Coping with the Parental Alienation Syndrome

Page 6 of 12



The argument by the various government authorities that PAS is not a classified syndrome, and therefore cannot be recognised in the court, is an excuse for doing nothing.

Irrespective of whether PAS is a syndrome, or constitutes 'emotional child abuse', the fact that the mother will say "I am happy for the children to see the father, but they do not want to" is a lie in PAS cases, and as such is a false allegation that can be tested. A person giving false evidence in court is committing an offence whatever the reason.

Testing for lies is court is a well-established procedure. The 'Frye test' has been used in the USA to prove that PAS exists in a case. The details of this case and using the Frye test generally can be found on the Internet.

There are several ways used for testing whether someone is lying or not:

  • Polygraph tests, which rely on the fact that someone lying will show signs of anxiety, and this can be recorded.
  • Drugs can be used to alter a person's response time to a question. It takes longer to think up a lie to a question that they should know the answer to.
  • Multiple questions to crosscheck an answer, as might be used by a lawyer in court. Such questions can often be set out on a questionnaire and checked for consistency.
  • Computers can check response times of answering questions, and give indications of lying.
  • Computers can also check written statements to see how consistent they are with the grammar and phrasing of other letters of the author.
  • Interviews directly with a computer using single-word replies can make it difficult to lie. These would be easy to use for children without threatening them.
  • More difficult, but possible is having a brain scan to show which parts of the brain are being used when replying. We use different parts of the brain for automatic responses than for thinking up lies.
  • Simply recording interviews with the parents and children, and then playing them back in front of everyone for comments, is very effective, and need be no more difficult than used in police stations for interviewing suspects.

The argument against lie tests is that the parents are not 'criminals' yet in PAS cases the mother will be lying and the father is regarded as an offender is asking to see his children. He is effectively sentenced to many years of punishment by being denied contact with his children because the court will not test for PAS when facilities exist for doing so.


There are numerous organisations dealing with aspects of child-welfare. Some of these are really women's organisations with 'Family' in the title.

Most of the organisations contacted with the question 'Do you recognise the term Parental Alienation Syndrome?' did not reply, even though sent references to PAS. Here are some replies of the organisations that did respond.

Though these replies are around ten-years old, the importance of them is the attitudes of those that run these organisations. The replies are of the type "Sorry, we don't know of PAS, please don't bother us again". Or "We'll let you know if we hear of anything". In no case are they saying "This is obviously important, and can you give us more information so we can use it in our work".

From the Institute for Public Policy Research

27 August 1993

Dear S Hayward
Thank you for your letter of 30th July and enclosed paper on The Parental Alienation Syndrome.
I am looking forward to reading Richard Gardners piece and the attached addendum.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.
Yours sincerely

NOTE: This Institute was set up to look at Social problems. Nothing was heard from them again.

25 August 1993

Dear S. Hayward,
Thank you for your letter of 2 August and the enclosures regarding Parental Alienation Syndrome. Although I found the papers interesting to read and could agree with much of what was said, we have no direct experience of this syndrome nor any further information about it.
I am sorry not to be of assistance and hope that other agencies will be able to give you more information.
Yours sincerely,

NOTE: The above reply is from Kidscape, an organisation that deals with problems like bullying. Bullies are typically from broken families. In spite of the dismissal of PAS, the Director of this organization has made important contributions to the studies of women who abuse children.

The following reply from the National Commission of Inquiry into the prevention of child abuse. Dated 10th August 1995

Dear Mr Hayward
I am writing on behalf of the Commission to thank you very much for your recent submission. The Commission is most grateful to you for your paper which we will consider very carefully. Yours views and recommendations will help influence both the Commission's thinking and the final recommendations it will make when it reports in spring 1996.
As you know, the Commission is inviting some individuals and organisations to give oral evidence on the basis of their written submissions. Once we have had time to consider your submission in detail we may come back to you in order to invite you to come and meet wit us or to clarify points that you have made.
If, in your work and thinking, additional points occur to you and you would like to make to them known to the Commission, please do not hesitate to send us a further paper
Once again, many thanks for your submission and assistance with the Commission's work.
Yours sincerely

NOTE: In spite of many references to PAS being submitted, the Commission chose to ignore this form of child abuse, and ignored offers of help from FNF to investigate it.

The following abstract came the University of St Andrews Dept of International Relations.

Dear Mr Rait,
Thank you for your recent letter. My apologies for not having responded sooner with regards to our previous conversation concerning the Stockholm Syndrome. I am very sympathetic to the precarious situation which you described to me and I hope that the information I enclosed here will be of some help.
The term 'Stockholm Syndrome" originated as a result of a bank robbery in Stockholm in September 1973 by the late Professor Nils Bejerot [until his death in 1988 research director at the Swedish Carnegie Institute]. In response to the six day siege in Stockholm, in which a bank robber together with an accomplice held four bank employees hostage in a bank in the centre of the city, Dr Bejerot was called in as an advisor to the Swedish Police on the reactions of the bank robber. Dr Bejerot rapidly concluded that the bank robber was a so-called "commercial criminal', only interested in the nioney and with a strong determination to live. He concluded that the man would not have anything to gain from the killing or maiming his hostages. In a detailed analysis, Dr Bejerot demonstrated that the Stockholm drama, which ended without the loss of lives, was a hostage situation of a kind which is not as dangerous to the hostages as when politically motivated terrorists get hold of their adversaries.
The Stockholm Syndrome, which eminated from the bank drama in 1973, is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is described as an emotional bonding which has three components: (1) there are positive feelings on the part of the hostage(s) toward their captor(s); (ii) there are negative feelings on the part of the hostage(s) toward the police and authorities; and (iii) there are positive feelings on the part of the hostage-taker toward his captive(s). These findings are not surprising as the feeling of dependence by the hostage on the hostage-taker ranges from food to has/her very life. Some have described it as a form of bonding which occurs between an infant and his mother. The complete dependence of the hostage promotes gratitude (for not being harmed) and a positive feeling towards the captor in much the same way the nursing promotes the development of love between a baby and his mother. This infant-mother bond represent the most basic form of security as well as dependence as manifested through the notion of the Stockholm Syndrome. Secondly, the Stockholm Syndrome laid down a new strategic principle for police work in barricade situations. Part of basic police procedure is to prolong the negotiations so that this emotional bonding may develop, thus making it somewhat more difficult for the criminals to kill or maim the hostages.
In relation to our previous conversation whether this syndrome can be applied to children under certain circumstances, I would suggest it would be advisable to consult authoritative psychologists for a definitive answer.

NOTE: The highlighting is mine. It is shown that by prolonging the situation a stronger emotional bond is formed between the captor and victim. In the case of PAS, the courts effectively prolong the bonding by allowing the disruption of contact between child and father.

The following letter is from One Parent Families organization, dated 25th August 1993. In spite of the title, it is essentially for single-mothers.

Dear Mr Hayward,
Thank you for your letter of lath August and your clarification of the purpose of your report. We discussed this request for information at our Policy team meeting. We agreed that as an agency we have no experience of something called Parental Alienation Syndrome. We do however have plenty of experience of the kind of complications and conflicts that arise between parents who are divorcing or separating over arrangements for children. We supported the Childrents Act and the definition of Access and Contact as the right of the child but we do recognise that the behaviour of the absent parent prior to the relationship breakdown influences the ability and sometimes willingness of the parent with care to facilitate access to and contact with the children.
I hope this help you in the preparation of your report.
Yours sincerely,

NOTE: The highlighting is mine. The phrase "behaviour of the absent parent prior to the relationship breakdown" sums up that it is "the fathers fault, and he is getting what he deserves".

The following reply from the Hampstead Child Development Centre Dated 27 August 1993.

Dear Mr Hayward
The Parental Alienation Syndrome has not come to the attention of this Child Development Team. I am therefore not able to advise you where you might get further information on this subject. If you have no objection I should like to hang onto the photocopies that you sent us in case we come across it.
Yours sincerely

NOTE: They seem not to have come across it in the last ten years.

The following reply is from The Psychotherapy Centre.

Dated 16 August 1993

Dear Mr Hayward
Thank you for your letter of 12 August.
A great many children suffer emotional abuse from one or both of their parents, whether the parents are together, separated or divorced. Separation or divorce of the parents is always traumatic for the children and often a disaster for them.
If a man fails to save the relationship with the children's mother, part of the price he usually pays is loss of his children, plus their loss of him, plus them in many cases being set against men generally.
The solutions suggested by Dr Gardner to what he calls parental alienation syndrome are themselves full of terrible pitfalls, such as the risk of emotionally damaging children by wrongly separating them from one or both parents, and the risk of reliance on physicians, social workers, psychologists or foster parents who may themselves emotionally (and perhaps physically) abuse the children.
Furthermore, throughout the papers which you have sent me there is an implied assumption that one parent is likely to be OK though the other is not. This is highly improbable. Neurotics marry neurotics.
The only real answer that I can see is to ensure that one is reasonably well-balanced before selecting a sexual partner and having children. If one does so, one might then choose right and not inflict emotional abuse on the children either through oneself or through having chosen an unsuitable partner.
Much of my own work is enabling people to achieve this.
Yours sincerely

NOTE: The highlighting is my own. The point that those whose job it is to help the children may themselves be abusers is not unknown. The more outsiders brought in, the less likely there will be of a resolution.


As long as domestic disputes are fought out in the courts using laws designed for property and crime, then children will be seen as property, and absent parents as a criminals.

The bottom line is that for PAS to be accepted it must be accepted both medically and legally. It means that Child-welfare experts must accept the term 'Parental Alienation' or a term that similarly describes this behaviour pattern, and lawyers must be able to use that term in their case for the victimised parent.

The earliest traceable interest by lawyers in PAS is in the American Journal of Family Therapy 1988 Vol 16(4) pages 361-363.

(Abstract) Addresses legal remedies to the parental alienatin syndrome, the process by which one parent speaks or acts in a derogatory manner to or about the other parent during or subsequent to a divorce proceeding to alienate the child or children from that other parent. (PsycINFO Database Copyright 1989 Psychological Assn)

Recognising PAS legally is not straightforward.

1. Lawyers earn their living because people argue. It is not in their interest to stop them arguing without getting paid for it.

2. The Adversial system of law works on presenting ones client in the best light, and one opponent in the worst light. The children are only incidental in the matter.

3. In around 95% of PAS disputes it is the mother who has custody, so represent the biggest market. As recognition of PAS would eliminate a significant part of this market, then again, it is not in their interests to do so.

4. Though it might be assumed that there is an equal number of lawyers with one for the father and one for the mother, this is not the case as many fathers represent themselves. There is also a growing number of 'Fathers organisations' like FNF that partially replace lawyers. To that extent 'mothers are the market'.

5. Single-mothers are far more likely to get legal aid, so the matter is easier to deal with than a father who might not get legal aid, and might (often) run out of money.
A typical PAS case can run for several years, so a lawyer can count on a regular income from these.

6. Irrespective of the above items, lawyers are not trained in this field of work. Though there are 'Family Solicitors' who specialise in this area of work, there are many complaints that even these specialists are not familiar with PAS, or not prepared to use it as an argument in the case for the father.

7. Even if the lawyers are familiar with PAS and are prepared to argue the case for it, they may be up against a magistrate or judge who will not accept it. At the end of the day the lawyer is concerned with winning the case rather than fighting a cause.

8. As the courts depend on the Court Reporters recommendations, and Court Reporters are neither legal or child-welfare experts, then the lawyer has to undermine the Court reporters case as well if it goes against the father. This is far harder than undermining the mother as the Court Reporter is supposed to be unbiased.

9. On top of that, there is the hard fact that like all systems, there is a hierarchy. Family Courts are at the bottom, and attract the least capable operatives. It is the messy infrastructure of the Family Courts that make them unworkable.

In spite of the attitudes and quirks of the Family Court system, the legal profession has recently taken an increasing interest in PAS and related problems. This interest stems from several sources.

  • The media in the UK has given the problems of Fatherhood much coverage. Starting with problems of single-mothers and through to social problems generally related to broken families.
  • The increasing recognition of PAS by the courts in the USA and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
  • Pressure groups such as FNF getting much exposure by lobbying.
  • The alternatives to legal resolution to the problem of PAS being  put forward. These include more mediation to take matters out of the courts altogether, increasingly fathers representing themselves, and use of arbitration to settle disputes that might otherwise have gone to court.

In the UK, the March and May 2002 issues of the Family Law Journal has a two-part article 'Parental Alienation Syndrome and UK Family Courts, Part 1' by Tony Hobbs JP Chartered Clinical and Counselling Psychologist.

This sets out the case for courts to recognise PAS, and gives many references on cases worldwide where it has been accepted.

The opening paragraphs of this article indicate the change in attitude by the courts worldwide.

"Practice in family courts around the world is changing in response to judicial recognition in the US and other nations of the destructive effects of this syndrome. Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was accepted as a valid entity by the US judiciary in Kilgore v Boyd (2000) (Circuit Court of 13th Judicial Circuit of Slate of Florida, Hillsborough County, Family Law Division, Case No 94-7573, Div D) and accepted most recently in Bates v Bates (2002) (18th Judicial Circuit, Dupaye County IL Case No 99D958, 17 January 2002). Many US PAS cases, plus others from around the world, are listed on the website at www rgardner .com / refs.
PAS has now been proven to respond to appropriate psychological treatment. In cases of severely entrenched PAS, effective treatment may be able to commence only when robustly supported by collaborative judicial action (see Dianne and Hedrick 'The Parental Alienation Syndrome: An analysis of sixteen selected cases' [1994]21/ Divorce & Remarriage 21; Johnson v Johnson (1997) Appeal No SAl of 1997, No AD6182 of 1993 (transcript available at cth/ family-ct/unrepll2O.html); Berg-PerloW v PerIow (2000) 15th Circuit Court, Palm Beach County, Fl, Case no CD9S-1285-FC, 15 March 2000; and Kilgore V Boyd (above)).
On a global scale, it seems that judicial willingness to acknowledge PAS and to attempt such a novel, treatment-orientated collaboration must initially be kick-started by the highest court with jurisdiction over the land"

NOTE: The Family Law Journal has printed other similar articles by lawyers and child-welfare practitioners in the past, and such sources are most valuable for presenting the case for PAS. Such articles influence lawyers and the courts more convincingly than medical articles, and are also valuable evidence to present in ones case.


Fathers are not the only ones to be affected by PAS. Many more mothers are losing their children through divorce. This is particularly the case where the mother may walk out of a marriage to another relationship, and be the guilty party in the divorce.

There are several 'Mothers' groups (as against 'Women's groups') in the UK. In these cases PAS seems worse as the causes are commonly a hostile divorce due to another relationship forming. These are the most difficult cases to resolve, as the children will feel they personally have been abandoned rather than it being a row between the parents.

Grandparents lose their grandchildren. This is most distressing for them as they have no claim on the grandchildren at all, and may well have to be emotionally supportive to their son, the father. There is much to be said for the argument that they may have their own 'contact order' allowing them to see the grandchildren. It is interesting to note that Court Reporters rarely ask the children if they also hate the grandparents when they ask they if they want to see the father again. Apart from the grandparents, there are the immediate relatives of the father who lose contact.

Second-wives also have a case. Not only do they have the emotional burden of the father's problems, they may suffer financially because of his maintenance payments to his first family, and also abuse and even physical violence from the first wife.

Siblings may suffer if one child wants to be with the father and another has been alienated. This is worse if the older child has been alienated and attempts to alienate the younger child.

Stepparents and Foster parents can also be victims of PAS, and even though not the natural parents, will have invested love, time, and money in the children they have cared for.

These groups have little influence from a legal standpoint but their stories do make sad reading, and media coverage helps to make the public aware that the social problems of family breakdown is far larger than a is generally known.


The infrastructure of the Family Courts consists of:

  • The Government departments, who issue guidelines on Family Business, but have no single department dealing with these matters.
  • The Courts, which are independent of the Government, and reluctant to set precedents or embrace new ideas.
  • The lawyers, who do work for the client simply as a consultant, and are not required to have a specialised knowledge of child-welfare.
  • The Court Reporters, who have a few hours at most to spend with the parties involved, and have to make decisions that will change all of their lives forever. If they make mistakes, they are not held responsible. Few Court Reporters have adequate training for the job.
  • Social workers, who only act if the children are 'at risk' and do not recognise emotional abuse as being 'at risk'.
  • Child-welfare specialists such as Psychiatrists and Psychologists, who are well aware of the problem, and can advise on it, but have no legal standing, and can only be called in at the expense of the father to support his case.
  • The local authorities, that are responsible for much of the work. They operate to their own standards, and there is no nationally agreed framework for the rules they set.

It is no wonder that once set in motion the case usually gets worse as there is no one who sees the whole picture apart from the parents involved, and they cannot agree on anything.