Why are the Courts Unwilling to Acknowledge Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Parental Alienation (PA)
(Striving for an ideal solution to a difficult but not insoluble problem)
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
The article discusses some of the reasons why the Judiciary eschews the concept of PAS or PA. This is despite the fact that Judges are aware of the acrimony between former partners leading to implacable hostility which is expressed by one or both individuals. This in turn frequently leads to what is termed parental alienation, that is the alienation of children by the custodial parent against the absent parent, the non custodial parent. This is followed by difficulties for the absent parent (usually the father) to have good contact with the previously loving children. The reasons are three-fold: 1) non recognition of PAS as a syndrome by the APA in DSM-V; 2) fear of the Judiciary making unpopular decisions; 3) viewing the alienation situation superficially rather than in depth. The author proposes important solutions and changes for the family courts to consider, and the reasons for this.
Why are the Courts Unwilling to Acknowledge Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Parental Alienation (PA)
(Striving for an ideal solution to a difficult but not insoluble problem)
The answer to the above is not as difficult as it would seem. The reasons why the Courts do not wish to acknowledge the fact that implacable hostility leads to parental alienation syndrome or parental alienation is due to the following:
- Due to the fact that PAS has not as yet been recognised by the American Psychological Association or the British Psychological Association as a syndrome in DSM-IV. The courts therefore feel the right to ignore PAS or PA as a condition. Realistically however, parental alienation certainly exists despite the fact they are not currently being recognized by certain decision-making associations.
- Recognising PAS requires the Judiciary to make difficult and frequently unpopular decisions against an alienator including punishing the alienator and possibly changing the custody of the child to the alienated parent.
- Considering only the superficial aspects of lack of contact, that is, the child’s view that he/she does not wish to have any or even minimal contact with a parent.
1. Elaborating on the issues involved regarding PAS
It does not require a super sleuth to recognise the fact that most acrimonious stances have been adopted by mothers against fathers, albeit it also happens the other way around as well. DSM-V is currently deciding whether to adopt PAS as a syndrome. When this has been finalised and PAS has been accepted as a syndrome the Judiciary will no longer be affected by this point but will still be considering its position by point 2 and 3 listed above.
It is difficult and sometimes difficult for Judges to be punitive against mothers even when it has been proven by an expert witness (an experienced psychologist or psychiatrist) that this parent has alienated a child against the mother/father. This is carried out by mothers predominantly and their implacable hostility towards the father leads to the parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome. This means that the mother, usually, disputes contact of the father with the child by putting direct or more subtle impediments in the way of the father to prevent good contact between the child and fathers.
This is often done by a form of brainwashing of the child against the father and the Judiciary tends to be made aware of this by the expert witness who investigates the matter (Warshak 2001). Sometimes the father is totally obliterated from having contact with a child when a mother finds a new partner or when she decides that a father is no longer necessary in the family (Lowenstein, 2010).
It should be the very opposite in that a mother should, if she considers what is in the best interest of the child, encourage the child to have good contact with the absent parent.
”It is the duty of every parent whatever their personal differences may be to seek to inculcate in the child a proper attitude of respect for the other parent.”(Hobbs, 2007).
The alienating parent could, if he/she is so inclined, encourage and aid the child in having good contact with the father/mother. On the whole, the alienating parent will not do this and perform all that is possible to denigrate the absent parent and even encourage the child to lie, spy on, and use foul language and oppositional behaviour with that parent (Gardner 2007). When asked why parents alienate the child against another parent and why the child refuses to see the parent, they will usually provide absurd and frivolous lies or reasons. It is however, what the child has been instructed or brainwashed to do by the alienating parent (Sauber, 2007).
Due to the “enforced” loyalty the child feels towards the alienator, the result is that the child will listen into phone calls, check letters and emails, and report back what has been learned to the alienator. One targeted parent reported to me that the child had not been told to eat any of the food provided, not to accept clothes or gifts from the alienated parent. The child obliges in this due to his/her promoted loyalty to the alienator.
If the child shows too much closeness to the alienated parent, then the custodial parent will show anger or seek undeserved pity from the child for whatever reason. The child will thereby in a conflict situation. The child will frequently, at least initially, experience guilt for what he/she sees to be a lack of loyalty to the alienated parent or the alienator. Such children are also frequently frightened or anxious about losing the remaining parent since one of them has now left the home.
The alienator has not merely corrupted the child totally, and turned him/her against the absent parent, but also against his/her extended family (Mayor, 2007). The child, in time adopts an “independent thinker” stance believing and stating that the anger and animosity felt for the absent parent originates not from the alienator but from him/herself. This view is allegedly based on personal experiences with the now absent alienated parent.
Despite all these signs of brainwashing by the custodial parent and the effect this has on the child, in not wishing much or any contact with the absent parent, the court ignores this overwhelming evidence of the fact that the damage has been done by the alienator and does not do anything to rectify this. The alienator is abusing his/her position of control and should be held accountable for this reprehensible action. The alienator, is the abuser of both the child and the targeted parent and should be punished like any other criminal for an offence committed deliberately.
The child is made unnecessarily aware that the non-resident parent is someone to be feared and hence an alleged danger to the child. This is based on a lie and indoctrination. This is parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome in naked action which the Judiciary seeks to ignore, as if it did not exist. The reason why custodial parents behave in this way is because they need and want to have total control over the child now and in the future. It is also to dis-empower the non-resident parent partly or totally. The reasons for this are complex. Sometimes one or a number of reasons exist and sometimes they exist simultaneously. The importance of total control which is needed by the alienating parent, is combined with a low ego development. Sometimes this is also combined with hostility and desire for revenge against a former partner.
Normally, such individuals seek revenge for real or imagined or delusional hurts inflicted on them. There could also be other reasons. Some alienators are so enmeshed in the life of their child that nothing else matters to them. They would honestly claim that their life is now fulfilled and they no longer need a partner beside them to rear the child.
2. Recognising that if PAS is accepted, the Judiciary must make difficult and unpopular decisions at times
As a expert witness in my area of clinical and forensic psychology, I have been in numerous Courts of Law and appeared before a variety of Judges. These Judges have varied considerably in the manner in which they operate. There is a strong level of “subjectivity” in their court procedures and sentencing practices. This is despite the relatively flexible guidelines under which they work. Hence they are, what is commonly termed “hard” and “soft” Judges. This usually refers to criminal courts but also included here are family courts where a considerable degree of discretion in decision making is common. Judges are aware that unlike criminal courts, family courts expect something in addition to what is required in criminal court settings. It is in this area, the Judiciary can be frequently considered to make the wrong decisions. This is unless they are acknowledging that here also real justice is often denied one party or the other. Those denied justice on the whole tend to be men in respect to contact defaults. This frequently occurs after hostility is manifested by the custodial parent. This is usual, but not always the mother.
Judges, on the whole, do not like to be punitive towards mothers most especially those who have failed to obey court orders in providing stipulated good contact of their children with the non-custodial parent. Failure to obey such Contact Orders relatively rarely results in punitive measures being applied. This is fully realised by the erring custodial parent who knows that there is a good chance that nothing will happen if he/she does not obey the Court Order. This is a double injustice both towards the child and the now non-resident parent who seeks good contact and a good relationship with his/her child. This good relationship was often the case before the parting of the parents and the implacable hostility developing between the parents.
This hostility leads to absent parents having little or no good contact with the formerly loved child. The acrimony leads to the child being influenced adversely so that the child claims that he/she no longer wishes any contact or only little contact with the now absent parent. This is due to the vilification by the alienating parent against the alienated parent. The custodial parent uses this fact of having greater, if not total control in order to ostracise the absent parent. How often have I heard the following scenario:
“What can I do when X does not want to meet with his father/mother (usually father)… I tried; I really did try but I can’t force X to see his father/mother as he would rather be with his friends or participate in some other enjoyable activity….”
Judges in some cases, but by no means all cases, emphasise the importance of contact with the absent parent much as the child needing to visit a dentist or a GP. Here a parent is obligated for the child to attend irrespective of the child’s wishes. The custodial parent considers that while visits to the GP or Dentist is necessary, seeing an absent parent unwillingly is not imperative or is not of importance. In this claim they are very wrong and Judges should acknowledge this.
As already mentioned in the title it is important for Judges to keep at least one eye on the mass media and Judges do this worrying about adverse information about their “hard judgement” of holding a mother to account. Judges do not treat those in the family court the same as in the criminal court when Orders are not adhered to . The same can be said about mothers who make unwarranted claims of a child having been physically or sexually abused by a formerly loving but now absent parent. Such unjustified allegations against a parent, usually fathers, is not uncommon and again the child is frequently involved in such vindictive, punitive allegations by supporting the allegations made by the alienating parent.
Here fathers can be excluded from seeing their child, at least temporarily, until their innocence has been established. Judges rarely ask for an explanation as to which, and how much abuse could have been implanted in the child’s mind if it did not occur! Here are questions that are never asked by a Judge but there is always a lingering doubt that the allegations made may be correct. Such fathers are fortunate, despite their innocence, if they are allowed indirect contact with letters and phone calls or supervised contact with the child.
One might well ask, and many fathers do ask: Is this justice ?! The perpetrators of such inculcated beliefs in the child’s mind of having been sexually abused when it has not occurred, tend to be mothers who wish to exclude or punish an innocent parent via such false allegations. Are such mothers punished for the unnecessary trouble they have caused the absent parent, or indeed society in the form of the appointed investigators of the alleged crime? The answer is rarely or never are mothers punished. It has however, led to the desired result of pushing out the absent parent and giving him/her an unjust label as a “real” or “potential paedophile”. Hence the custodial parent has shown how much control or power he/she has and they achieve this with impunity. One could ask why is nothing done to punish such cruel and unjustified behaviour? It is the view of the current psychologist that a despicable crime as falsely accusing a father of sexually abusing a child, and involving that child in the deception, deserves to be punished. This includes, ultimately, changing the residence of the child to the innocent parent i.e. the father. This is because both the child and the targeted parent have suffered often long lasting unnecessary abuse. Most Judges will avoid making such a decision because of the following:
- The sexual abuse of the child may yet be true?! (Where there is smoke there may be fire)
- The mother is seen as being more essential to the child even if this is combined with her need for therapy?!
Would the same Judge consider a criminal found guilty of an attack on another come to the same possible conclusions? If convicted such an individual would receive a sentence and more than likely this would be incarceration for a time. The soft Judges in family courts predominate and are by no means similar in meting out justice as those in criminal courts. The tend to be biased and unjust both to the innocent victim of false allegations made and the child who is involved in this. Furthermore, the child has learned that it is good to lie and to deceive and it is easy to get away with it. The falsely accused parent is left bitter, licking his wounds despite his/her innocence. They often give up altogether seeking contact with their beloved child.
Such a lesson in falsehood and injustice has its repercussions including short and long term damage to the child and later adult. It has been well established that frequently injustice is inherited by the next generation (Baker, 2007). This occurs when the victim of alienation, the child, him/herself becomes an alienator (Lowenstein, 2010).
Psychological research by Lowenstein (2010) reveals that alienators, when tested on personality tests such as the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) score higher than non-alienating parents both on pychoticism and neuroticism. Psychoticism is known to measure both forcefulness and tough-mindedness and the need to control. Such individuals seek control or domination in a relationship as paramount. If their partner has a similar attitude, there is likely to be a conflict. Where the partner is more docile and passive, this is likely to lead to a relationship wherein the dominant controlling partner bullies the less assertive one, this leading to a break-up.
It also frequently results in the alienation of children, even before the parents part from one another. It continues due to the implacable hostility of the custodial parent once there is separation of the parties. The dominant party usually, gets control of the children and seeks to dictate the terms of the contact of the absent parent or prevents contact altogether due to hostility towards the now absent and alienated parent (Lowenstein, 2010b).
The alienated parent finds it extremely difficult to have contact with the previously loving child. This is where the non-custodial parent seeks help of the court to provide justice in the form of having the certainty of good, regular contact with his/her child. It is unfortunately the case that many non-custodial fail in gaining such good contact due to the continuing implacable hostility of the controlling parent combined with the child who avoids contact in order to placate the custodial parent who has been busy alienating the child from the absent parent.
3. Considering only the superficial aspects of the child not wishing contact with the absent parent
We continue with the child refusing contact with a once close parent. In considering only the superficial aspects, such as the child, especially an older child, not wishing to have contact with an absent parent, we need to look more deeply into this. The courts seldom do this. It should be understood that the decision of the child not to want contact with an absent parent, usually the father, may well be based on a number of complex but vital factors. These have nothing to do with the fact that the child would not benefit from good contact with the absent parent, usually the father.
Firstly, since the child seems to have lost one parent as a result of implacable hostility of the controlling and dominant custodial parent, the child will fear losing the custodial parent as well. Such fears are based on the statements often made by the custodial parent encouraging the child to show unquestioning loyalty only towards themselves and rejection of the absent parent much as the alienator does. Hence the child is in a conflict situation. He/she worries about the loss of yet another parent if he/she is not loyal to that parent or if the child fails to act in accordance to the needs and wishes of the custodial parent. The child deep down also feels guilt in having apparently rejected a good but absent parent for whom in the past he/she felt much love.
It is important for the Judiciary to be aware of such deeper factors. Ignoring such factors is not in the best interest of the already traumatized child or the non-custodial parent. The only beneficiary is the rewarding of the hostile controlling parent. In private conversations with a number of Judges, I have learned that they too are in conflict between wishing to be just and fair and yet avoiding drastic decisions such as changing the residence of the child to the non-resident parent or punishing the implacable hostile parent. It must be remembered that the child has by now also become implacably hostile towards the formerly loved but now absent parent due to the influence of the custodial parent.
Many Judges are loathe to separate a mother from a child, even though it is the action of the mother that has brought about the child’s hostility towards the now non-resident parent (usually the father). Many Judges act on the principle that while harm has been done by the custodial parent, it is best not to “rock the boat” too much by taking drastic, albeit just action such as changing the custody of the child to the unjustly victimized parent, be it the father or the mother. The Judiciary often feels that the lesser evil is, unfortunately accepting the situation as it stands leaving the child with the alienator. It is hoped that in due course and with the passage of time, the child will him/herself seek to resume contact with the now absent parent. While this sometimes occurs, more often than not it is the end of the bonding with the absent father/mother never seeing their beloved children again. It is this which the Judiciary must consider, that is, the long term as well as the short term consequences of whatever their decisions may be. It is my own view that the Judiciary should look deeper and more comprehensively into the tragedy of accepting the status quo of failing to award justice Justice could be the awarding of custody toward the more deserving parent despite the short term difficulties involved.
It would however, be sensible that before removing the child from the alienating parent, that alienator should be warned that this will surely happen unless the custodial parent can ensure the court that the child has good regular contact with the absent parent, preferably on a fifty fifty basis. This could only happen when the child is strongly encouraged by the custodial parent to make such good contact. Such excuses such as the child does not want to see the absent parent…..What can I do…..I can’t force the child……” will no longer be acknowledged as a valid reason for poor or no contact with the absent parent. If it is accepted through the expert witness evidence that the custodial parent alienated the child in the first place then that parent must and can demonstrate by actions and not words, not only that the alienation has ceased, but that sincere efforts have been made to reverse this tendency and the child actually does see the alienated parent regularly and with good contact.
The custodial parent who has done all the damage by the process of alienation needs to be treated successfully and only then provided with contact with the child. This is providing that they have learned to behave in a manner which is in the best interests of the child, this being to encourage good contact with both parents and with each parent encouraging the child to obtain the benefit of the other parent. This, I believe is the ideal towards which the Judiciary should strive.
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