Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Justice of the
Peace 2001, Vol 165, No. 6, 10 February 2001, p 102
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), like many imports
from across the Atlantic, has come into the news and is being recognized
increasingly in Great Britain. Attention has been drawn to it by
barristers such as Willbourne and Cull (1997) and by Lowenstein
(1998 a,b; 1999 a,b,c,d).
A political party has been developed by Coe: The Equal Parenting
Party. Another organization that has become involved is the Association
for Shared Parenting. Rand (1997) has produced a series of articles,
"The Spectrum of Parental Alienation Syndrome", published
in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology. In Britain the voice
of parental alienation syndrome has been less vocal but one particular
article appearing in the Sunday Times, May 22, 2000, entitled "Children
with Fathers in Family Have Head Start in Life" points to the
importance of both parents playing a role in the rearing of children.
There have recently been some remarkable cases that have highlighted
the importance of judging parental alienation in the courts. Judges
are becoming bolder in insisting that, all things being equal, both
parents have the right to contact with their children. There are
exceptions, eg, when one or both parents have proclivities towards
violence or paedophilia, to name but a few negative features which
must be considered.
The case of Cox v. Cox (1990) featured in Family Law, was one of
the first to approve the imprisonment of mothers who refused access
to fathers for contact with the child. This was done by a highly
courageous Judge who truly believed in "justice for all",
even though there was considerable embarrassment in having to put
a mother into prison, plus the likelihood of being castigated by
the press. What is often not mentioned are the efforts made beforehand
to gain the assent of the obdurate parent for such contact before
such an action is taken and by threatening less stringent means
than imprisonment. Most cases related to lack of co-operation of
a parent regarding contact rights involve mothers refusing fathers.
Sometimes, following and acrimonious separation or divorce, the
alienating parent, who is usually the mother, will claim serious
causes for concern about the father, eg, that he is excessively
punitive, permissive, a substance abuser, or even a paedophile.
In most cases such allegations are unfounded.
In cases such as this fathers are often considered guilty by allegation
alone and need to prove their innocence rather than the reverse.
It appears, therefore, in cases of PAS, justice often seems to be
stood on its head.
Judges are naturally adverse to imprisoning mothers for failing
to honour contact arrangements with fathers. This is because mothers
are usually responsible for the day-to-day care of the children.
As already mentioned, Judges are not unaware of the adverse publicity
which follows imprisoning a mother in cases of this kind.
There are alternatives that could have been used but they often
fail to achieve what is desired, namely acceptance of offers of
mediation (see Lowenstein, 1999 a,b,c,d). The threat of punishment,
including the possibility of imprisonment hanging over the head
of an uncooperative parent, like the sword of Damocles, may bring
such mothers to the "negotiating table". Mothers and fathers
who alienate children, much as anyone else, must stand before the
law as either innocent or guilty of such an offence. Failing to
adhere to the judgment of a court must be considered as the breaking
of the law, with threatened punishment following.
Parents who thus fail to observe their legal responsibility to
co-operate are likely to suffer from severe and often unfounded
hostility towards the other parent. Such hostility can, and often
does, reach pathological proportions. The only possible solutions
- In extreme cases threatening imprisonment, until the parent
is willing to co-operate with the law.
- Accepting some form of mediation and treatment by a qualified
psychologist over a prescribed period, normally two weeks to a
month, in order to resolve the impasse.
- Failure by the alienating parent to co-operate must lead to
punishment, in the last resort imprisonment. It could also result
in the alienated parent being given custody of the children temporarily
Most alienating parents would and should learn to co-operate under
such strictures and resolve the matter of parental alienation syndrome.
It is hoped that future legal procedures will find it easier to
deal with such cases and follow the courageous footsteps of earlier
pioneering Judges. These Judges were not deflected from doing the
just and right thing, despite criticism from individuals and the
- Coe, Tony. Equal Parenting Party. Headquarters: 30-40 Gloucester
- Road, Kensington, London SW7 4QU. Dobson, R. "Children
with father in family have a head start in life." Article
in the Sunday Times, May 21, 2000.
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1998n) "Parent alienation syndrome:
A two step approach toward a solution." Contemporary family
- Therapy, December 1998, Vol 20 (4), pp. 505-520. Lowenstein,
L. F. (1998b) "Parent alienation syndrome", ch.20.
- Paedophilia, published by Able Publishers. Lowenstein, L. F.
(1999a) "Parent alienation syndrome" (PAS).
- (1999) 163 JPN pp. 47-50. Lowenstein L. F. (1999b) "Parent
alienation syndrome: What the legal profession should know".
Medico-leqal Journal, Vol 66 (4) 1999, pp. 151-161.
- Lowenstein, L. F. (1999e) "Mediation in the legal profession".
(1999) 163 JPN, pp. 709-710. Lowenstein, L. F. (1999d) "Parent
alienation and the judiciary"