Should Courts Order PAS Children
to Visit/Reside with the Alienated Parent?
A Follow-up Study
[Abstract and Excerpts]

Richard A. Gardner. M.D.

©2001The American Journal of Forensic Psychology 19(3):61-106.


The question whether courts should order children with parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to visit/reside with the alienated parent has been a significant source of controversy among legal and mental health professionals. This article describes 99 PAS cases in which the author has been directly involved, cases in which he has concluded that the court should order visitation with or transfer primary residential custody to the alienated parent. The outcome when such orders were implemented (N=22) will be compared with the outcome when this recommendation was not followed (N=77).

This is the definition of the parental alienation syndrome that I have used since my first publication on the disorder in 1985:

The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that 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 the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present, the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the child’s hostility is not applicable.

RESULTS

The court chose to either restrict the children’s access to the alienator or change custody in 22 of the children. There was a significant reduction or even elimination of PAS symptomatology in all 22 of these cases. This represents a 100 percent success rate. The court chose not to transfer custody or reduce access to the alienator in 77 cases. In these cases there was an increase in PAS symptomatology in 70 (90.9 percent). In only 7 cases (9.1 per cent) of the nontransferred was there sp ontaneous improvement. Custodial change and/or reduction of the alienator’s access to the children was found to be associated with a reduction in PAS symptomatology (§ 2 (df=1)=68.28, p.<.001). These results are summarized in Table 3. These findings are consistent with those of the 3 previously referenced studies (34, 35, 36).

DISCUSSION

This study provides confirmation of my longstanding observation that the most potent therapeutic measure that one can utilize for PAS children is reduction of their access to the alienating parent. In some cases, this reduction requires custodial transfer. In others, reduction of the alienator’s access time may prove effective. And only the courts have the power to effect such reduction of access. The principle here is similar to that utilized when treating patients who have been indoctrinated in a cult. Before one can treat, one must reduce, if not eliminate entirely, their involvement with the cult leaders. Whereas one can hope for complete removal of a cult victim from a cult, the goal of removing a child from a parent is an entirely different matter. In most cases, the PAS indoctrinator can still provide the child with psychologically beneficial input and exposures in spite of the fact that the child is also being programmed. Thus, the reduced access element is not as easily accomplished with PAS children as it may be for children programmed by cult leaders.

The study also provides substantiation for my longstanding observation that the bonding that the child has with the targeted parent is potentially the most powerful preventive of the PAS and a very powerful antidote to PAS symptomatology in many cases.

The study also provides confirmation of my longstanding observation that traditional therapy is of little if any value for the vast majority of PAS children. In fact, for most it makes them worse, because traditional therapists usually do just the opposite of what PAS children need.

It is important to note that the 7 cases in which the children exhibited reduced PAS symptomatology, in spite of the court’s refusal to reduce the alienator’s access, were cases in which the children were in their teens and so were cognitively capable of appreciating the programming process. In these cases, as well, there were behavioral patterns exhibited by the alienator that facilitated the child’s reconciliation with the alienated parent. There was some neglect and even abuse by the alienating parent (case No. 96 being the most dramatic example of such abuse) that contributed to the child’s reconciliation with the alienated parent. Although 7 cases cannot reasonably be considered compelling proof, the phenomenon must be noted. It would be an error, however, for the reader to conclude that this is a likely possibility. It must be remembered that this only occurred in 9.1 percent of the 77 cases in which the court did not change custody or reduce the alienator’s access. This figure must be compared to the 100 percent success rate when PAS children were transferred to the primary custody of the alienated parent and/or there was significant constriction of the alienator’s access to the children.

PAS SYMPTOMS
REDUCED
OR ELIMINATED

PAS SYMPTOMS
NOT REDUCED
OR ELIMINATED

N

CUSTODY CHANGED OR ALIENATOR'S ACCESS REDUCED

22

0

22

CUSTODY NOT CHANGED
OR ALIENATOR'S ACCESS
NOT REDUCED

7

70

77

N

29

70

99


PAS Symptoms as a Function of Alienator’s Access
Table 3