in Treating Parents and Children who have been involved in the Parental
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
What follows is dedicated to my friend, now sadly deceased, Dr
Richard Gardner, pioneer in the assessment and treatment of Parental
Alienation Syndrome. What I have learned from him and his writings
I have benefited from tremendously. What I have not learned, I hope
to learn in the remaining years left to me.
It cannot be emphasised too much that what follows is concerned
with the harm done primarily to children who are alienated against
one of their parents, both in the short and in the long term. This
is considered to be of primary importance to those considering such
cases. Of importance, but of secondary importance, is the harm done
to the alienated parent, eager to play a role in the rearing of
the child created by both parents. There are also likely to be serious
consequences to the alienator when the victim of the alienation
process realises what has been done and rebels against it. It must
be said that the alienator tends to be the mother and hence the
alienator and/or mother will be used inter-changeably in the course
of this paper.
What follows will consider just seven inter-related aspects involved
in the parental alienation process and some ideas about what can
be done to tackle it. These points are:
- The problem.
- What are the facts regarding parental alienation?
- What is the common process of alienation?
- Why does parental alienation occur?
- What is the function of the expert witness?
- How and who can attempt to resolve the alienation process?
- What happens when the alienator is allowed to succeed in the
process of alienating the child against the non-resident parent?
1. The problem.
As most expert witnesses will tell you, the few who appear in such
cases find them the most challenging one can ever seek to resolve.
How can one hope to resolve the anger between parents who use their
child as a vehicle against the other parent. The process of alienation
is usually successfully done. This is unfortunate for all concerned,
most especially the child.
2. What are the facts regarding parental alienation?
No parent is perfect in his or her role as one seeking to inculcate
the best or ideal attitudes and behaviour in children. In this
way they have the chance of becoming socialised and worthwhile
Parents do not always agree with one another in many areas
including how best to raise their children. When both parents
seek to dominate there are problems. This is because each parent
wishes to work in an independent manner without considering
the other. When one parent is willing to be tolerant and accept
what the dominant parent would do there are much less difficulties.
When parents separate or divorce, there are often reasons why
one or all sides create acrimony.
This acrimony often leads to anger which prevails until it
is treated. It especially effects how children are treated and
how parents communicate with one another about their children.
Parents fail to cooperate together in seeking to establish a
secure base which they both agree is best for their children.
When the separation occurs, one of the partners, usually the
mother, takes over the custodial role while the other partner
plays a non-involved, less controlling, even peripheral role
in relation to the children. In some cases the role is limited
to providing financial support.
3.) What is the common process of alienation?
The process of alienation, where the child or children are brain
washed against the non resident parent follows a sequence of events,
albeit not always the same sequence in every case. It should be
remembered that it is sometimes the father who carries out the brain
washing or alienation against the mother who is absent. On the whole,
however, it is more the mother who acts as the alienator. The power
of the alienator cannot be over emphasised. Furthermore it is extremely
difficult to reverse the influence that the alienator has over the
child in turning that child against the other party, usually the
First and foremost, the alienated party is viewed as always wrong
or even evil. For this the alienated parent, usually the father
is castigated unremittingly. The past events leading to the separation
or divorce are selectively scrutinised and communicated to the child.
There is a strong element of paranoia in this. Past actions are
viewed negatively and this is communicated to the child directly
and sometimes subtly. For example, even acts of kindness or generosity
on the part of the father is denigrated to be actually harmful to
the child. If the father gives money or a present to the child,
the amount is seen as paltry; the present as inferior in some way.
In a recent case of a severe example of parental alienation, a
father gave his estranged daughter a manicure set. The child looked
at the mother in connection with this present. Mother’s look
said everything, but what was to follow did not help the child show
or feel thankful or appreciative for what had been her father’s
good intention. The father intended to make the child happy, instead
the reverse occurred. The mother said, “I do believe this
manicure set is meant for boys or men, as it is in a dark leather
case. The one for girls or ladies would have had to be in a pink
Hence anything the father has done or is doing is seen as wrong,
bad, inadequate or paltry. The best of intentions on the part of
the father are ridiculed. Simple and innocent statements made by
the father are reinterpreted or exaggerated in a most negative way.
Hence the parent who practices alienation against the absent or
non-custodial parent is guilty of a serious ethical and psychological
offence which will ultimately be harmful to the child. The alienator
will frequently deny that they are actively or more subtly denigrating
the other parent. This is especially the case when an expert witness
comes on the scene or the alienator is before a Court of Law.
The child will on the whole accept and believe what the denigrator
is doing or saying and will view it as right and fair. Such is the
process of denigration, the denigrator will use all and any means
to thereby sideline and remove the non-resident parent from playing
any active or meaningful role in the rearing of the children.
Despite the obvious process of brain washing, the child via the
alienator, will be encouraged to behave badly towards the alienated
parent, usually the father. The alienator will claim or appear to
be “encouraging the child to have contact with the father,
especially when the father has sought to involve the legal process
in order to seek regular contact with the child.” This is
a false message which the alienator is presenting for the purposes
of continuing the process of alienation.
The expert witness will, with knowledge and experience understand
and expose these under handed tactics. He will realise they are
used as a result of anger against the father or because the alienator
has found another partner whom the alienator wishes to supplant
for the natural father. Sometimes the alienator will accuse the
father, unjustly of having physically, emotionally or sexually abused
the child. They will seek to change the family name of the child
to her own maiden name or the name of the new partner.
All these manoeuvres are for the purpose of destroying any influence
or memory the child may have, especially good memories of their
father. It is now not merely a process of denigration but the total
annihilation of the father and his influence in the child’s
3. The process of opposing alienation by the expert witness.
The expert witness has a difficult role in gaining justice for
an alienated father and for the benefit of the victim who has been
alienated against one of the parents. The first job is to gather
evidence that the process of alienation has taken place. This can
be difficult since the alienator will attempt to mask his or her
own alienation process as cleverly as possible. The alienator will
therefore often seek to get the expert witness on her side by providing
arguments as to why the father’s behaviour rather than her
own has caused the child to reject the father. Here the mother will
make such statements as, “it is not my fault that the child
does not want to see her father...” Here will be presented
a large number of facts or lies or exaggerations that will denigrate
the unfortunate father even more. The alienator will then continue
with the following, “I tried in every way to get the child
to wish to be with her father...but I can’t force her against
her own wishes and I am not going to do so...”
The expert witness obviously needs to go into the mother’s
and child’s reasons for refusing contact. Firstly the expert
witness needs to establish whether these reasons actually exist.
Secondly, the expert witness needs to establish whether or when
these reasons are removed, the child will then be willing to have
contact with his or her father.
On the whole the response of the child will be negative, regardless
of what the father promises to do or the changes that are likely
to be made by the father. Nothing the father can do will lead to
a change of mind in the child who had been unremittingly brain washed.
The child will claim that the father will not really change and
is only seeking to deceive. Sometimes the child will claim that
the father has, “done so much damage.” that it is too
late for good parental contact to take place. Hence there is no
way the father can win regardless of what he does or says or intends
which may have been suggested by the mother or the child.
It must be said here that the alienator here has been so totally
successful in her process of alienation, that if there is contact
forced upon the child such as supervised contact, the child will
insult and seek to humiliate the father. The child has indeed become
a tool of the mother and her blind and fanatical hostility towards
It is a sad thing to watch such a scene taking place. Fathers will
bring presents, seeking to show their love for the child and only
receive insults and recriminations from the child. The child will
even blame the father of causing so much trouble for the mother
and for the child through the love he feels for the child and the
father’s need to take legal action to obtain contact with
the child. The child will in fact resent that they have to see so
many people such as solicitors, psychologists, social workers etc.
It is at this point that fathers will often after many years of
trying very hard to have positive contact with their children give
up or stop seeking contact. The abandonment is then exploited by
the mother as a sign that father never really cared for the child
Once the court has appointed the expert with the approval of both
parents, or not the approval of both parents the parties will be
in a state of war. The interviews that take place between the expert
witness and the parties involved tend to result in each providing
information which is to their benefit. The current psychologist
believes firmly in using not only interviews but psychological tests
in order to estimate the psychological state of each of the individuals
involved. The report of these findings will eventually go to court.
One recommendation may be that all concerned should be involved
in the process of mediation to resolve the conflict. Once it has
been completed, the expert witness must write another report of
a comprehensive nature delineating what has occurred and what he
feels about the process. This will be for the court to consider.
The report provides a number of conclusions.
This further report must be considered by the court itself and
there are a number of possible judicial decisions the judges may
There is no way the child can be induced or forced to have
contact with the alienated parent or that the father is at fault
in some way.
No contact should take place until the child wishes for that
contact to occur.
The mother must sincerely or definitely make the child see
her father and failure to do so will result in one or more of
the following punitive actions:
The mother is fined.
The mother is jailed for failing to adhere to the court
order for the father to see the child at a set place and
time without the mother being present.
A change of residence is given where the child must reside
with the alienated parent for the time being or for good.
Most judges avoid course three and opt for courses one or two.
There are a number of reasons for this. The problem of the alienation
has succeeded so much that judges are reluctant to force the child
to be with the alienated parent or to punish mothers who fail to
cooperate in ending the process of alienation. Judges therefore
consider it best to decide on what they consider to be the reality
of the matter allowing the status quo to continue. This is done
by them despite accepting that the mother has done wrong in having
turned her child against the innocent victim, usually the father.
They consider by removing the residence of the child with the alienating
parent will cause more harm to result. Judges are likely to decide
that as the child matures it will eventually make contact with the
alienated parent or not do so.
Judges may consider the punishment of the mother and separating
the mother from the child as more harmful than depriving the child
of the father’s presence and influence. In so doing they are
failing in their role of providing justice for the child and the
alienated parent. They are also failing to consider the long term
consequences to the child of having no contact with one of it’s
parents. It will be for the more bold and pioneering judges to lead
the way and set the bench marks for more judges to follow at a latter
stage, considering what is true justice for all concerned.
4. Why does parental alienation occur?
Alienation occurs on the whole when there is extreme hostility
by one or both parents towards the other. It does not occur when
both parents both care and love their child and accept and respect
that both parents whatever their differences have been, have a vital
role to play in rearing or guiding their children as they mature.
It does, however, occur under one or more of the following conditions:
When one or both parents are hostile to the other and seek
to avenge past, real or imagined events of harm done to themselves
by the now absent parent.
When there has been and continues to be an acrimonious separation
of the parents.
When the alienator intends or has already sought an alternative
partner and father figure.
When the alienator seeks to totally shut out the father from
having a positive relationship with the child.
When the mental state of the alienator is such that no right
can occur and the individual has adopted a paranoid virtually
mentally ill approach to dealing with the separation with father
and the rearing of the child.
5. What is the function of the expert witness (ew)?
The function of the expert witness will vary depending on the views
of the expert. The present expert sees his function in the way as
it appears in this paper. Other expert witnesses are likely to see
their own functions differently. It is the view of the current expert
that he will need to adopt a firm and decisive attitude having studied
the case comprehensively. He will be in the position of drawing
fairly firm conclusions. He cannot act as a typical therapist and
be very tolerant and act on such toleration. He must work for all
concerned to achieve the right decision and justice. The present
expert seeks to promote what is best for all parties therefore concerned
in the conflict. Of primary importance is the child whose future
security and mental health is at stake and is being threatened by
the process of alienation. This will be explained further in section
seven, (what happens when the alienator is allowed to succeed in
the process of alienating the child against the non-resident parent?).
The present expert views the process of alienation as unjust, evil
and psychologically and otherwise damaging to the child, the alienated
party and the alienator him or herself in the short and long term.
It must be made clear that whoever does the alienating is wrong,
be it the father or mother, since they are thereby depriving the
child of the opportunity of establishing a positive relationship
with one of the parents. On the whole, it must be said, that the
mother has usually the control over the child and is most likely
to be the alienator. It is for this reason the term alienator and
mother have been and will be used inter-changeably.
There are four essential functions of the expert witness:
To fairly investigate the allegations that parental alienation
has or is in the process of occurring and provide a report of
his or her findings to the court. This involves a thorough assessment
of the parents and the children.
To present his or her evidence to the court after drawing conclusions
from the evidence ascertained from all the parties that have
been studied intensively through interview and often through
testing. (The method preferred by the current psychologist in
addition to interviewing clients.)
To appear before the court of law to provide information which
will be helpful to resolve issues and help the judge to make
a possible informed decision.
To carry out a process of mediation of the court agrees in
order to establish who is cooperating and who is not cooperating
in seeking to find a solution to the long term battle between
the alienator and alienated parent.
6. How and who can attempt to resolve the alienation process?
As has been seen it is extremely difficult to reverse the process
of alienation or brain washing which has taken place when the mother
seeks to denigrate the father in every possible way. The child is
tremendously influenced by the custodial mother in this, especially
when mothers have total control. It is vital therefore that the
expert witness is involved to help to resolve the alienation process,
but he cannot do this on his own. The role of the court is essential
in working together with the expert to resolve the alienation which
has been taking place often for years.
It is rare for the expert witness to obtain the cooperation of
the child and parents. The expert will need the backing of the court.
If the individuals concerned realise that the court may decide certain
issues in a particular way they will frequently succumb and give
up their process of alienation as in the case of the alienator.
The alienator will then seek to back track or seek to convince the
child in question to cooperate in having contact with the father.
In some cases, however this does not occur and the alienator will
continue to the very end to seek to denigrate the other party and
prevent any form of positive contact with the father.
Despite the difficulties, definite decisions will have to be made
by the court. These decisions can only be influenced by the expert
witness who has examined the matter in as much detail as possible.
It will be for the judiciary to decide on how best to act and a
number of suggestions have already been made as to how this can
be done. Course three of the judicial decisions possible needs to
be imposed or threatened to be imposed. Courses one and two of the
judicial decisions possible are unlikely to reverse the process
7. What happens when the alienator is allowed to succeed in the
process of alienating the child against the non-resident parent?
The success of the alienator is always to the detriment of the
child as the child matures. It is of course detrimental to the non-resident
parent but this must be considered secondary to what harm has been
done to the child. Such children are gradually but inevitably convinced
that the other parent is wrong, evil and only has negative intentions.
When the child is given time to have contact with the father, the
child scrutinises the father with vigilance looking for ill intentioned
actions. These are then reported back to the mother. Sometimes the
child will even create situations and information in order to please
the mother as she continues her process of “brain washing.”
The child in fact knows what the mother wants to hear and will act
accordingly. Anything positive or nice said about the father is
unlikely to impress the mother with whom the child has identified
The child is aware of what the mother wants to hear since the child
identifies totally with her point of view about the father. This
view could persist into adolescence and as a mature man and woman.
This in turn could interfere with a girl being able to develop a
healthy relationship with an adult male later in life. In the case
of a boy the initial identification with the father figure has been
disturbed leading to later problems.
In both cases realisation as to the alienator and what the alienator
has done could lead to feelings of severe guilt (not present at
the time of the alienation) for what was done to the father. There
are also likely to follow recriminations against the alienator by
the child who is now an adult once more independent thinking has
developed in the former victim of alienation.
Certain symptoms of maladjustment have been observed and recorded
about children who have been victims of the alienation process.
These have been delineated by Gardner (1998) and others. These include
the child developing behavioural problems, suffering from depression,
having difficulties at school, sleeping, suffering from such psycho-somatic
conditions as enuresis and encopresis. They may also suffer from
a number of neuroticism traits such as extreme worry, anxiety, guilt,
lack of motivation towards school work, loss of appetite or suffer
from over eating. They may self harm or even have suicidal ideations.
When the alienator behaves as she does these repercussions are
not envisaged as possibilities. Such children also often suffer
from impulsivity, as already mentioned impaired stable human relationships,
deceitful, the absence of empathy and a great disregard for the
feelings of others especially members of the family of the alienated
parents. These and other long term and short term effects do not
always occur in every child, but there is a great danger that some
certainly will and hence short term solutions are likely in the
long term to lead to tragic consequences.
In a time when so many relationships either through marriage or
otherwise lead to separation or divorce it is vital to consider
the impact on children of the alienation process. It will perpetuate
almost certainly the poor relationships which currently exist between
many people in the marital or other state of partnership. This only
occurs however when hostility develops between parents and this
must at all costs be prevented. If it occurs it must be treated
appropriately. Otherwise we will be developing a generation of more
victims of abuse and the alienation process will persist on ad infinitum.