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Parental Alienation Syndrome in Court Referred Custody Cases - Part I

Updated: Apr 15


Dissertation summaries the research of 30 court, custody dispute cases the behaviours of parents and their children to the presence or absence of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Dissertation Abstract

The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) so named by Dr Richard Gardner, has been misinterpreted, misunderstood, and at times highly criticised.  Legal, psychological, and psychiatrist communities still "cringe" when PAS is suggested outright or is part of a court report.

In the early 1980's, there was concern in the mental health community about the increasing number of children who presented as with denigrating one parent, even to the point of expressing hatred toward a once loved parent (Gardner, 1992; Rand, 1997). Investigation thirty cases with 59 children currently in the court system to see if they support existence of PAS. It examined the characteristics and behaviours of the alienating parents, the alienated parent, the child, as well as, the techniques used by the alienating parent, the responses of the child, and the responses of the alienated parent.

Reluctance by professionals to consider the existence of PAS contributes to the perpetuation of the alienation of children and of a parent - child relation. It is believed by this researcher that an appropriate diagnosis of PAS can make the difference between allowing the case to go beyond the point of no return or intervening effectively before it is too late to save the parent - child relationship and maintain the emotional stability for children.

Manifestation of and Definition of Parental Alienation Syndrome

A syndrome is defined as a grouping of signs and symptoms, based upon their that may suggest a underlying pathogenesis, course, familiar pattern, or treatment selection (DSM 4th Edition, 1994). The syndrome identified by Gardner seeks to understand the process of a child aligning with one parent against the parent in a legal context.

PAS was first observed in children who had been involved in protracted custody litigation. Parental Alienation is now so common the manifestations of PAS were observed in approx 90% of the children involved in custody conflicts by the mid 1980's.

PAS vs Brainwashing

PAS is different from simple brainwashing, and the term PAS refers to a "disturbance in which a child is with denigration and criticism of a parent". The criticism and denigration of PAS is unjustified and / or exaggerated. Gardner stated: " Brainwashing implies one parent is systematically and consciously programming the child to denigrate the other"

The Children

When bona fide abuse is present, the PAS diagnosis is not applicable. No single child is going to exhibit all of the of PAS; rather, the symptoms can be divided into mild, moderate, and severe categories. For example, the severely alienated child is obsessed with "hatred of a parent". The denigration of the parent often has the quality of litany: " I hate him and I never want to see him again" because "he scares me".

The once revered parent is now referred to as "boring" and "mean". The child has no memory of any happy, good, or positive times prior to the alienated parent's departure. The relationship between the parent and child is fragile in these even if it was positive prior to the separation.

Children have a diminished ability to maintain healthy boundaries and relationships when brought into conflict in a custody battle.


  • Gardner, R. (1998), (1992), (1986), (1999)

    • Differentiating between parental alienation and bona fide abuse-neglect.

    • The Parental Alienation Syndrome

    • Child Custody Litigation

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