2001News for Women in Psychiatry 19(4):11-13.


In the early 1980s, when I first began seeing the PAS, in about 85% to 90% of the cases the mother was the alienating parent and the father the targeted parent. Fathers were certainly trying to program their children to gain leverage in the custody dispute; however, they were less likely to be successful. This related to the fact that the children were generally more closely bonded with their mothers. Recognizing this, I generally recommended the mother to be designated the primary custodial parent, even though she might have been a PAS indoctrinator. It was only in the severe cases (about 10 percent)--when the mother was relentless and/or paranoid and unable to stop the programming--that I recommended primary custodial status to the father. I was not alone in recognizing this gender disparity, which was confirmed subsequently by others.

In the last few years, I have seen a gender shift: I am seeing more fathers as primary PAS programmers than I had seen before. And colleagues of mine in various parts of the country are reporting a similar phenomenon. Why this shift? One probable explanation relates to the fact that fathers are increasingly enjoying expanded visitation time with their children in association with the increasing popularity of shared parenting programs. The more time a programming father has with his children, the more time he has to program them if he is inclined to do so. Another factor operative here probably relates to the fact that with increasing recognition of the PAS, fathers (some of whom have read my book) have learned about the disorder and have decided to use the same psychological weapons described in my book--especially the money and power factors. It is probable that other factors are operative as well in the gender shift, but these are the two best explanations that I have at this point.

This shift notwithstanding, I am still recommending mothers, much more often than fathers, as the primary custodial parent--because in most cases it is the mother who has still been the primary caretaker and, accordingly, has basically been more deeply bonded with the children. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the best-interests-of-the-child presumption replaced the tender-years presumption, women would have done well to have argued that the real issue to be considered by the courts was not gender but bonding. Had they taken such a position, they could no longer be considered guilty of "reverse sexism" and would have still enjoyed the benefits of being given preference in child-custody disputes. Such preference would not have been the result of gender bias by courts, but derived from the court's recognition that parent/child bonding is the most important factor to consider when deciding primary custodial preference. Had this been done, the parental alienation syndrome probably would not have developed. Accordingly, the best way to prevent this disorder is for courts to give primary consideration to the bonding issue.


©2001News for Women in Psychiatry 19(4):11-13.