeted parent. There are three main kinds of alienators, and preventing or stopping alienation begins with learning how to recognize the three types of alienators, because the symptoms and strategies for combating each are different.

First, naive alienators are parents who are passive about the children’s relationship with the other parent but who occasionally do or say something to alienate or reinforce alienation. Most well-meaning parents will occasionally be naive alienators.

Second, active alienators also know better than to alienate. Their difficulty is that the hurt and anger they feel continues to fester. They are very vulnerable to triggers, usually pushed by the ex-spouse, causing the parent to lose control over his or her behavior or what he or she says to the children. After they have calmed down and see reason, they may feel very guilty about how they behaved.

Finally, obsessed alienators have a fervent cause to destroy the targeted parent and any vestige of a relationship the children have with the targeted parent. Rarely does the obsessed alienator have enough self-control or insight to recognize how his or her behavior is hurting the children. In fact, he or she feels justified: His or her crusade is to protect the child from the evil of the court and targeted parent. A qualified evaluator may observe that the obsessed alienator’s beliefs are irrational and even delusional. The obsessed alienator is always looking for support and affirmation that his or her cause is justified from so-called experts. These are usually the parents who bring an entourage of supporters, including the child, to court without being asked to do so by the court or attorney.

Obsessed alienators pose the most severe problems for attorneys and judges. Attorneys for obsessed alienators can inadvertently cause alienation by giving their client the message his or her behavior and cause are justified. It is very common for obsessed alienators to shop for an attorney or evaluator that will support their cause. Once the attorney starts to question the alienator’s behavior and motives or raises questions about the child’s best interest contrary to the alienator’s goals, the attorney is usually fired and the alienator begins shopping again. These clients also usually want to manage the case and have attorneys do their bidding. They can be difficult for judges, because they want the court to punish and humiliate the targeted parent by denying visits and affirming the alienator’s allegations.

Attorneys with an obsessed alienator as a client are in a difficult situation. They are ethically bound to represent the client’s interest, and yet they are conscious that children’s lives are involved. Once the attorney starts to lean away from the obsessed alienator’s cause, the attorney will begin to see his or her client’s rage and manipulation. The client’s obsession may intensify, sometimes to the point that he or she appears delusional, perhaps making accusations that the court is fixed or the attorney or judge is being paid off. In these circumstances, when the attorney believes that the children’s interest are being threatened and not represented, the attorney should consider asking the court to assign the child a guardian ad litem. This helps the attorney out of an ethical dilemma and offers the child some protection.


1. In Parents

Below are the more common symptoms of parental alienation. Many of these behaviors will look familiar, because some alienation occurs in all divorces. Some symptoms may come as a surprise, because many don’t think of the behavior as something that can hurt children. Common symptoms include:

* Supporting the child’s refusal to visit the other parent without reason;
* Allowing children to choose whether or not to visit a parent, even though the court has not empowered the parent or children to make that choice;
* Telling the children about why the marriage failed and giving them the details about the divorce settlement;
* Refusing the other parent access to medical and school records or schedules of extracurricular activities;
* Blaming an ex-spouse for not having enough money, changes in lifestyle, or other problems in the children’s presence;
* Refusing to acknowledge that the child has personal property and denying the child control over taking personal possessions to the other parent’s home;
* Rigid enforcement of the visitation schedule for no good reason other than getting back at the ex-spouse;
* Assuming the ex-spouse is dangerous because he or she had made threats in the past during an argument;
* False allegations of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use or other illegal activities by the other parent;
* Asks the children to choose one parent over the other;
* Reminding the children that the children have good reason to feel angry toward their other parent;
* Suggesting adoption or changes in name should a parent remarry;
* Giving children reasons for feeling angry toward the other parent, even when they have no memory of the incident that would provoke the feeling, and especially when they cannot personally remember the incident or reasons for being angry;
* Special signals, secrets, words with unique meanings, or a private rendezvous arranged between the child and one parent;
* An intention to use children as witnesses against their other parent;
* Asking the children to spy or covertly gather information to be used later against the other parent;
* Setting up temptations that interfere with visitation;
* Giving the children the impression that having a good time on a visit will hurt the parent;
* Asking the children about the ex-spouse’s personal life;
* Rescuing the children from the other parent when there is no danger.

This list is not meant to be conclusive of all possible symptoms. As one learns more about parental alienation, one can add to it.

2. In Children

The symptoms of parental alienation describe a parent’s behavior towards the child. It says nothing about how the parent’s behavior impacts the child’s behavior or attitudes towards the targeted parent. If parental alienation is successful and influences the child against the targeted parent, then the observer will see symptoms of parental alienation syndrome For example, if a child doesn’t appear to have a problem with visits, one can safely conclude that parental alienation syndrome is not severe or present. That is not to say that parental alienation is not occurring, and in time the child may display severe symptoms of parental alienation syndrome. Often, children appear healthy until asked about the targeted parent. Some of the behaviors an observer can expect to see in the parental alienation syndrome child include:

* A relentless hatred for the targeted parent;
* Parroting the alienating parent;
* Refusing to visit or spend any time with the targeted parent;
* Having many beliefs enmeshed with those of the alienating parent;
* Holding delusional or irrational beliefs;
* Not being intimidated by the court’s authority;
* Reasons for not wanting to have a relationship with the targeted parent based only on what the alienating parent tells the child;
* Difficulty distinguishing between personal memories and what he or she is told;
* No ambivalence in a child’s feelings; feeling only hatred without the ability to see any good in the targeted parent;
* No capacity to feel guilty about behavior towards the targeted parent or to forgive any past indiscretions;
* Sharing the alienating parent’s cause to destroy the relationship;
* Hatred extending to the targeted parent’s extended family without any guilt or remorse.

Children displaying these tendencies may well by the subjects of parental alienation by one parent. If this is the case, attorneys and judges need to know how to help stop it, as well as deter and prevent further alienation.


Attorneys may be the first to see symptoms of alienation, and they can therefore help dilute the severe effects, as well as prevent more severe problems in the future, by recognizing an obsessed alienator. Attorneys need to know strategies for dealing with each kind of alienator. Typically, naive and active alienators can learn to curb their behavior with education. The obsessed alienator will, at some point, require professional intervention, though that is the last thing the obsessed alienator wants to hear.

It is helpful to recognize the more common symptoms of parental alienation that occur during litigation and understand how attorneys may unwittingly contribute to the problem. Learning to recognize alienating behavior will help attorneys better serve clients as they transition from a dysfunctional and hurting family into, hopefully, two healthy and loving families. What attorneys do and how attorneys work with these families can have a lasting influence for many years to come. Set forth below are some of the common situations in which an attorney may see alienating behavior by a client or a client’s former spouse. Strategies for combatting alienation are discussed in Part V, infra.

1. Expecting the Children to Keep Quiet

It is natural for a parent to ask their children upon their return home, “How was your visit?” or “Did you have a good time?” Such questions are usually harmless. Parents should not become paranoid about asking children innocent questions about visits. However, there is a difference between these casual questions and asking for specific information that serves their personal interests.

One of the less malicious forms of alienation is expecting children to keep secrets. It can be very harmful to a child to be told by a parent to say nothing about what is happening with the divorce to the other parent. The child is not only placed in the uncomfortable position of lying to protect the alienating parent, but he or she is getting the subtle message that something is wrong with the targeted parent. The parent’s rationale is that some things are none of an ex-spouse’s business.

Asking children to keep secrets puts them in a difficult situation because it forces them to divide their loyalties between parents. Therefore, parents should not blame the children when they learn of secrets with the ex-spouse. Without being punitive, parents may ask the children about the secrets. If the child does not want to talk about the secrets, the parent should not push the issue. When the parent is alone with the ex-spouse, the parent can tell him or her that he or she has learned about the secrets. Without attacking or degrading the ex-spouse, the parent can explain his or her concern about how the secrets place the children in the uncomfortable position of having to lie and deceive. Usually, parents ask the children to keep secrets when they expect that the other parent will get angry about something or try to restrict the ex-spouse’s activities with the children. Rather than asking the children to keep secrets, parents need to see if they can come to some agreement about the issue. If parents cannot get satisfaction, they should consider discussing the issue with a counselor, or have their attorney discuss the issue with the ex-spouse’s attorney. Someone has to tell the offending parent to stop having secrets.

2. Having Secrets and Codes with the Children

When children and one parent have secrets, special signals, a private rendezvous, or words with special meaning, there is potential for damage to the children’s relationship with their other parent. It is one of the most blatant forms of alienation. Telling the children, “Don’t tell your mother,” “This will be our little secret,” or “When I say ‘whimsy,’ call me tomorrow,” creates an exclusive relationship that psychologically excludes the other parent. The secrecy implies there is something wrong with the other parent that justifies such behavior. The victimized parent is portrayed as not understanding or as someone who “doesn’t want us to have fun.” Regardless of the excuses, the results are the same. The children are alienated from the victimized parent while the other parent is characterized as a special person who understands.

There are many reasons a parent would have secrets or private rendezvous with their children. The most frequent excuse is that the ex-spouse “will not allow me more time with my children.” Thus, parents say the ex-spouse “would have a fit if she knew the truth about the times I see my children.” Sometimes, having a special relationship with the children makes the alienating parent feel powerful. It is almost like getting one over on the former spouse. The child becomes an unwitting vehicle for the parent’s hostility.

However, having secrets, private codes, or rendezvous are damaging to children because they learn to deceive and lie. They become very confused from not knowing what is morally correct. If a parent has secrets with his or her children, he or she needs to stop the practice immediately.

3. Using the Children as Spies Against the Other Parent

Children get a very damaging message that demeans the targeted parent when they are asked to spy or gather information covertly about the other parent. The subtle message is, “Mom is bad” or “Dad is doing something wrong.” These messages will cause the children to become suspicious of the targeted parent and to pull away emotionally. If the alienating parent is clever, he or she may lead the children to believe they are playing a game while gathering the information.

There are many reasons why a parent would use the children to gather information covertly about the other parent. The parent may be sincerely concerned for their children’s safety and welfare. On the other hand, he or she may want to gather information that they can use later against the other parent. Whatever the reasons for spying, it is wrong. It teaches children to lie and sneak, and most important, to betray someone they love.

Of course, a parent’s motivations for having children gather information may be even more clearly selfish. A noncustodial parent struggling with paying bills may want to know how his ex-spouse is spending “his” money. The custodial parent may have reason to believe that the ex-spouse is hoarding money rather than paying a fair share of child support. Knowing local courts often echo very traditional values, a mother may want to know if the children’s father is having his girlfriend spend the night. Drinking and driving, punishing the children excessively, allowing their children to engage in reckless or dangerous activities, or failing to supervise are all reasons courts may restrict or ban visits.

Parents seeking to prove allegations often need the children’s cooperation to gather information about when and where these questionable activities occur. A parent may think that if he or she can prove to the court that the other parent is mistreating or neglecting the children during a visit, the court will issue an order restricting visits to daytime hours or eliminate them altogether. Such parents may believe the end justifies the means because they are so intent on restricting or eliminating visitation. Attorneys should be cautioned not to participate in such deceit.

Attorneys, however, are in a difficult position, because they may need information from the children that will help their case. Getting this information without hurting the children and without hurting the children’s relationship with the other parent can be very difficult. This is part of the balancing act attorneys must perform. Before deciding the extent of involving the children in a case, it may be helpful to keep in mind the possible pitfalls: becoming a major contributor to alienation or, worse yet, inadvertently hurting the children.

Before deciding to gather information, the parent and attorney should ask themselves why they need this information. Is it pertinent for the litigation? If so, can the information be gathered by other means rather than asking the children? If the decision is made to ask the children, the inquisitive parent should be reminded about the risk to the children.

4. Using the Children as Witnesses in Court

A variation of gathering damaging information is using the children as witnesses against the other parent. When a parent decides to seek custody, he or she realizes the need to build a case against the ex-spouse to impugn their competency to parent. The parent, along with the attorney, knows this requires information. Boyfriends spending the night, drinking, smoking in the presence of an allergic child, or using drugs are all arguments that have been used to settle a custody dispute. As discussed earlier, the parent may draft the children into service to gather information covertly against the other parent. While the process is occurring, alienation evolves between the children and the targeted parent.

Attorneys must be careful about the possible consequences of using the children in court. Though the information they can provide is important, the attorney and parent must realize how the child will feel after the testimony. Often they feel guilty, fearful that the targeted parent will be angry, or depressed because of the betrayal. Children who are actually enthusiastic about testifying against a targeted parent are frequently severely alienated and thus will usually have very biased testimony. These children cannot be trusted to be truthful or objective. The only exception is when it is known the targeted parent has abused the child, and even then the court must be cautious. Children victimized by abuse are usually embarrassed and withdrawn, and thus they are not enthusiastic about telling their story before the court and their parents.

While children don’t belong in court, sometimes it can’t be helped. Hopefully, their appearance comes after a lot of reflection about how the disclosure of the information serves the best interest of the children and weight against the harm it can cause the relationship with the targeted parent. On the other hand, if the information only serves the parent’s interest in winning the case, the children should not testify.

5. Dealing with Children Who Volunteer Information

If the children volunteer information about what occurs in the ex-spouse’s home, parents should casually listen to what they say. They should not interrogate the children by asking numerous questions. Instead, the children should be trusted to disclose any significant information. When they are ready, they will usually tell a parent if there is something wrong. Parents should listen to what their children say without getting upset, making judgments or accusations. Otherwise, the children will become upset, causing them to temper their story.

A parent who doesn’t know how to ask his or her children questions can give them the wrong impression of what actually occurred. This can be dangerous and can lead to false allegations. Parents, and usually attorneys, are not properly trained to interview children. This is why a trained professional is needed to ask children questions about sexual abuse or some other serious offenses. Parents should not ask their children questions about the ex-spouse’s behavior that may impugn their character unless the parent has a good reason to believe the child’s safety is at risk. Satisfying one’s curiosity is not sufficient reason for risking harm to a child’s relationship with the other parent. Asking the children a provocative question will serve no purpose other than to cause great discomfort.

If a parent has more questions, he or she should direct them to the ex-spouse. It is important to remember that children are capable of lying, and their recall of past events is very susceptible to distortion, especially if an unqualified evaluator interviews the child. Further, parents can prevent problems by not asking their children or ex-spouse about an alleged incident unless they have good reason to believe something actually happened. One parent asking children questions without a basis to do so will raise doubts in the children’s minds about the other parent’s integrity. Though the questioning parent believes the reason for asking was innocent, he or she may precipitate alienation between their children and the other parent.

Finally, remember that children’s accounts about what happened will not always be accurate. This is because of their young age, biased perception, and limited vocabulary. Younger children will take shortcuts explaining themselves because it is easier. Children may agree with a parent before they really understanding what the parent is trying to say.

This happens frequently with younger children because they are usually more concerned about pleasing a parent than being accurate in what they tell them. Asking child, “Are you telling me the truth?” is meaningless, because children always say, “Yes.”


These common situations, as well as others, manifest themselves in specific situations. One of the major effects of alienation is confusion and problems relating to visitation and parenting. Visitation or parenting time is important. The amount of time children spend with noncustodial parents is often a barometer of alienation. Those who have regular contact and meaningful relationships with both parents benefit in many ways. This is why courts encourage frequent visits, assuming the tensions between parents don’t harm the children.


Parenting time can be messy. The transfer of children from one parent to another and phone calls to make or change visiting arrangements provide the perfect breeding ground for conflicts and power struggles. Parents need to learn about the different ways parenting time is used to cause or reinforce alienation and what tactics can be used to prevent or resolve these problems before they become insurmountable. Unfortunately, there are many ways for one or both parents to use parenting time as a weapon against the other parent. Even the children can get into the act and cause problems.

This has implications for both custodial and noncustodial parents. Custodial parents often say, “He doesn’t pay his support on time, so why should I worry about his visits?” This allows them to justify their refusal to allow the ex-spouse parenting time. Courts, on the other hand, do not accept this argument. In most jurisdictions, a parent cannot withhold parenting time because his or her ex-spouse is behind in child support. Parents may not like what they hear, but they need to be told by their attorney that paying support has nothing to do with parenting time. If the court order entitles the other parent to parenting time, the offended parent cannot take it on his or her own to withhold that time. As these issues are separate, parents must continue to allow parenting time and discuss what to do about the child support with their attorneys. It is surprising how frequently an offended parent’s attorney has not told the parent that parenting time cannot be used as leverage to get support or to punish a former spouse.

Noncustodial parents, on the other hand, often ask, “Why should I continue to pay child support if I can’t see my kids?” The answer is that the money is for the children’s care, which continues regardless of whether or not the parent is getting a fair share of parenting time. Like the custodial parent, these parents need to be told by their attorneys that they cannot stop paying child support to retaliate for not getting parenting time. The children still need to be fed and clothed. The court views withholding child support under these circumstances as punishing the children, not the uncooperative parent. Unfortunately, the court does not have very effective sanctions when a parent refuses to cooperate with visits. Ideally, sanctions should not harm the children or the children’s relationship with either parent.

Many problems with parenting time would be eliminated if parents followed the court order. However, parents who rigidly follow the court-ordered schedules often do so to satisfy their own needs rather than those of their children or ex-spouse. A request for a change in the schedule may be met with an angry rebuttal: “Why should I let you bring Tracy home late? You wouldn’t give me the same courtesy.” The rejecting parent may feel a sense of power from denying the other parent’s request.

Conversely, excessive requests to change scheduled visitations are often disruptive and should be discouraged. Watching parents argue about changes in parenting time can remind their children of past fights. To keep peace, the children learn to keep quiet and not ask for any changes in visits. They learn to keep their desires to themselves. Former spouses need to learn how to work together on the issue of parenting time. Often, their attorneys can help educate them on these issues, which can do a lot to prevent future problems and helps the children. Following are several tips to keep in mind when educating clients on these issues.

First, if a parent wants to reschedule parenting time or bring the children home late, it should be cleared with the other parent before asking the children. Parents should not get the children excited over a special event that could be vetoed if the other parent doesn’t agree to change the schedule.

Second, after getting approval from the other parent, ask the child how they feel. It is acceptable for a parent to ask for their children’s input, but not in a way that makes children feel they must choose one parent over the other. One must be careful not to make the children feel caught in the middle. Parents can communicate their feelings about this by choice of words, tone of voice, and so on.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, parents must not set up temptations that interfere with the other parent’s parenting time. This is unfair to everyone and will surely cause problems. These general tips will help solve some of the more common and simple parenting time problems. Following is a discussion of more specific situations and how one can deal with them.


The issues discussed above manifest themselves in specific situations. Below are some of the common situations attorneys are likely to see when practicing in this area. The examples include tips on dealing with the problems.

1. “I Don’t Want to Visit, and You Can’t Make Me!”

The most common symptom of alienation is the child’s unwavering insistence on not wanting to visit the targeted parent. Some of their reasons may sound reasonable, while others are ridiculous. A teen in love would rather be with the boyfriend than seeing dad; sometimes an important ball game conflicts with mom’s weekend. Even with good reasons, however, changing visits should only be an occasional interruption to a consistent pattern of visits. When the excuses become a pattern, one can reasonably expect that a parent is trying to alienate the other parent from his or her children. In such a case, an obsessed alienator is often behind the excuses.

The noncustodial parent has good reason for being suspicious when the other parent frequently cancels visits. The cancellations are a reminder of the custodial parent’s power over the time the noncustodial parent spends together with the children. Noncustodial parents fear an abuse of power because there is little they can do about it other than file an expensive contempt charge against the custodial parent for failure to cooperate with visitation. The noncustodial parent must trust the custodial parent’s motives and judgment for canceling a visit. For example, he or she must believe that a child’s illness is serious enough to justify canceling a visit. If ex-spouses distrust each other, reasons for withholding visits may be seem like excuses.

2. “Sweetheart, Do You Really Want to Visit Daddy This Weekend?”

Courts differ on the matter of how much control a child has on deciding whether or not to visit a parent. Some courts insist that the noncustodial parent’s right to have a visit has priority over the wishes of the child. Other courts argue that children of a certain age, say sixteen, know what they want and should exercise greater control over visitation. Still other courts are vague about the child’s power to decide. The important point is that the children’s right to decide should be part of the court order and not up to the discretion of the custodial parent. If the court order is vague, mediation can help resolve the dispute and is less expensive than going back to court.

Courts must maintain the position that a parent should not offer his or her children choices that are contrary to court orders. Doing so sabotages the court’s authority. Judges faced with such a parent can remind the parent that children have no choice about other matters, such as attending school, and visitation is similar.

However, it is difficult for a parent to know what to do when children complain about visits at the same time the court insists on compliance with the visitation order. The parent may want to support the children’s wishes while knowing he or she could be held in contempt by the court. The parent’s desire to please the children and frustration for having to enforce the visitation order will incite anger. The parent’s anger may be inappropriately directed toward the ex-spouse for insisting upon seeing the children. However, to avoid the possibility of alienation, a parent should not give the children a false impression that they have a choice about visitation when, in fact, there is no choice. The custodial parent has a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. The message is worth repeating: Children who are actively involved with both parents are more likely to be better adjusted than children alienated from one of their parents.

3. “If the Kids Don’t Want to See You, What Can! Do?”

Rather than taking responsibility for interfering with visits, many alienating parents place the blame on the children. This can take many forms. First, the alienating parent can pretend to be a sympathetic harbinger of bad news: “Isn’t it a shame that the children don’t want to visit you?” Alternately, a parent may make a passive attempt to alienate by appearing neutral and uninvolved while denying any responsibility for the child’s behavior. Such a parent may say, “My son knows what he wants. I’m not getting involved.” Other alienating parents may profess a lack of control over the children’s wishes: “I can’t force them to visit! If they don’t want to go, that’s their choice.”

Finally, the alienating parent may not believe a court order is necessary to do what he or she wants. In fact, the alienating parent is often self-righteous in the belief that he or she is defending the children’s rights, thus providing a justification for defying the court: “Nobody, not even the court, is going to tell my children they have to visit you. They have rights too.” This final standoff between parents usually occurs with obsessed alienators, because nothing anyone does or says Will change their position. They get very angry when anyone, including the court, challenges their authority to make this decision. How the targeted parent feels is completely unimportant to them. The targeted parent is now helpless because he usually can’t get his point across to the alienated child, and the alienating parent has made her position clear that she is not going to do anything to help. Often the only choice the targeted parent has in this situation is to return to court.

4. “Dad, I Can’t Go to Disneyland. It’s Mom’s Weekend.”

Both parents should know the children’s visitation schedule. The schedule outlined by the court will allow parents an opportunity to plan vacations and spend recreational time with their children. There should be no confusion regarding where the children are going on any particular week or weekend.

Parents know how easy it is to entice children to spend time with them. They know their children will want to go anywhere they think will be the most fun. Dangling a temptation like a trip to the amusement park or the beach will cause the children to feel torn between wanting to go and wanting to spend time with their other parent. This is a common alienating tactic. Children will typically not empathize with their targeted parents’ dilemma. Instead, they are driven by their immediate desire to have fun. The children are frustrated and angry when a parent insists on the visit that interferes with something they would rather do. The children will vilify the parent who tells them they cannot go, while they will adore the other parent.

Parents should not invite children on a special activity when they know it interferes with the other parent’s time with the children. They should ask the other parent about it first. They shouldn’t even say anything about the activity to the child until they talk to their ex-spouse. If a parent says something to the child first and the other parent says, “No,” the asking parent sets up the other parent for their child’s wrath and hurt. Parents may justify the invitation by saying they are just thinking of the children. This puts the targeted parent in a no-win situation:

If the non-offending parent insists on having the entitled visit, the children may feel resentful, but if that parent allows the children to go for the weekend, he or she will miss the time spent with the children.

This situation leads inevitably to alienation, and so parents must strive to avoid it.

Further, parents must keep each other informed of matters which affect parenting time. For example, whether the children are home or on a visit, both parents should know if their children are leaving town for an extended time. Such special occasions require parents to work together by negotiating changes with visits. The children should be given an opportunity to express their feelings about attending the function without interference or coaxing from either parent. For the children to feel comfortable about their choice, parents must set aside their feelings and consider their children. Otherwise, the children are again victimized.

5. “I Have a Date. Why Do I Have to Visit Dad This Weekend?”

When children become teenagers, their social life becomes more independent. Visits which interfere with their social life can become an annoyance, especially when they fall in love. Almost any teen would rather be with a boyfriend or girlfriend than with a parent, particularly when visits prevent access to their friend. Parents need to empathize with their children’s desires and not take what seems like rejection personally. Instead, the noncustodial parent needs to be flexible and willing to negotiate. If a parent fights, he or she may get the visit, but this is scant comfort if a teen’s attitude makes the visit miserable. Parents need to be told by the court to negotiate with teenagers.

6. “Mom, Will You Come Get Me? I’m Bored.”

Rescuing is a subtle alienating tactic, because it allows the rescuing parent to appear as a concerned and caring parent trying to do what’s best for the children. Any responsible parent seeks to protect children from any potential harm or threat to their safety, even if the threat is from the ex-spouse. When parents believe they have reason to be concerned, they will be vigilant and listen closely for anything that seems a potential threat or sounds out of the ordinary. At the same time, wise parents realize their children’s account of what happens on a visit may be misunderstood or distorted. A wise parent will be cautious before reacting to what children say.

A parent going through a bitter divorce has a lot of hurt and bitterness that will influence his or her perceptions about the children’s safety, the other parent’s competencies, or the child’s sense of responsibility. Sometimes an unbiased friend, or an attorney, has to help the parent put risk in realistic perspective. This is particularly true when the parent has been abused and questions whether or not the children are safe and properly supervised by the other parent.

Sensing the parent’s apprehension, the children may also start to fear being with the other parent. They approach the visit with a critical eye, looking for any fault in the visiting parent. Their demeanor is reserved. They may be looking for a blunder: drinking a beer, having a girlfriend or boyfriend over, getting angry. In the most nightmarish cases, kids panic at the thought of visiting, shriek and cry, run away, or call home begging to be rescued. Most often, however, the only fault children find with the visit is boredom. As soon as they feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, they call home asking for the other parent to pick them up. The parent, sitting home worrying, is quick to jump in the car and come to the children’s rescue.

When a child is rescued, he or she calms down and feels relieved. The immediate relief from leaving the visit reinforces the desire to be rescued. The next time the child is with the other parent, the problem gets worse: The child expects to get rescued, even though there is no threat to his or her safety. Therefore, parents should not rescue their children from the other parent unless there is a very real threat. Taking such a drastic action can cause alienation. Wanting to come home because of boredom is not a sufficient reason for rescuing.

7. “One of These Days, I Know He’s Going Again.”

Sometimes there is so much bitterness between the spouses that the mere sight of the other’s face triggers intense rage. Whether the rage is justified is not the issue; parents always have a way to rationalize their anger. When parents cannot control their anger and be civil with each other, contact between them may need to be limited to a public or a supervised setting.

Many parents don’t understand the limits of a restraining or protection order. Some question the value of a restraining order, but it can be effective with parents who respect the law. A restraining order is no guarantee that a parent’s safety is protected, although it is more helpful than harmful. Some parents not intimidated by the legal system may ignore a restraining order, perhaps because they do not believe their ex will call the police or sign the complaint. They may also simply not care. Unfortunately, this happens too often with high-conflict divorces. Police and counselors at battered person’s shelters will attest to their frustration when a spouse makes a complaint but won’t follow through with prosecution. An alternative to a restraining order that offers a helpful alternative in controlling the threat of violence is visitation centers.

Recently, visitation centers have emerged as effective methods for providing a safe and supervised setting for picking up and dropping off children after parenting time. Counties and courts without such centers may want to consider starting one. They are also very helpful in providing parent mediation and possible counseling for high-conflict parents. Domestic violence is a difficult issue, and unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it is crucial for attorneys to be aware of the role of domestic abuse in cases of divorce and parental alienation.

8. “Sorry, Sweetheart, I Can’t Come to Your Recital It’s Not My Time to Visit You.”

Courts can prevent much misunderstanding by being specific in outlining the parent’s rights to attend the children’s activities. Often, the noncustodial parent believes that he or she must have the custodial parent’s permission to attend the children’s activities. This sets up a potential power struggle between parents. Many parents, usually fathers, feel very humiliated by asking for permission. To avoid a possible fight and the humiliation from losing the argument, noncustodial parents refuse to ask permission. They just don’t show up. Unfortunately, the children do not understand this. The children often interpret a parent’s absence as rejection, not understanding the hurt the parent may feel not attending the activity. The child may assume the noncustodial parent does not want to attend, even if the rejection is caused by the custodial parent’s lack of cooperation. The noncustodial parent misses the opportunity to see their children perform. The children are hurt. Everyone loses, except the alienating parent.

To avoid misunderstanding, court orders outlining parental rights should include a specific statement encouraging both parent’s participation in the children’s activities. If possible, a parent should not have to ask the other parent’s permission to attend the children’s activities. Both parents need equal access to such events as athletics, school parties, teacher conferences, graduations, or recitals. Attorneys should remember the following tips when confronting these issues:

* Courts need to encourage both parents to attend the children’s activities;
* Parents should be encouraged to plan the children’s social activities together if the activities are expensive or may potentially interfere with parenting time;
* Parents should be warned not to schedule the children in too many activities, since numerous activities interfere with parenting time;
* Custodial parents have more power than noncustodial parents do because they have physical possession of the children, and courts that sanction this power run the risk of enhancing the conflicts and hostilities between parents;
* Children’s activities are for everyone to enjoy, so parents sometimes must be reminded to put their feelings aside and support the other parent’s desire to attend school activities, games, or recitals;
* A subtle form of alienation occurs when the custodial parent,. knowing the other parent made a promise to do something during their time, refuses the visit, since the child may blame the innocent parent;
* Children should not completely dictate who attends their activities; if having both parents present causes them tension, parents can help by being polite and focusing their attention on what their child is doing rather than on each other;
* Parents should make a conscious effort to give children permission to greet the other parent when both attend the same activity.

9. “She’s Got Gymnastics or Swimming Every Weekend. You Can’t Expect Her to Visit.”

In recent years parents seem to be enrolling children in every outside school activity possible. There seems to be a belief that healthy, well-rounded children must be very busy or their peers will reject them. Very young children may start in dance, gymnastics, or karate. Older children are busy with music lessons, soccer or scouts. Parents frequently complain about the time spent chauffeuring children from one activity to another. Running around is exhausting.

Children should not be scheduled in so many activities that parenting time becomes impossible or restricted. Overscheduling is an act of alienation that causes stress to the children and inflicts damage to their relationship with their other parent. “If your father really cared about you, he wouldn’t expect you to choose between scouts and visits. He should understand there are times when you are too busy to visit,” is a statement that rationalizes a parent’s attempt to alienate. In essence, the parent is saying that the children’s activities are more important than any relationship the child could have with the other parent.

Attorneys need to be alert when a parent schedules children in too many activities. This practice is usually motivated by a parent’s desire to live vicariously through the children’s successes. Parents may have an unconscious need to enhance their own self-esteem through their children’s successes. They hope for bragging rights to embellish their own sense of self-importance. They appear driven in the quest for their children to succeed. They are usually the parents who yell the loudest at ball games, get visibly angry when a referee makes a bad call, or are quick to publicly criticize their children for a less than perfect performance.

There is no reason why one parent cannot be as actively involved as the other. If parents cannot solve their differences about children’s schedules, mediation or a court order to change the children’s social activities may be required. However, returning to court is an expensive and usually not very effective way to resolve problems between parents. The parents will continue to feel bitter after the hearing. What is best for the children is not always best for the parent. When it comes to visits, the children’s interest should come before the parent’s.


At this point, it should be relatively easy for an attorney to detect signs of parental alienation syndrome. Before one can act, however, it may be necessary to confirm one’s observations by obtaining more definite information. This section focuses on various methods of obtaining more definite information about alienation.

It is important to remember, however, that allegations of abuse complicate the matter. When there are allegations of abuse, finding the truth becomes more difficult and usually requires an expert investigation. Most investigations are conducted by the state’s children’s service agency. This is fine if the investigator is adequately trained and qualified to conduct the investigation. If not, this poses a problem. The likelihood the child will distort his story or get confused increases as more people interview him. For this reason, it is best for the attorney to try to get the most qualified person to conduct the investigation as quickly as possible.


It may eventually become necessary to build a case for alienation, perhaps as part of a change of custody or other such proceeding. This can be difficult because of the problem of getting sufficient evidence to prove the other parent is trying to alienate the children. An attorney is often dependent on the client’s account of the other parent’s actions, and this is often not much help. One useful way of getting admissible evidence is asking the alienating parent questions in a deposition that will elicit responses demonstrating alienation. After the deposition, the attorney will usually require an expert witness, such as a qualified therapist or psychologist, to review the deposition and testify in court to the evidence supporting parental alienation.

Sometimes the deposed parent will see through some of the questions and give the attorney appropriate answers. This itself represents important information, because such a parent is likely to be either a naive or active alienator. It is not likely that the actions of either a naive or active alienator will give sufficient justification for an involuntary change of custody. In such a case, gaining or changing custody will require a different approach.

Deposing obsessed alienators is easier, because they vehemently believe what they do and say. They are more open, because the intensity of their anger doesn’t allow them to maintain sufficient self-control and think about the questions. The angrier they get during the deposition, the more useful information they offer. Their weakness is that they believe so strongly in what they are doing. They cannot see the possibility that what they are doing is wrong or hurts their children. To them, the other parent’s attorney is the enemy and deserves contempt.

The questions below are designed to elicit alienating responses during a deposition. It will be necessary to rewrite many of the questions to make them more relevant to a particular case.

1. How would you describe your children’s relationship with Parent prior to the divorce?

2. Have you had occasions since the divorce when you felt angry towards Parent?

3. Could you explain to the court the various reasons for your anger? (This line of questioning helps assess the Parent’s possible motivations for parental alienation).

4. Since the date of the divorce have you ever made negative comments to your kids about Parent?

5. What type of comments have you made about Parent to your kids?

6. Since the date of the divorce, have you ever argued with Parent about visitation?

7. (If yes) Could you explain your reasons for arguing or why the arguments about visitation occurred? What were the issues?

8. What have you been doing to help encourage the relationship between Parent and Child?

9. Have you ever talked with your children or asked your children about Parent’s personal life?

10. Have you failed to return the children from a visit? Why?

11. Have you ever commented to your children since the date of the divorce concerning any lack of money that was a result of the divorce?

12. Have you ever asked your children since the date of the divorce any questions regarding with which parent they want to live?

13. Since Child has been living with you, has Child ever talked to you on the telephone complaining about their time with Parent?

14. (If yes) After hearing Child’s complaints, have you felt a need to pick him up from their Parent’s home without Parent’s consent?

15. Have you shown either of your children any of the legal documents associated with this case? What documents have you shown? Why did you show them?

16. Do you believe that Parent exaggerates Child’s medical, psychological or health problems?

17. (If yes) Could you explain these exaggerations to the court?

18. Do you perceive yourself as having a very different parenting style than Parent?

19. Do you believe that Parent should follow your recommendations or beliefs about rules and discipline?

20. (If yes) Have you tried to communicate to Parent your beliefs about rules and discipline?

21. Do you believe that you have good reason for being critical of Parent’s parenting skills? Why?

22. Has Child ever suggested to you that he had a good time with Parent?

23. Have you ever heard any complaints from the children about their safety?

24. (If yes) When you heard the children complain, what did you do to communicate with Parent the complaints?

25. Have you ever expressed your anger toward Parent in the presence of your children?

26. What do you think Parent’s role as a divorced parent should be with the children?

27. What do you think the relationship should be with their stepparent?

28. Have you heard Child make allegations of abuse by Parent?

29. Have you ever known Child to exaggerate or lie to get what he or she wants?

30. What do you believe should be the Child’s relationship with Parent’s family?

31. (If negative) Would you explain your reasons why your Child’s should not have a relationship with Parent’s extended family?

32. Do you believe that Child has good reasons for not wanting to live with Parent? Why?

33. Do you believe that Child is old enough or is sufficiently maturity to decide for himself whether or not he should visit Parent?

34. Have you suggested to Child since the date of the divorce that he has the right to choose for himself whether or not to visit his Parent?

35. Since the date of the divorce would you say that there are occasions when Child is too busy to visit his Parent?

36. What have you done to help strengthen the relationship between Child and Parent?

37. Do you believe you have any responsibility to help strengthen the relationship?

38. (If no) Why not?

39. (If yes) Would you explain the steps you have taken to help strengthen the relationship between Child and Parent?

40. Do you believe that you know better than Parent as to what is best for Child?

41. (If yes) Could you explain the reasons for your belief?

42. Do you believe that Parent does not discipline Child?

43. Are you ever concerned that Parent is excessively punitive with Child? Why?

44. Since the date of the divorce, have you personally witnessed Parent being excessive with discipline?

45. Have you ever filed a complaint with the local Children’s Service Board (your jurisdiction may have a different name for the investigative agency)?

46. Could you explain the reasons for your report? (This line of questioning may offer some insight into a parent’s motivations for alienation, but at the same time it could open up a can of worms that will require a lot more testimony.)

47. Do you believe that Parent should follow your rules when it comes to how visitation is to be accomplished?

48. Do you believe that Parent should follow your rules or suggestions about how Child should be raised?

49. Do you believe that there are aspects of your private life that Parent has no business knowing?

50. Have you conveyed to your Child that he should not share any information or activities to Parent about your private life?

51. (If yes) Could you explain how you have communicated to Child that he should not share certain information with Parent?

52. What information about your life did you not want Parent to know?

53. Have you had any discussions with Child about your plans to gain his custody?

54. (If no) You mean to tell me that Child doesn’t even know you are going to court to seek his custody?

55. (If yes) Then please explain what you and Child have discussed about how you are going to get custody?

56. Would you explain what those plans are?

57. Have you ever listened in on phone calls between Child and Parent?

58. Have you ever asked Child to get information for you or report for you on any of Parent’s behavior since the date of the divorce?

59. Do you believe that the court has any right to tell you what to do with respect to your children and their relationship with Parent?

60. Would you describe Parent as a good parent or a poor parent?

61. Could you explain your reasons for your opinion?

62. Who initiated the divorce between you and Parent?

63. Could you explain the reasons for the divorce? (This line of questioning again is to assess possible motivation for parental alienation. The question is looking for continued bitterness, a sense of betrayal or anger.)

64. Do you blame Parent for the divorce?

65. Are you and Parent able to talk with each other without arguing?

66. (If no) Could you explain why you are not able to communicate?

67. Is Child presently having visits with Parent?

68. (If no) Could you explain to the court the reasons?

69. What is Child’s attitude about seeing his Parent?

70. (If the child has resisted visitation) How long have you observed these behaviors?

71. What have you done personally to help Child overcome these feelings and encourage visitation with his Parent?

72. Do you believe that whatever problems have occurred between yourself, Child and Parent that these problems should be worked out?

73. Do you believe that working out these problems is in Child’s best interest? Why or why not?

74. What do you see as your role in helping work out any problems that exist between Child and Parent?

There are many more questions that will bring out a parent’s attitude about the child’s relationship with the other parent. As one becomes more familiar with parental alienation, more questions will come to mind.


Another method of obtaining information is a court-ordered psychological evaluation. Such an evaluation can be very stressful because of the time involved, the cost and uncertainty about the results. In a climate of mistrust and hostilities, parents and attorneys are often suspicious about the fairness and ethics of the evaluator. The American Psychological Association has published recommended standards for conducting custody evaluations, but they are not ethical standards, per se. Some states have adopted specific standards, while other states rely on the APA guidelines, which may not be enforceable if there is a question about an ethics violation.

Before selecting an evaluator, it may be helpful to consider the following guidelines to avoid possible ethical violations and other complications. Many of the guidelines are taken from my experience working with the courts and the “Guidelines for Custody/Parenting Evaluation and Reports” adopted by the Ohio State Board of Psychology.

The most important issue is that the evaluator should be familiar with professional standards and guidelines for conducting custody evaluations. Therefore, he or she should be familiar with state laws about the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. Further, if state law defines “best interest of the child,” the evaluator must understand the definition and how it applies to the evaluation.

As a practical matter, the request for an evaluation should be accompanied with a court order signed by the judge or magistrate. The court order should outline the names of the parties to be evaluated, the name of the evaluator, person or persons responsible for payment, and a statement describing the purpose of the evaluation. Another practical concern is that fees for the evaluation, and who will pay them, should be established before beginning the evaluation. Don’t expect or assume an insurance or managed care company will pay for the evaluation, as most don’t. Remember also that if the evaluator bills the insurance company, the billing will have to include a diagnosis, which could be brought up in court. Most evaluators will expect payment in full before the report is dictated, since a dictated report can usually be subpoenaed. An experienced evaluator will not dictate until the evaluation is paid in full.

During the evaluation, the evaluator must remain impartial and objective. He or she is a gatherer and reporter of information. Therefore, he or she should keep clear and concise records and should not make any recommendations or psychological descriptions of individuals that were not part of the evaluation.

It is also important that the children and all significant parties should be part of the evaluation, although the evaluator may decide to limit the evaluation of younger children to observing their interaction with each parent. The participants should be told the purpose and scope of the evaluation before they proceed. Before the evaluation begins, I usually say, “The purpose of the evaluation is to give the court additional information that will help in making a decision. When I complete the evaluation, I will write a report for the court. It is important that you understand that there is no confidentiality. The judge or magistrate, attorneys and maybe you and your spouse will read the report. There is no privacy. If I make a recommendation to the court, the court is not bound by my recommendation because both sides can introduce additional testimony to which I may not be privy. The judge will see the entire picture, while the evaluator sees part of the picture.”

Everyone included in the evaluation must be told, before the evaluation begins, the limits of confidentiality. They should know that much or all of the information gathered could be part of the report. This should also be told to the children in a way they can understand. Of course, they have the right not to participate in the evaluation or disclose information. This is especially important for children, in that they should not be forced or threatened into saying something that they will later regret when the information becomes public. The participants must sign a written release of information during the initial interview.

Evaluators must also guard against any ethical violations. One of the most questionable ethical violations occurs when the evaluator has a dual relationship with a parent or child, often because the parent or child is a former client of the evaluator. Other examples of a dual relationship are when the evaluator has had a previous business or social relationship with a party to the action. This can be a problem in a rural setting where there are few evaluators and everyone knows everyone else. In this situation, the parties may have to hire an evaluator from another county.

Finally, remember that psychologists frequently use tests to supplement the evaluation. The test results should not be used alone for making conclusions about custody. Instead, the conclusions and recommendations about what is in the children’s best interest should be drawn from the interviews, observations, social history, test results, and information gathered from the interviews. Ideally, the information comes together into a cohesive picture.


Alienating and targeted parents often return to court. They are frustrated and angry because they feel helpless, and now they are looking to the court for help. At this point, the parents usually can no longer speak with each other without shouts of bitterness, accusations, or silence. Judges realize it does no good to order parents to cooperate with each other, because the orders usually fall on deaf ears. Therefore, the court may have to take a different approach.

Courts that understand alienation will recognize the importance of identifying and hearing high-risk cases quickly. The longer the court takes, the more damage will occur to these families and children. Signals of high-risk cases likely to reappear in court and require quick intervention often involve: complaints about visits being withheld; children frequently not returned on time (later than a half-hour); threats to abduct the children; allegations of sexual, physical, and/or mental abuse; alcohol or drug abuse; a severe mental disorder interfering with visits or the children’s adjustment; and children refusing to visit. Judges need a mechanism to identify these cases and schedule a hearing as soon as possible. The court should not allow any unfounded delay tactics or continuances to prevent the case from proceeding as scheduled.

In my years of experience with the court, I am frequently surprised at how often cases get resolved after I have given parents the opportunity to vent their frustrations and feelings. Many times, parents just want to feel like they are respected and heard. They are often very receptive to a little education about parenting and the issues I have described in my book. About a quarter of the cases that I see no longer contest the custody recommendations because they understand the reasons for the recommendations and have had an opportunity to ask questions to someone they perceived as impartial.

Courts may be wise to find a mechanism by which parents can be heard, ask questions and receive helpful education. This mechanism must be fair and monitored by the court for compliance. Some courts use a guardian ad litem or an employee of the court to offer parental education. Parents involved with mild cases of alienation can benefit from education and improved awareness about what they are doing and how it effects the children. Sometimes having the parents complete a psychological evaluation helps the court gain better insight into the dynamics of the case.

In cases of more severe alienation, both parents should be ordered to a therapist. The court should compile a list of qualified therapists willing to work with these families and the court, including qualifications for working with high-conflict parents and an understanding of parental alienation. Whether the children need to participate in the therapy should be left up to the therapist. The therapist needs to send monthly compliance reports to the court while maintaining the parent’s confidentiality. This process can be very helpful for high-conflict parents before they introduce a shared parenting plan to the court. While this process is going on, it is important that the court not withhold visits unless there is a question about the children’s safety. Withholding visits adds to the risk of reinforcing alienation because the children could believe there is really something wrong with the targeted parent.

In cases of severe alienation involving an obsessed alienator, the court must act quickly. Both parents need an immediate psychological evaluation, and the child or children need therapy because they will be very confused and may be expressing hatred towards the targeted parent. While the children are in therapy, they may be better off staying with a relative while having visits with both parents. Admittedly, there is no research supporting the recommendation that the children should be separated from the obsessed alienator while the parents are being evaluated and counseled. Logically, however, if the child stays with the obsessed alienator, he or she can sabotage the counseling and efforts of the court to resolve these issues. However, if the child is placed against his wishes with the targeted parent, the child could be frightened and rebellious. Thus, neither option is perfect. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the children continue to visit with both parents unless there is a concern about the children’s safety, in which case, supervised visits may be necessary. Finally, any investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect should be conducted while the therapy is occurring.


Attorneys need to recognize the symptoms of alienation and how to respond to the three different types of alienators. What is not clear is how to rehabilitate the severely alienated child or the obsessed alienator. The reason is simple: There are presently no tested protocols for rehabilitating the severely alienated child or the obsessed alienator. A clearer picture is starting to emerge from the hazy fog of uncertainty, but there are still many unanswered questions to be researched. Deciding which strategies are best for dealing with alienation will depend on whether a parent is targeted by a naive, active, or obsessed alienator. Attorneys, mental health professionals, and judges will have different perspectives about what to do with alienation. Naive alienators should rarely appear in court because of alienating behavior. Active alienators, unable to control their feelings and outbursts to the detriment of all, and obsessed alienators, hoping to cut off all contact between the children and the other parent, are the alienators most often seen in court. When a parent is the target of any kind of alienator, there are some things he or she needs to keep in mind to lessen the damage and hurt to the children.


The first option is to combat alienation by working to help oneself. This response must be tailored to the kind of alienation at issue.

1. The Naive Alienator

Remember that naive alienators are usually ignorant about what they are doing and have no malicious intent. A parent dealing with a naive alienator should not panic and should instead trust his or her relationship with their children. Children learn early that their parents will say things they don’t mean. They are very adept at letting things go in one ear and out the other. If parents believe there is a problem trusting children’s reaction to alienation, they need to focus on strengthening the relationship rather than retaliating against the other parent. They should monitor their own reactions and behaviors so they don’t start their own alienating campaign. They should try talking to the other parent without making accusations or attacking. The other parent may appreciate their comments if the targeted parent says them with some sensitivity. Attorneys may suggest the following practices to clients in this situation:

— Be sure that the majority of time with children is positive, and avoid yelling and screaming which will drive children away;

— Praise children for what they do well; if all they hear is criticism, they will learn to avoid the source of the criticism;

— Play with them at their developmental level and do what they, rather than what parents, want to do;

— After discipline or punishment, make a point to make up;

— Listen to what the child has to say;

— Give hugs and kisses if they are receptive;

— Brag about the children to others;

— Attend school sport and social functions;

— Have their pictures around the house.

Strengthening the relationship with children takes time. Parents need to be reminded by their attorney to be patient and resist any desire to retaliate. Retaliation only makes matters worse and hurts the children.

2. The Active Alienator

How a parent deals with the active alienator is similar to the naive alienator. Parents must stay calm, trust their relationship with their children, and resist retaliating. The difficulty a parent has with the active alienator is the parent’s inability to control the rage and hurt built up inside. The feelings can interfere with the targeted parent’s relationship and time spent with the children. Together, both parents need education and counseling to focus on the issues causing the problems. Sometimes, the active alienator requires individual therapy to help with their loss and grief. A parent should support these efforts without being punitive. Taking this tactic, the children will be better off in the long run. Attorneys can be very helpful to their client if they are targeted for alienation by suggesting that they:

— Don’t panic;

— Become a supportive listener;

— Guard against becoming an alienator, beginning by knowing the symptoms;

— Resist the temptation to argue or get defensive if the problem continues, and try to talk openly about what one is seeing and feeling. Work on keeping the relationship with the child strong;

— Don’t violate court orders;

— Begin a log of activities if problems with parenting time develop;

— Don’t be intimated into stopping parenting time, and remember that attorneys can be crucial in advising parents of their rights.

3. The Obsessed Alienator

Dealing with an obsessed alienator is more complex and difficult than dealing with the other two types of alienators, because the alienating parent has already had considerable success in alienating the children from the targeted parent. The children may refuse to have anything to do with the targeted parent, making it next to impossible for the parent to talk with them and try to repair the damage. No matter how frustrated and angry a targeted parent feels, however, he or she should not give up on the children. The targeted parent should find some support, either from family, his or her attorney, a counselor, or other parents. Parents need to be sure to do whatever they and their attorney believe is necessary to keep visits going. Even if the other parent refuses visits, the targeted parent should keep trying and should maintain a log of his or her activities. Also, it is very important that the parent does not violate any court orders or do anything that forces his or her attorney to defend the parent’s behavior. A common tactic used by some attorneys is to deflect the issues by attacking the targeted parent and forcing his or her attorney to defend the parent’s behavior. Parents should behave themselves so this does not happen.

The most difficult part of dealing with the obsessed alienator is keeping one’s anger in control and not retaliating. Though it is understandable, retaliation usually does nothing more than cause the targeted parent more problems. In fact, the obsessed alienator will frequently use the targeted parent’s retaliation, pointing out to the children how the parent behaved and reinforcing the argument that the parent isn’t worthy to see the children. Again, the targeted parent is put on the defensive without having any access to the children to blunt the other parent’s blows. Whatever the parent does, he or she must stay focused on keeping the relationship with the children strong and not entangle them in the fight with the alienating parent.

When a targeted parent begins to sense that the children are becoming alienated, he or she should immediately tell an attorney or mediator about what is happening. Parents should then look into getting a court order to get the children in therapy as soon as possible, with the understanding that the therapist will be reporting to the court. The therapist should monitor and report to the court the compliance to the court order. The therapist should also understand parental alienation syndrome. The following suggestions are other methods of attacking the problem of obsessed alienators. Attorneys can advise their clients of these suggestions:

— Don’t give up on the children;

— Keep anger and hurt under control;

— Don’t retaliate;

— Be sure the court supports continued visits;

— Don’t stop going to visits; if the other parent refuses, keep showing up unless the court order says otherwise;

— Keep a log of activities, especially relating to visitation;

— Focus on keeping the relationship with the children positive, and don’t pump them for information or begin counter alienation;

— Don’t wait to intervene; if there is a problem, contact an attorney or get back into mediation;

— Seek a court order requiring both parents to get into family therapy;

— Monitor one’s own behavior to prevent counter-alienation;

— If the problem continues, try to understand to what the other parent is reacting; if necessary, try to talk openly about what is occurring;

— Don’t violate court orders;

— Use legal mechanisms like a guardian ad litem to monitor the parent’s compliance to the court order.

These suggestions should help, but they do not guarantee that the problems will be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. There is no magic bullet. That is why early detection and prevention before the alienation gets out of hand is imperative. Courts, mental health professionals, and legislators continue to look for effective treatment protocols for parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome.


Parents thinking about returning to court to seek change of custody need guidance from their attorney. Many times they have very unrealistic expectations about their chances of winning the case and haven’t thought about the possible consequences of pursuing this course. Parents may feel mixed emotion when children say, “I want to live with you.” They may be excited by the compliment and yet overwhelmed by the thought of the responsibility and lifestyle changes. Logistically, they may foresee many problems. They may not have a babysitter or adequate space. Living in an undesirable neighborhood for raising children could cause them concerns. While a parent gingerly inquires about their children’s reasons, the parent can imagine how their ex-spouse will feel when he or she hears the news.

I do not recommend a parent seek a change of custody unless the child initiates the request or unless the parent has very good reason to believe the change would be better for the children. The attorney must tell the parent about the risks in seeking custody. If he or she loses, the relationship with the other parent can be seriously jeopardized, and alienation will intensify. The other parent may no longer be flexible and cooperate with changes in parenting time. Plus, this could be an expensive price to pay for a long shot.

Below are several specific points attorneys should discuss with their clients before deciding to seek custody. After considering these points and getting some education from the attorney, the parent should be able to make a more informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

First, when children are asked where they what to live, they may lie and say what they think a parent wants to hear. They do not mean to be malicious. Instead, they want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Often their stated desire to live with a parent is their way of saying, “I want mommy and daddy back together.” This is particularly true with young children. The children’s fantasy that somehow their parents will reconcile is very persistent, even with teenagers. Even when one parent has already remarried, the children often express the hope that their parents will get back together again.

Second, when thinking about a contested change of custody, parents should be told that the process could move very slowly. This may cause reconsideration of a decision made quickly or in anger.

Third, parents need to learn about the laws for changing custody and the workings of their local court. Remind parents that it is the court, not their children, that decides custody. Parents should try to learn from their attorney the likelihood of success in getting custody. In many jurisdictions, getting an involuntary change of custody is nearly impossible unless there is a legal provision for the children to choose where they want to live. Otherwise, the parent must prove to the court that their children’s best interest is served by their living with them. This often involves one parent publicly degrading or attacking the ex-spouse to support the argument that a change is necessary. Successfully attacking the ex-spouse’s capacity to parent adequately is very difficult. Typically, courts are justifiably biased in the belief that the children are better off remaining with the custodial parent to preserve stability.

Fourth, parents need to be reminded not to make promises to the children about the outcome of the court proceedings. If an ex-spouse fights the other parent’s attempt to gain custody, the time it takes in some jurisdictions to change custody can exceed a year. The attorney can give parents a better idea as to how long the process may take if the change of custody is contested or argued. Even if a parent feels confident telling their children, “After today’s hearing you will come to live with me,” they should not make promises they cannot keep. This can be very unsettling to the children. Often cases are continued when the court realizes that a full hearing is needed to settle the case. Even after the judge hears the testimony, it may take days or weeks for a decision.

Fifth, if possible, the parent should raise the question about seeking a change of custody to the other parent. The ex-spouse may feel hurt and angry, but it is better for the parent to raise the issue rather than having children do the dirty work. The issue is between the ex-spouses, not between the children and their other parent. Parents should not have their children be the harbinger of bad news. If a parent is afraid to talk to their ex-spouse about a change of custody, they should think about how their children will feel.

Finally, when a parent hears for the first time that their ex-spouse is seeking custody, they should not drill their children for answers about where they want to live and why. Parents need to keep their composure. They should reassure their children of their love while making no harsh declarations about what they are planning to do. Parents need to take time to calm down and consult with their attorney to learn the best course of action. The attorney will advise parents what to do next.


There is a difference between counseling and mediation. Counseling helps individuals or families alleviate emotional pain or change maladaptive behavior. Counselors usually have a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling, social work, or psychology. In most states, they are licensed. A mediator is trained to work with couples teaching problem solving skills and resolving conflicts. Many mediators are not trained mental health professionals and have no training in family therapy or systems theory. Though their function is both helpful and beneficial, they are not equipped to work with high-conflict parents struggling with parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome.

1. Mediation

Mediation is a cooperative effort between divided parents and a neutral third person to develop healthy ways of settling differences about the care of their children. After a history of fighting and failing to solve differences, mediation may initially sound like a fantasy. In fact, however, mediation works. I think there will be a time in the future when all parents going through a divorce will be expected to have a family mediator to help resolve conflicts. The process makes sense, because going to court is too expensive, attorneys are biased for their client, and parents usually do not have the skills to resolve serious conflicts without some help. This is usually why most parents got a divorce in the first place. Unfortunately, having a neutral professional is expensive, time-consuming, and unavailable within a reasonable physical proximity to many families. When it is available, however, mediation can accomplish a great deal in less time than family psychotherapy and more cheaply than going to court.

The neutral third party may be a counselor, attorney, or a psychologist who has received specialized training in mediation. When looking for a qualified mediator, parents need to ask the individual whether he or she is a member of either the Academy of Family Mediators or their state association. Parents should be leery of someone who puts out a shingle and calls him or herself a mediator without documented qualifications and references. Requirements for becoming a mediator vary from state to state. To play it safe, parents may want to rely on a mediator recommended by their local domestic court or attorney, and they should obtain a court order mandating mediation. The details of the order are important; attorneys would avoid a lot of confusion if the court order contained the following information and was signed by the judge.

The order should contain the name and address of the mediator as well as the names of all the family members ordered to mediation. This list could include the names of the stepparents, grandparents or anyone that is actively involved with the children. Though a family member’s name may be listed in the motion, the mediator or counselor will have the choice to decide who needs to attend the sessions. If a family member is not on the list, the mediator will have no authority to require the member’s participation. This can cause a delay while the attorneys seek to modify the original order.

The order should also state how the services are to be financed and who is responsible for payment. A court order cannot mandate an insurance company to pay for services not part of the insurance benefit package. Rarely will an insurance company pay for mediation even if the service is properly billed. Thus, the responsibility for payment should be assigned to a parent or parents and not an insurance company.

Finally, the order needs a description of the services to be provided and of the mechanism for reporting back to the court. This may include a letter by the mediator describing the services provided, naming the participants, and outlining recommendations. The mediator or counselor will be careful to respect the participant’s confidentiality.

When a complete order gets the parties into mediation, the parents and the mediator seek agreements on how they can best take care of the children. The initial session generally begins with a discussion of the mediation process and an explanation by the parents of their concerns for the children’s schooling, social activities, health care, safety, visitation, and rules. The emphasis is on having the parents make decisions together that will benefit the children. The mediator will discourage the parents from making accusations or laying blame. Little emphasis is made on looking at past mistakes. This is because parents usually do not agree on what happened in the past anyway. At the completion of the first session, the parents and the mediator decide whether to continue the mediation process. If they agree to continue, another session is scheduled.

In the following sessions, usually five or six, the parents share in a cooperative process of learning and making decisions. Together, they outline their points of agreement and then begin learning ways to work together to settle their differences. This is a give-and-take process in which the mediator may have to remind the parents about what is best for the children. The mediation usually concludes with a written agreement between the parents. The plan, which may be submitted to the court, includes only those points of agreement.

Mediators are bound by an ethical code assuring the parents confidentiality. What they report to the court is limited to the signed agreement between the parents. The mediator may ask the parents to agree not to repeat what is said in mediation to anyone else. However, confidentiality could be forfeited if the mediator has reason to believe that one parent may physically harm someone.

Using a mediator to help parents from divided homes to resolve differences is becoming increasingly popular. The reason for the popularity is that it works. Parents who participate in making decisions and feel their concerns are heard are more likely to comply with a mediated agreement than a court order. This encourages parents to work together, and this is good for the children. Research has proven repeatedly that children make a better adjustment to divorce when they know their parents communicate and work together for their best interests. However, some continue to think of mediation as a fad. For others, mediation is a viable alternative to returning to court every year or two to settle disputes. While the process is clearly not a panacea for all the ills that trouble divorced families and their children, for many it is an effective method of resolving disputes.

2. Counseling

There are some family or personal problems that mediation is not intended to solve. Someone who has a mental disorder, abuses drugs or is abusive to people will require a more intense therapeutic intervention with a counselor, social worker, psychologists or psychiatrist. Most mediators are not qualified to work with those who need help specifically with parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. From my experience, the counselors most effective at working with high conflict issues have been trained in family systems therapy, have knowledge of the laws and court, and understand the workings of alienation. Our court in Trumbull County, Ohio has put together a pool of counselors to work with these families. To participate in the pool, counselors had to go through our training and agree to report compliance back to the court. This has been working very well.

Some attorneys suspect that clients may need counseling but are not sure when a referral is appropriate. Most people start counseling to get relief from psychological or emotional pain. While everyone has days when one feels depressed, on edge, or anxious, having these feelings does not mean a person needs therapy. Rather, therapy is helpful when a person does not bounce back or recover from psychological pain or persistent pain, and when poor coping skills interfere with daily functioning. A person has good reason for getting professional help when he or she is missing work, no longer enjoying pleasurable activities, drinking more, having trouble controlling anger, or withdrawing from friends and family.

Specifically, active alienators who are frequently triggered and expose the children to their anger may need therapy, since they usually have trouble separating ex-spousal issues from parental responsibilities. Obsessed alienators always need therapy, but they will often refuse to go and may be offended by a suggestion that help is necessary. Others who commonly need therapy are parents who spend too much time thinking about their divorce and having been betrayed by the system; parents who can’t help driving by the marital home hoping for a glimpse of the ex-spouse or children; and parents who often think about their next phone call to the ex-spouse or the children and cannot seem to stop him or herself from making the calls. Other warning signs include an increase in the use of alcohol and drugs or an increase in high-risk behavior such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex, stalking, and harassing phone calls.

Sometimes parents have the idea, often reinforced by mental health professionals, that people should seek professional help whenever they suffer a trauma or a major loss, because they can’t help but become emotionally scarred if the crisis isn’t somehow dealt with professionally. This thinking is not always true. For thousands of years, people have suffered crises without getting therapy. Most seemed to get along fine, stumbling along for a while but often becoming stronger for their experience. They continue to function quite well and make tremendous contributions. I sometimes think many mental health professionals are arrogant to think they are the only ones qualified to help someone through a crisis. This is not always true. When parents do need help, however, they may need to be remind by their attorney that there is no shame in doing so. What is shameful is recognizing there is a problem and doing nothing about it. Some parents also need the reassurance that counseling will not hurt their case.

If a parent decides help is necessary, he or she should schedule an appointment with a local psychologist, clinical social worker or family therapist. There are local organizations that sponsor workshops or groups for people adjusting to their divorce. Other good sources are the family court, friends who have had an experience similar to the parent’s, or local support or advocacy groups like Parents Without Partners, ACES or Fathers for Equal Rights.

When considering a therapist, a parent should not hesitate to interview the person to see if he or she is qualified. One should ask for therapists’ qualifications and fees even if some therapists may be put off. Many parents have asked for mine. Remember that a parent trusts the therapists with their own or their child’s well being, and their services are also expensive. A parent should ask them for other qualifications: How many times have they testified in domestic court?. How many years of experiences do they have working with families? Who is the psychiatrist with whom they are working in the event medication or a psychiatric evaluation may be needed? What are the fees? There are no rules or specific qualifications that will assure a parent of the clinicians qualifications. One must use one’s best judgment.

There should be chemistry between the parent seeking therapy and the therapist. Sometimes this takes a while to establish, as with any other close relationship, so parents should not give up too easily. To do a good job, the counselor may have to tell the parent some things they won’t want to hear at first. This is particularly true if the parent has been alienating their children. On the other hand, if the parent’s gut instinct is that the counselor is off target and consistently puts them down or makes them feel more depressed, the parent should trust his or her instincts and look for another therapist.


Many parents hope for a magic potion to solve the problems of alienation. Sadly, no such potion exists. For the time being, education, early recognition, prevention, expedient litigation, visitations centers, and qualified high conflict family therapists are our best home for helping children and their parents. To reduce the number of casualties, there will need to be legislative reform founded on good research, validated intervention protocols for alienated children and parents, changes in social or sexist attitudes, and qualified interventionists. Though change is slow, legislators across the county are taking another look at what is happening in the courts. There continues to be an uneasy feeling that something is wrong and the system could better serve families. In-formed attorneys and judges, however, can help improve the system.


Braver, S. & O’Connell, D., (1998). “Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths.” New York, New York: Putnam.

Clawar, S.S. & Rivlin, B.V., (1991). “Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children.” Chicago, Illinois: American Bar Association.

Clingempeel, W. Glenn, & Reppucci, N.D., “Joint Custody After Divorce: Major Issues and Goals for Research.” Psychology Bulletin. 1982, 91, 102-27.

Darnall, D. (1998). “Divorce Casualties: Protecting your Children from Parental Alienation.” Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing.

Dudley, 3., “Increasing Our Understanding of Divorced Fathers Who Have Infrequent Contact with Their Children.” Family Relations. 1991,40, 279-28.

Ehrenberg, Marion F., et al., “Shared Parenting Agreements After Marital Separation: The Roles of Empathy and Narcissism.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1996, 64, 808-18.

Emery, R. “Children in the Divorce Process.” Journal of Family Psychology. 1988, 2(2), 141-44.

Folberg, Jay, (1991). “Joint Custody and Shared Parenting: Second Edition.” New York, N.Y.: The Guilford Press.

Gardner, Richard A. (1987). “The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse.” Cresskill, N.J.: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, Richard A. (1989). “Family Evaluation in Child custody Mediation, Arbitration, and Litigation.” Cresskill, N.J.: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, Richard A. (1998). “The Parental Alienation Syndrome: Second Edition.” Cresskill, N.J.: Creative Therapeutics.

Garrity, C.B. & Baris, M.A. (1994). “Caught in the Middle: Protecting the Children of High-Conflict Divorce.” New York: Lexington Books.

Grych, J. & Fincham, F. “Interventions for Children of Divorce: Toward Greater Integration of Research and Action.” Psychological Bulletin. 1992, 111(3) 434-54.

“Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings: Pertinent Literature.” American Psychologist. 1994, 49(7), 677-80.

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Warshak, Richard, (1992). “The Custody Revolution: The Father Factor and the Motherhood Mystique.” New York: Poseidon Press.

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The original article can be fund here: http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/darnal99.htm

Parental Alienation Syndrome: An Age-Old Custody Problem

In Childrens Rights, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, fathers rights, mothers rights, Obama, parental alienation, Parents rights on April 17, 2009 at 10:00 am

by Michael R. Walsh and J. Michael Bone

The term parental alienation syndrome (PAS), first described by Richard Gardner, is also sometimes referred to as “brainwashing.”(1) Its concept and dynamics include a complex network of involvement and motives on the part of all members acting in this family drama. Furthermore, each of them usually takes his or her role in the alienation process well before the dissolution or separation process begins.

Additionally, one should be mindful that in some instances a child does not reject a parent immediately following a parental separation but rather based upon actual or true life experiences. Thus, this syndrome affects intact, as well as divided, families.

PAS, in its most extreme form, refers to a disturbance in which a child is preoccupied with viewing one parent as all “good” and the other as all “bad.” The former is loved and idealized, while the other is hated and verbally vilified.

The PAS hostility expressed by the child is generally characterized without any outward expression of guilt, embarrassment, or ambivalence. Accordingly, this conduct may be especially puzzling, even to a trained observer, if there is no apparent factual basis to justify the depth of the emotions involved.

In severe cases, the child may also suffer from psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, vomiting, loss of sleep, refusal to eat, and the like when faced with the prospect of visiting the “bad” parent. More often, however, the mild to moderately alienated child may express rejection by verbally disparaging the “bad” parent or destroying gifts or refusing to engage in family activities which were once enjoyed with that parent.

Swiftly orchestrating a remedial plan will greatly diminish the PAS process and, in most cases, eliminate it completely.

Contradictory as it may seem, such a child may also be able to show affection for the “bad” parent when alone, but will never do so in the presence of the “good” parent. This inconsistent “chameleon” quality is a diagnostic hallmark of PAS.

Routinely, the child living with the alienating parent (AP) for the majority of the time is in a classic “no-win” situation. If the child defies the AP’s directive in vilifying the targeted parent (TP), the child is guilty of betrayal of their primary caretaker; conversely, if he or she supports these allegations or contributes to them, then the child betrays the TP. The child cannot win, and the deep conflict thus creates a passageway for the possibility of actual delusional thinking on his or her part, as well as that of the AP.

Leaving a child in this pathological environment is most damaging and, under these circumstances, a child may many times become anxious, isolated and depressed. In time, if proper intervention is not forthcoming, the child develops a deep and profound sense of self-hatred and shame for condemning the other parent. These children tend to become despondent, withdrawn, and develop psychopathic manipulative characteristics which may be carried into adulthood.

Actors, Programming, and Techniques

First of all, it is fallacious to believe that all of the responsibility for this process should be attributed solely to the AP, even though that parent has engaged in highly observable maneuvering or self-serving actions. A child usually has some contributing motive, even though it may be extremely vague or more defensible than malevolent.

Of course, there are always variables, such as where both parents appear to be playing their roles in the alienation process but the child will not join with them or is well able to disengage and maintain independence. The same may also happen with the TP, or the process may not fully play out at all because of a geographical distance involved or by the extremely limited time schedule between that parent and the minor child.(2)

Typically, the AP has an agenda for turning the child against the other parent. It helps to counterbalance that parent’s feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth, powerlessness, or merely being overwhelmed with the future prospect of facing judicial proceedings. It may include revenge, guilt, fear of loss of the child, or loss of the role of primary parent or the desire to have proprietary control over the child, as well as jealousy of the other parent, the desire to obtain “leverage” as to equitable distribution, child support, or alimony, a past history of abandonment, alienation, physical or sexual abuse, self-protection, or even the loss of one’s identity.

Alienation techniques may include attacking the other parent’s character, telling the child the “truth about past events,” playing the victim, or being indulgent or permissive

These motives lead the AP to program the child. Various techniques are used, such as: denying the existence of the TP, labeling the child as fragile, and thus requiring AP’s continuous protection, creating an allegiance between the child and parent in a parental struggle, taking normal differences and turning them into a “good/bad” or “right/wrong” solutions, generalizing from specifics to global meanings, putting the child in the middle, comparing good experience with bad experience, attacking the TP’s character or lifestyle, telling the child the “truth about past events,” sympathy seeking, playing the victim, communications or actions prompting fear, anxiety, guilt, intimidation, threats, or merely being overly indulgent or extremely permissive.(3)

One must realize that the TP may also have a motive, including a hidden desire to abandon the family, intense anger at the AP, self-righteousness, past family problems, a personal history of escaping, fragile mental health, or fear of losing a relationship with the child.

The TP, for his or her part, in the past, may have well engaged in conduct leading the minor to believe that he or she wishes to abandon or harm the child. Additionally, he or she may also have been violent or insensitive. Since the diagnostic characteristic of PAS is its “license with reality,” one can be sure that the allegations of the TP’s wrongdoing will, in any event, be grossly distorted or even rendered fictional. Still, nevertheless, they appear to be deeply believed by the AP, as well as the child.

Lastly, the child’s motivation may also include coping with the loss, resolving parental conflict and other normal developmental pressures.

Proof and Evidence

While the constant theme of the alienation may be easily identified, it is not necessarily always susceptible of specific proof. The difficulty, of course, is when there are no witnesses present to refute allegations, and such statements are offered in a courtroom setting or to a guardian ad litem or a mental health professional in conference. Practically, it is emotionally difficult to discount such accusations because they are made with high emotional pitch, urgency, and a desperation as to a description of the incidents involved. All of the foregoing contributes to believability, especially where the minor child is relating a self-reporting trauma and a real danger to him or her. Such accounts may appear to be very convincing to the listener.

Make no mistake about it, individuals with either PAS or a related malicious syndrome will and do lie! They are convincing witnesses, and their manipulative skills may influence others to follow suit. Furthermore, they have absolutely rational explanations for interference with access and contact by the other parent or the complaint of not sharing parental responsibility. Conveniently, they leave out of their testimony pertinent details or they maneuver the facts in such a manner to create an entirely false impression.

Unfortunately, many are successful and run circles around opposing counsel and the court. As a result, over a period of time, the suffering parent becomes emotionally and financial depleted and withdraws the issue from the court system.

In attempting to find “family truths,” one must of necessity rely upon typical patterns often only detected by mental health specialists or psychotherapists. These include conflicting or contradictory statements by a child or the AP as to past representations, factual histories, or observations or perceptions made; spying on the TP and reporting it, even to a professional; the child engaging in character assault as to the TP or friends or family; the child parroting the themes of the AP; the child’s use of similar phrases or words; the child offering up inappropriate or indelicate information about the other parent; colluding by word or action with the AP and giving only one-sided information to a professional or guardian ad litem; phrasing or speaking only positively about the AP while verbalizing only negatively and derogatorily about the TP; and, lastly, the child’s lack of affinity or association with the TP’s family, friends, or associates.(4)

Clear instances must be cited to the court since PAS is not generally accepted as a diagnostic tool because it has not yet gained acceptance among experts in the field.(5)

Assuming the challenging parent has assembled credible proof and can demonstrate through a variety of incidents the conduct complained of, our courts have not at all been hesitant to make a decision without regard as to whether PAS is scientifically reliable. In the Interest of TMW, 553 So. 2d 260 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989); Tucker v. Greenberg, 674 So. 2d 807 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996); Williams v. Williams, 676 So. 2d 493 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996); Adams v. Adams, 677 So. 2d 6 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996).

A Useful Judicial Tool

Alienation does not occur overnight. It is gradual and consistent and is directly related to the time spent with the alienating parent. To heal the relationship, the child requires quality time with the targeted parent and continued communication to serve as a reality check and in order to counterbalance the effect of ongoing alienation at home.

The alienating parent, on the other hand, requires time to complete the brainwashing of the child without interruption. Thus, manipulation of time is a prime weapon in his or her hands.

Unlike cases of child abuse, where time away from the abuser sometimes helps to repair a damaged relationship, any time lost in repairing a child-parent relationship only furthers the goal of alienation.

While the court needs time to assess each case and move cautiously, the court must remember that with the passage of time, the child grows to be a staunch corroborator.

In these instances, a judicial wish to maintain the status quo in the life of the child pending the outcome of a determination of PAS will only cause that minor to drift further away from the nonresidential parent. Additionally, referrals to mediation or the use of attorney-client negotiations are often futile because implicit in these processes is a lack of a swift directive that is often perceived by the alienator as denoting approval of his or her behavior.

These authors believe that only the force of law may shorten the death of PAS in a given case! An early judicial precedent of a clear and forceful nature is needed!
Brainwashing takes time. Early judicial intervention may send a clear message to the alienating parent to back off, and will reduce the tension between the child and the other parent

Swift judicial intercession by an award of extra or compensatory visitation to the TP oftentimes sends a clear message to the AP to “back off” and, within a short period of time, the tension and stress that previously existed between the child and the TP has completely disappeared.

Of all of the research on the effects of separation and divorce, the one conclusion that is never debated is that children fare better when they maintain a close relationship with both parents. It is generally accepted that the loss of one parent is detrimental to a child. The only exception seems to be in the case of physical, sexual, or clear emotional abuse.

Accordingly, in fashioning any remedy to PAS, the court, counsel, and the mental health specialist or psychologist must begin with the premise that children will do best when having access to both parents. No proof should be required to support this conclusion, and equal access to both the mother and the father should be legally presumed.

Inequality of access should result only when there is specific evidence that the accused parent has been guilty of abuse or has clearly violated good parental judgment on a somewhat consistent basis; otherwise, there should be no deviation.

Without keeping this perspective in mind, it is indeed difficult to establish any clear sense of the truth because one will always be caught up in the endless chasing of alleged events that are just beyond specific proof but, yet, nevertheless, found to be credible because of the inferences drawn from them.

It is only with the above presumption in mind, as well as that of shared parental responsibility, that a baseline can be created whereby the AP’s allegations, as well as the TP’s responses and counter-allegations, may be tested in a true light.

The strategies utilized by the AP to alienate the children and the other parent vary from the most subtle to the most obvious. They all, however, have a consistent theme: any opportunity for the AP to control access and contact or the sharing of major decisions with reference to the child is apt to be exploited. Therefore, limiting the avenues available removes this interference obstacle.

An interesting concept recently advanced to correct this dilemma is the multi-directional court order.(6) The court order specifies exactly the dates, times, and conditions of visitation. Further, it directs all of the persons closely associated with the AP, as well as the TP, to comply with the court order.

For example, it defines an exact date and time visitation schedule, as well as a precisely defined neutral location for visitation transfer, if that is required.

It may appoint an individual agreeable to both parties or appointed by the court to monitor and supervise the visitation transfers, if required.

Clearly worded authorization is given to all law enforcement officers to execute the transfer of the child specified in the order and, should a parent violate the specified date and time to deliver the child, the court order directs the law enforcement agency to assist the victimized parent in locating his or her child and, additionally, arrest the violating parent.

Ample authority to school personnel to provide whatever access is meaningful to the nonresidential parent is also spelled out.

Clear directives to all personnel involved in any activity relative to the child is given with the right to permit the nonresidential parent full access to any organization involving the child, should it be educational, financial, medical, professional, recreational, religious, or otherwise.

Lastly, it contains authorization to any individual and a directive to assist the nonresidential parent so that no behavior will transpire which will interfere with the contact and access rights accorded to him or her by the court order.

The order does not contain empty threats but rather delineates the penalties that may be imposed if the court order is violated.

A drafting suggestion may be to include a step-up of the sanctions involved with an appropriate list of penalties at the court’s discretion which may include increased parental access and contact by the TP, monetary fines, the posting of security, community service, payment of attorneys’ fees and costs, incarceration, and loss of primary residential responsibility and primary residential custody, Schutz v. Schutz, 522 So. 2d 874 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988). Also meaningful is a public apology as a sanction. This apology may be to the child in the courtroom, along with a promise not to interfere again, or a letter of apology to others, such as school personnel, organizational leaders, or one involved in a religious activity of the child. Schutz v. Schutz, 581 So. 2d 1290 (Fla. 1991).

The Role of the Attorney, Psychologist, Court and a Remedial Plan

From the general overview previously discussed, it is easy to see how PAS cases lend themselves to productive intervention, be it by court decision or voluntary settlement. One important roadblock is, however, fear.

Many attorneys or other professionals, especially therapists, tend to shy away from direct confrontation with the AP out of fear of being wrong. The price of such error is certainly harmful to the minor child, as well as a future malpractice action or criminal charge, especially in the case of a psychotherapist. While generally these clinicians do not fender “black and white” recommendations, they will in this instance most generally engage in lukewarm generic advice and, by doing so, directly or indirectly support the PAS.

In all events, successful intervention of PAS requires coordination by the court and all members of the legal and mental health community.

The attorney for the TP will find a receptive audience as a client, while the attorney for the AP has a more difficult role. The AP, having invested substantial time and collected substantial evidence, wants the attorney, mental health professional and judicial system to agree with him or her.

Accordingly, this attorney must be called upon to exercise professional judgment and to avoid being swept up in the process of PAS by remaining neutral or not focusing entirely on all of the known evidence.

In any event, the attorneys must cooperate together in securing representation for each interested party, including the minor child. The appointment of a guardian ad litem provides a special opportunity for additional coordination of efforts and, at long last, some collaboration in the fact finding process as to PAS.

Attorneys representing these parents are ill-equipped to render the necessary professional judgment required to bring the family back to a more constructive route, and thus the next step is to involve a mental health professional who is familiar with family law, custody assessment, and PAS. These authors recommend a court-appointed expert for this purpose.

The role of the court-appointed psychologist must be to first identify the causation and rejection of a parent by the child and to determine whether or not it is the result of PAS.

This psychological evaluation, to be used as the integral part of the remedial plan, must go beyond the identification process and be directly oriented toward the motives of all family members, the defense factors or functions of PAS in the family, and the specific techniques employed and patterns involved.

Further, the evaluation must be dedicated to routing out the extent of the alienation and the psychological or emotional damage done. A written evaluation is prepared and forwarded to the court and counsel.

Once the evaluation is completed, then, and only then, should joint corroboration on a rehabilitative plan begin. It should hopefully be nonadversarial, but if the controversy still brews, the court must quickly intervene and use its authority.

The court, at this point, should encourage joint negotiations or family law mediation as being preferable to a non-jury trial. Even, however, should these alternatives prove futile, the trial judge is now, nevertheless, in the position of having an in-depth knowledge of the causation and extent of the family chaos at hand and a useful roadmap in the way of the evaluation to help chart a course for its correction.

Any intervention plan must be based upon the premise that there is a distinct advantage to having an on-going relationship between the minor children and the TP. This is the goal of the remedial plan!

By drawing in, and with all family members contributing, the end product hopefully will reflect the airing of all family views and thus a better prospect for a family contract or compact.

Any meaningful plan should include a provision for a neutral or independent mental health expert to be appointed or selected as a monitor relative to the future needs of the child and as a “safe harbor” for that minor. It should also provide for a referral as to separate therapists for each of the parents, as well as perhaps an on-going evaluation by the guardian ad litem and court-appointed expert.

In any event, once the evaluation is completed, swiftly orchestrating such a plan to fruition will greatly diminish the PAS process and, in most cases, eliminate it completely. Acting in this manner and establishing the benefits of a renewed and continuing relationship, the family now begins to draw closer together in providing solutions rather than problems, and the child, once and for all, is finally relieved of previous emotional pressures.

1 R. Gardner, Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse (1987).

2 Dunne and Hedrick, The Parental Alienation Syndrome: An Analysis of Sixteen Selected Cases, J. Divorce & Remarriage (1994).

3 Waldron and Joanis, Understanding and Corroboratively Treating Parental Alienation Syndrome, 10Am. J. Fam. L. 121-133 (1996).

4 Id. at 126.

5 Frye v. United States, 293 F. 2d 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923); Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmeceuticals, Inc., 113 S.Ct. 2786 (1993); Karen “PP” v. Claude “OO,” 574 N.Y.S. 2d 267 (Fam. Ct. 1991); In re Marriage of Wiederholt v. Fisher; 485 N.W. 2d 442 (Wis. Ct. App. 1992); Page v. Jordan by and through Jordan, 564 So. 2d 500 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1990); The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Dangerous Aura of Reliability, LOY. L.A. L. REV. (spring 1994); Gardner’s Law, NAT’L L.J. Vol. 15, NO. 50, Aug. 16, 1993.

6 Turkat, Management of Visitation Interference, Judges’ J., A.B.A., Feb. 1997.


Michael R. Walsh is a sole practitioner in Orlando. He is a board certified marital and family lawyer, certified mediator and arbitrator and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. For more than 20 years, he has been a frequent lecturer and author for The Florida Bar.

J. Michael Bone, Ph.D, is a sole practice psychotherapist and certified family law mediator in Maitland. He specializes in divorce and post-divorce issues involving minor children, and has a special interest in PAS. He has served as an expert witness on these and related topics and has been appointed by the court to make recommendations involving PAS and families.

This column is submitted on behalf of the Family Law Section, Martin L. Haines, chair, and John Morse, editor.

For the original article go to: http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/pas/walsh.htm