You most often hear of Parental Alienation Syndrome in court cases where fathers who are proficient at conducting Google searches, are seeking custody of their children, but it is also claimed by women, in some cases, for the same reasons. It is difficult to use this as an actual defense in a child custody case, as Parental Alienation Syndrome is, in fact, not considered by the scientific community as a syndrome at all. It isn’t even a legitimate scientific theory. The word, “theory” in this case, refers to how facts are interpreted using the scientific method.
Richard Gardner, founder of the parental alienation syndrome movement based his opinions on his personal clinical experience, and without empirical evidence supported by science. Parental Alienation Syndrome cannot be properly tested, because it relies on unproven assumptions….and so it goes. This is wherein the controversy lies, and is why it generally does not hold up in court.
Certainly, there have been cases in which either or one or the other parent says or does things that may alienate children from their relationships with their other parent. However, this does not constitute the definition of an actual syndrome or disorder, and that is why so often cases that attempt to use this as a defense in a court of law are thrown out or are not taken seriously.
Dangers Inherent in Making the Parental Alienation Syndrome Claim
One of the most strident arguments against using Parental Alienation Syndrome in court is that it is often used to undercut valid allegations of domestic and sexual abuse by redirecting attention from the alleged abuser to the victim. Proponents of Parental Alienation Syndrome claim that the child has been lead to believe that abuse has occurred when it hasn’t. They claim that the alienating parent has brainwashed the child to vilify or denigrate the other parent without an investigation being conducted first to find out whether the allegations are correct. Parental Alienation Syndrome often follows the tenant that the alienating parent is making up the claims of abuse.
In his article about Parental Alienation Syndrome in SocialworkToday Magazine (2009) , Andraé L. Brown, PhD, an assistant professor at Lewis and Clark College here in Portland, OR, and the codirector of the Affinity Counseling Group, notes that PAS is often introduced in cases in which there is documented abuse on the part of the parent claiming alienation.
Brown states, “If there were no evidence of any kind of misconduct, then it would have more credence,” he says, “but the fact is that there’s usually some kind of documented abuse. In many PAS cases, the court has issued restraining orders against these men. PAS says there’s something wrong with the child because he or she doesn’t want to be around the father. Maybe it’s because there’s been this documented history of abuse, and the child has either witnessed the violence done to the mother or has endured violence themselves.”
Brown agrees that there are cases in which a child may become closer to or protective of one parent during divorce proceedings or the aftermath but says that when a father begins to claim that he is being alienated, it is most often the result of the alienated parent’s behavior, not the other parent’s efforts to vilify the “alienated parent.”
There are many cases and examples of children being successfully raised by step parents or by one parent alone. The father who makes repeated false claims about the mother, who calls CPS at the drop of a hat, who derides and maligns the mother and watches for reasons to take her to court, then claims parental alienation, is the father who ignores the truth. This is the fatal flaw in his strategy, but sadly, he will never see this.