May 20, 2013

CONTACT:       William Bernet, M.D.
Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

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Health Bridge Associates

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Denial of the Parental Alienation Syndrome Also Harms Women

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander — Old Proverb

What’s bad for the gander is also bad for the goose — Richard A. Gardner

Denying reality is obviously a maladaptive way of dealing with a situation. In fact, denial is generally considered to be one of the defense mechanisms, mechanisms that are inappropriate, maladaptive, and pathological. In the field of medicine to deny the existence of a disease seriously compromises the physician’s ability to help patients. If a physician does not believe that a particular disease exists, then it will not be given consideration when making a differential diagnosis, and the patient may then go untreated. This is in line with the ancient medical principle that proper diagnosis must precede proper treatment. Or, if for some external reason the physician recognizes the disorder, but feels obligated to use another name, other problems arise, e.g., impaired communication with others regarding exactly what is going on with the patient, and hence improper treatment. This is what is occurring at this point with the parental alienation syndrome, a disorder whose existence has compelling verification.

In this article I discuss the reasons for denial of the PAS and the ways in which such denial harms families. Particular emphasis will be given to the ways in which this denial harms women, although I will certainly comment on the ways in which the denial harms their husbands and children. In the past, denial of the PAS has caused men much grief. Such denial is now causing women similar grief.

Richard A. Gardner. M.D.
Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

American Journal of Family Therapy 30(3):191-202 (2002).

Since the 1970s, we have witnessed a burgeoning of child-custody disputes unparalleled in history. This increase has primarily been the result of two recent developments in the realm of child-custody litigation, namely, the replacement of the tender-years presumption with the best-interests-of-the-child presumption and the increasing popularity of the joint-custodial concept. Under the tender-years presumption, the assumption was made that mothers, by virtue of the fact that they are female, are intrinsically superior to men as child rearers. Accordingly, the father had to provide the court with compelling evidence of serious maternal deficiencies before the court would even consider assigning primary custodial status to the father. Under its replacement, the best-interests-of-the-child presumption, the courts were instructed to ignore gender when adjudicating child-custody disputes and evaluate only parenting capacity, especially factors that related to the best interests of the child. This change resulted in a burgeoning of custody litigation as fathers found themselves with a greater opportunity to gain primary custodial status. Soon thereafter the joint-custodial concept came into vogue, eroding even further the time that custodial mothers were given with their children. Again, this change also brought about an increase and intensification of child-custody litigation.

The Parental Alienation Syndrome

In association with this burgeoning of child-custody litigation, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the frequency of a disorder rarely seen previously, a disorder that I refer to as the parental alienation syndrome (PAS). In this disorder we see not only programming (“brainwashing”) of the child by one parent to denigrate the other parent, but self-created contributions by the child in support of the alienating parent’s campaign of denigration against the alienated parent. Because of the child’s contribution, I did not consider the terms brainwashing, programming, or other equivalent words to be applicable. Accordingly, in 1985, I introduced the term parental alienation syndrome to cover the combination of these two contributing factors (Gardner, 19851987a). In accordance with this use of the term I suggest this definition of the parental alienation syndrome:

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 good, loving 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 diagnosis is not applicable.

The alienating parent’s primary purpose for indoctrinating into the children a campaign of denigration against the target parent is to gain leverage in the court of law. The child’s alienation has less to do with bona fide animosity or even hatred of the alienated parent, but more to do with the fear that if such acrimony is not exhibited, the alienating parent will reject the child.

These are the primary symptomatic manifestations of the parental alienation syndrome:

1. A campaign of denigration

2. Weak, absurd, or frivolous rationalizations for the deprecation

3. Lack of ambivalence

4. The “independent-thinker” phenomenon

5. Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict

6. Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent

7. The presence of borrowed scenarios

8. Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent

There are three types of parental alienation syndrome: mild, moderate, and severe. It goes beyond the purposes of this article to describe in full detail the differences between these three types. At this point only a brief summary is warranted. In the mild type, the alienation is relatively superficial, the children basically cooperate with visitation, but are intermittently critical and disgruntled with the victimized parent. In the moderate type, the alienation is more formidable, the children are more disruptive and disrespectful, and the campaign of denigration may be almost continual. In the severe type, visitation may be impossible so hostile are the children, hostile even to the point of being physically violent toward the allegedly hated parent. Other forms of acting-out may be present, acting-out that is designed to inflict ongoing grief upon the parent who is being visited. In some cases the children’s hostility may reach paranoid levels, e.g., they exhibit delusions of persecution and/or fears that they will be murdered. Each type requires a different psychological and legal approach. Further details about the diagnosis and treatment of the parental alienation syndrome have been described elsewhere (Gardner, 199219982001a).

Mothers as Alienators

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 cease and desist from the programming—that I recommended primary custodial status to the father. I was not alone in recognizing this gender disparity, which was confirmed during that period by others. In my experience, the time frame during which mothers were the primary alienators was from the early 1980s (when the disorder first appeared) to the mid-to-late 1990s (when fathers became increasingly active as PAS indoctrinators). The largest study confirming the preponderance of mothers as PAS alienators during the 1980s was that of Clawar and Rivlin (1991).

During this early period, it was quite common for mothers, with the full support of their attorneys, to not only deny that they were PAS programmers, but even went further and denied that the PAS existed. And this denial was especially common in courts of law where their attorneys would argue that there was no such thing as a PAS, and therefore, their clients could not be suffering with a disorder that does not exist. In many cases, neither the mothers nor their attorneys could deny that the children were alienated, but would claim that the alienation was the result of abuse and/or neglect to which the children were subjected by their fathers. Under such circumstances, confusion prevailed and “the waters were muddied,” especially in the courtroom. The PAS diagnosis demands the identification of the specific alienator. Other sources of abuse and/or neglect do not produce this particular constellation of symptoms and do not focus so clearly on a specific alienator. In this more confused environment, the mother’s diagnosis as a PAS programmer might never come to the attention of the court—especially if the lawyer was able to convince the court that there was no such thing as a parental alienation syndrome.

“PAS is Not a Syndrome”

Often, the mother’s lawyer would argue that PAS was not a syndrome, with the implication that it does not exist. A syndrome, by medical definition, is a cluster of symptoms, occurring together, that characterize a specific disease. The symptoms, although seemingly disparate, warrant being grouped together because of a common etiology or basic underlying cause. Furthermore, there is a consistency with regard to such a cluster in that most (if not all) of the symptoms appear together.

Accordingly, there is a kind of purity that a syndrome has that may not be seen in other diseases. For example, a person suffering with pneumococcal pneumonia may have chest pain, cough, purulent sputum, and fever. However, the individual may still have the disease without all these symptoms manifesting themselves. A syndrome is more “pure” because most (if not all) of the symptoms in the cluster predictably manifest themselves. An example would be Down’s Syndrome, which includes a host of seemingly disparate symptoms that do not appear to have a common link. These include mental retardation, mongoloid-type facial expression, drooping lips, slanting eyes, short fifth finger, and atypical creases in the palms of the hands. There is a consistency here in that the people who suffer with Down’s Syndrome often look very much alike and typically exhibit all these symptoms. The common etiology of these disparate symptoms relates to a specific chromosomal abnormality. It is this genetic factor that is responsible for linking together these seemingly disparate symptoms. There is then a primary, basic cause of Down’s Syndrome: a genetic abnormality.

Similarly, the PAS is characterized by a cluster of symptoms that usually appear together in the child, especially in the moderate and severe types. Typically, children who suffer with PAS will exhibit most (if not all) of the eight symptoms described above. This is almost uniformly the case for the moderate and severe types. However, in the mild cases one might not see all eight symptoms. When mild cases progress to moderate or severe, it is highly likely that most (if not all) of the symptoms will be present. This consistency results in PAS children resembling one another. It is because of these considerations that the PAS is a relatively “pure” diagnosis that can easily be made. Due to this purity the PAS lends itself well to research studies, because the population to be studied can easily be identified. Furthermore, I believe that this purity will be verified by interrater reliability studies. As is true of other syndromes, there is an underlying cause: programming by an alienating parent in conjunction with additional contributions by the programmed child. It is for these reasons that PAS is indeed a syndrome, and it is a syndrome by the best medical definition of the term.

“PAS Does Not Exist Because It Is Not in DSM-IV”

Commonly, the mother’s attorneys would argue that PAS does not exist because it is not in DSM-IV (1994). The DSM committees justifiably are quite conservative with regard to the inclusion of newly described clinical phenomena and require many years of research and publications before considering inclusion of a disorder. This is as it should be. Lawyers involved in child-custody disputes see it repeatedly. Mental health professionals involved in such disputes are continually involved with such families. They may not wish to recognize it. They may refer to PAS by another name (like “parental alienation”) (Gardner, 2002a). But that does not preclude its existence. A tree exists as a tree regardless of the reactions of those looking at it. A tree still exists even though some might give it another name. If a dictionary selectively decides to omit the word tree from its compilation of words, that does not mean that the tree does not exist. It only means that the people who wrote that book decided not to include that particular word. Similarly, for someone to look at a tree and say that the tree does not exist does not cause the tree to evaporate. It only indicates that the viewer, for whatever reason, does not wish to see what is right in front of him (her).

DSM-IV was published in 1994. In the early 1990s, when DSM committees were meeting to consider the inclusion of additional disorders, there were too few articles on the PAS in the literature to warrant its submission for consideration. That is no longer the case. It is my understanding that committees will begin to meet for DSM-V in 2003. At this point, DSM-V is scheduled for publication in 2010. Considering the fact that there are now more than 135 articles on the PAS in peer-review journals, it is highly likely that by that time there will be many more. Furthermore, considering the fact that there are now more than 65 rulings in which courts have recognized the PAS, it is probable that there will be even more such rulings by the time the committees meet. These lists are being continually updated and can be found on my website (<href=”http:”&#8221; refs”=””> At the time the DSM-V committees meet, these lists will be in the proposal to include PAS in DSM-V. Elsewhere (Gardner, 2002b) I have discussed the various alternative diagnoses that therapists might use in courts that stringently refuse to accept the PAS diagnosis at this time.

It is important to note that DSM-IV does not frivolously accept every new proposal. Their requirements are quite stringent, and justifiably so. Gille de la Tourette first described his syndrome in 1885. It was not until 1980, 95 years later, that the disorder found its way into the DSM. It is important to note that at that point, “Tourette’s Syndrome” became Tourette’s Disorder. Asperger first described his syndrome in 1957. It was not until 1994 (37 years later) that it was accepted into DSM-IV and “Asperger’s Syndrome” became Asperger’s Disorder.

DSM-IV states specifically that all disorders contained in the volume are syndromes, and they would not be there if they were not syndromes. Once accepted the name syndrome becomes changed to disorder. However, this is not automatically the pattern for nonpsychiatric disorders. Often the term syndrome becomes locked into the name and becomes so well known that changing the word syndrome to disorder may seem awkward. For example, Down’s syndrome, although well recognized, has never become Down’s disorder. Similarly, AIDS (Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome) is a well-recognized disease, but still retains the syndrome term.

“Believe the Children”

Lawyers for the mothers would often say to the judge, “Your Honor, why don’t we really listen to what these children are saying. If you don’t feel comfortable putting them on the witness stand, then bring them into your chambers. They will tell you how they feel. Let’s respect their opinions.” Judges not familiar with the PAS might be taken in by these children, and actually believe that they were subjected to the terrible indignities that they described. As far back as 1987 I wrote an article advising judges about this problem and providing them with guidelines for interviewing these children (Gardner, 1987b). Although there are certainly judges who are now more knowledgeable about the PAS than in the late 1980s, judges still play an important role in the etiology and promulgation of the PAS, especially with regard to their failure to impose reasonable sanctions on PAS indoctrinating parents. Elsewhere (Gardner, submitted for publication), I have elaborated on this problem. The believe-the-children philosophy was—and still is—espoused by therapists ignorant of the PAS. Many therapists sanctimoniously profess that they really listen to children (as opposed to the rest of us who presumably do not). They profess that they really respect what children want (with the implication that the rest of us do not). What they are basically doing is contributing to pathological empowerment, which is a central factor in the development and perpetuation of the PAS (Gardner, 2002c). Again, it is beyond the purposes of this article to describe therapists’ role in the development and perpetuation of the PAS. PAS indoctrinators know well that they can rely upon most therapists to empower children’s PAS symptomatology, and that they are readily duped into joining the PAS indoctrinator’s parade of enablers and supporters. Such therapists are often brought into the courtroom to support the mother and her lawyer’s denial of the existence of the PAS and to encourage the court to “really listen” to the children.

“Those Who Make the PAS Diagnosis Are Sexist”

Because mothers were the primary alienators during this early period, PAS was viewed as being intrinsically biased against women. And I, as the person who first wrote on the phenomenon, was viewed as being biased against women and as being “sexist.” The facts are that during this time frame women were the primary alienators. Labeling those who diagnose PAS as sexist is the equivalent of saying that a doctor is biased against women if he claims that more women suffer with breast cancer than men. And the sexist claim has also been brought into courts of law. Fear of being labeled “sexist” has been one factor in many evaluators’ eschewing the PAS diagnosis.

Denial of the PAS Has Caused Permanent Alienation

The denial of PAS has caused many men to suffer formidable psychological suffering. The lawyers of women who have been PAS indoctrinators have convinced courts that PAS does not exist, and therefore the children’s animosity against their fathers is justified. The fact that women are increasingly suffering as target parents gives these men little solace, because many of them have lost their children permanently. In my recent follow-up of 99 PAS children, I provide compelling confirmation that the denial of PAS by courts has resulted in permanent estrangement in the vast majority of cases (Gardner, 2001c).

Fathers as Alienators and Mothers as Target Parents

In the last few years, starting in the late 1990s, there has been a gender shift. Fathers, with increasing frequency, are also indoctrinating PAS into their children (Gardner, 2001b). At this point, my own extensive experiences with PAS families have led me to the conclusion that the ratio is now 50/50, with fathers being as likely as mothers to indoctrinate children into a PAS. 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 books) have learned about the disorder and have decided to use the same PAS indoctrinational maneuvers utilized by women. 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.

With the gender shift of PAS indoctrinators, there has consequently been a gender shift in PAS target parents. Mothers are increasingly finding themselves victims (I use the word without hesitation) of their husbands’ PAS indoctrinations of their children. Such mothers know well that PAS exists. They read my books and say, as have the father victims before them, “It’s almost as if you’ve lived in my house. You’re describing exactly what has been going on.” These mothers find themselves helpless. They cannot get help from therapists who are still mouthing the old mantras, “PAS is just Gardner’s theory,” “PAS doesn’t exist because it’s not in DSM-IV,” “PAS is not a syndrome.” Their lawyers, too, will tell them, “PAS might exist, but the court will not recognize it. I can’t use the word syndrome in the courtroom. It’s the ‘big S’ word.” Worse yet, many leaders in the Women’s Rights movement are reflexively chanting the same incantations, thereby abandoning the women whose cause they profess to espouse. These mantras have become deeply embedded in the brain circuitry of most of the people the alienated women are looking to for help—therapists, lawyers, guardians ad litems, and judges. And these groups cannot even turn to the Women’s Rights groups because they have long ago stridently taken the position that PAS does not exist, that PAS is not a syndrome, etc., etc. We see here how those who deny the existence of PAS are adding formidably to the grief of women. Women’s past denial and discrediting of PAS has now come back to haunt them. Women are now being injured by their own weapons, or, as the old saying goes, they are being “hoist by their own pitards.”

The Relationship Between PAS and Bona Fide Abuse

In recent years, with increasing frequency, mental health and legal professionals have been seeing cases in which one parent (more often the father) has accused the other parent (more often the mother) of inducing a PAS in the children. In response, the responding parent (usually the mother) accuses the other parent (usually the father) of abusing and neglecting the children. In short, then, the children’s alienation against the father is considered by him to be the result of the mother’s PAS programming, and the mother considers their alienation to be the result of the father’s abuse/neglect. I have no doubt that some abusing/neglectful parents are using the PAS explanation to explain the children’s alienation as a cover-up and diversionary maneuver designed to deflect exposure of their abuse/neglect. However, there is no question that some PAS-inducing mothers are using the argument that it is the father’s abuse/neglect that is causing the children’s campaign of denigration, and thereby denying any programming whatsoever. In short, such programming mothers are basically saying: “He’s getting what he deserves, and I’m not programming them.” Elsewhere (Gardner, 19981999) I have described criteria for differentiating between PAS and bona fide abuse/neglect.

Of relevance to this article is the common phenomenon in which genuinely abusing husbands use the argument that the children’s alienation has nothing to do with their abuse, but is the result of the mother’s PAS indoctrinations. Such mothers will invoke the argument that this deceitful maneuver is not going to work, especially because there is no such thing as the PAS. This is a handy argument, and they will easily find legal and mental health professionals who will support them in this denial. Although I am sympathetic with these falsely accused women, their contributions to the denial of the existence of the PAS is not serving well other women who are indeed PAS victims. And this factor has been operative in increasing the grief suffered by women who are indeed PAS target parents. Their PAS indoctrinating husbands are now waving the same “PAS-doesn’t-exist” flags that PAS indoctrinating women were waving in the 1980s and early 1990s. Wives who were being falsely accused by their husbands of being PAS indoctrinators would have done much better to agree that PAS does exist, but they themselves are not indoctrinators, that the children’s symptoms are not those of PAS children, but symptoms of children who have been genuinely abused.

The Effects on Children

The denial of PAS in the early period resulted in many children living primarily with their programming mothers, with the result that they became permanently estranged from loving fathers. They were deprived, therefore, of all the benefits that could have come from their father. There is no question that follow-up studies of these children will reveal significant psychopathological residua from these early experiences. One cannot grow up and be a healthy person if, throughout the course of one’s childhood, one was taught that a previously loving and dedicated father was really loathsome and vicious. This inevitably will affect their relationships with other males—dates, boyfriends, teachers, employers, friends, etc. In the more recent phase, with men as increasingly frequent indoctrinators, we will have a similar group of children growing up believing that their previously loving mothers were vile, loathsome, and noxious. Similarly, one cannot become a healthy person believing that the primary maternal figure has been and still is a despicable and loathsome human being. Such a distortion of reality cannot but affect future relationships with other females—dates, employers, friends, etc.

The Solution

The first step in the treatment of denial is the acceptance of reality. The first step, then, must be the recognition that PAS exists, even if there are thousands of people, both husbands and wives, who claim that it does not. PAS exists, even though there are thousands of lawyers who will claim that it does not. PAS exists even though there are thousands of mental health professionals who claim that it does not. It exists even though there are Courts of Appeal who rule that it does not exist. It exists even if all nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court were to rule that it does not exist. It exists even though it is not in DSM-IV, and it will continue to exist even if the DSM-V committees choose not to include it. The first step, then, must be to recognize and stop denying its existence. Mental health professionals should be free to diagnose the disorder when it is present, and not have to worry about whether the diagnosis will be accepted in a court of law. They should recognize that in the adversarial system there will always be attorneys who will try to discredit whatever they say, because this is what they have learned to do in law school. Mental health professionals should not worry about whether they are in the minority or the majority with regard to the diagnosis. Rather, they should only be concerned with honesty and reality. They should not be concerned with those who may irrationally label them sexist or biased against either men or women if they make a diagnosis of PAS. Whenever some external considerations operate or affect one’s diagnostic objectivity, there is bound to be some contamination and bias. Worse, it will inevitably not serve well the patients whom one is evaluating and treating. If this point is reached, it is likely that the frequency of PAS will be reduced because would-be indoctrinators will recognize that they will not have available mental health professionals to help them manipulate the legal system.

Concluding Comments

Denial of PAS has caused significant psychological suffering to many men, many women, and many children. And its denial has only added to the burden of families in which this disorder has been present. Furthermore, the denial of PAS will lessen the likelihood of ultimate inclusion in DSM-V. And this will have a negative impact on all those who are afflicted with this disorder. The more PAS is recognized, the greater the number of research articles will be written. This will, in turn, enhance the receptivity of the DSM-V committees. The more courts of law that have accepted PAS, the greater the likelihood that the DSM-V committee will recognize the disorder. Mental health professionals, especially, should take this factor into consideration when they eschew the diagnosis.

In closing, I quote from the concluding comments in my follow-up study of 99 PAS children:

When I embarked upon this study, I expected that most of the PAS children would continue to be alienated from the target parent in situations in which the court neither transferred custody to the target parent nor reduced the alienating parent’s access to the children. What I did not expect was the high rate of completely destroyed relationships and the enormous grief suffered by the alienated parents. I expected the average follow-up conversation to last five minutes, during which I would get the basic data. It turned out that most conversations lasted between 15 and 30 minutes, because the parents needed me at that point for some kind of ventilation of their painful feelings. I did not expect such a degree of grief. However, on looking back upon the study, I should not have been surprised. I consider losing a child because of PAS to be more painful and psychologically devastating than the death of a child. A child’s death is final and there is absolutely no hope for reconciliation. Most bereaved parents ultimately resign themselves to this painful reality. The PAS child is still alive and may even be in the vicinity. Yet, there is little if any contact, when contact is feasible. Therefore, resignation to the loss is much more difficult for the PAS alienated parent than for the parent whose child has died. For some alienated parents the continuous heartache is similar to living death.


The American Psychiatric Association (1994), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Washington, D.C.:American Psychiatric Association.

Clawar, W. S. & Rivlin, B. V. (1991). Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children. Chicago: American Bar Association.

Gardner, R. A. (1985). Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation. Academy Forum29(2),3-7.

Gardner, R. A. (1987a). Child custody. In J. D. Noshpitz (ed.) Basic Handbook of Child Psychiatry (pp. 637-646). New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, R. A. (1987b). Judges interviewing children in custody/visitation litigation. New Jersey Family Lawyer 7(2), 153ff

Gardner, R. A. (1992). The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

Gardner, R. A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome: Second Edition. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

Gardner, R. A. (1999). Differentiating between PAS and bona fide abuse/neglect. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 27(3), 195-212.

Gardner, R. A. (2001a). Therapeutic Interventions for Children with Parental Alienation Syndrome. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

Gardner, R. A. (2001b). The recent gender shift in PAS indoctrinators. News for Women in Psychiatry19(4),11-13.

Gardner, R. A. (2001c). Should courts order PAS children to visit/reside with the alienated parent? A follow-up study. The American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19(3),60-106.

Gardner, R. A. (2002a). Parental alienation syndrome vs. parental alienation: which diagnosis should evaluators use in child-custody litigation?The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30(2),101-123.

Gardner, R. A. (2002b). Does DSM-IV have equivalents for the parental alienation syndrome (PAS) diagnosis? The American Journal of Family therapy (in press)

Gardner, R. A. (2002c). The empowerment of children in the development of the parental alienation syndromeThe American Journal of Forensic Psychology20(1) (in press)

Gardner, R. A. The judiciary’s role in the etiology, symptom development, and treatment of the parental alienation syndrome (PAS). (Submitted for publication), Articles in Peer-reviewed Journals and Published Books on the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

_______, Testimony Concerning the Parental Alienation Syndrome Has Been Admitted in Courts of Law in Many States and

Comments on Carol S. Bruch’s Article “Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting it Wrong in Child Custody Cases” – Richard Gardner

Family Law Quarterly 35(3):527-552, 2001

All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self-evident.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Before addressing myself to the numerous misperceptions, distortions, and even fabrications that are to be found in this article, it is important to make a few comments about the author herself, especially with regard to her qualifications for writing this article. She is a research professor of law. From the biographical information provided about her on the University of California at Davis website, it is clear that she is a woman of accomplishment who has involved herself in many areas of the law. However, as important as her contributions may have been, there is nothing in her biographical information to indicate that she has spent significant time in family courts working directly with clients involved in child-custody disputes. Accordingly, she is very remote from the lawyers who are directly working with families involved in high conflict child-custody disputes. In short, she has not had significant experiences “in the trenches.”

In a footnote on the first page of the article (page 527) Bruch gives credit to three reference librarians at her law school. Again, we have three assistants who are operating in the cloistered environment of the law library, far from the reality of the outside world, especially the divorce courts, where the real PAS action is taking place. Furthermore, it is clear that she has not properly differentiated among the sources of her information, specifically, whether it be a learned journal or some newspaper article written by someone on assignment that day to become an “expert” on the subject. She has not properly concerned herself with the validity or credibility of her sources. Most important, the article is not balanced. Either she ignores a significant body of data that supports my work in the PAS realm, or dismisses it perfunctorily.

In footnote #2 she states:

“Errors or omissions are her own.”

Although the article appears in the reputable Family Law Quarterly and is written in a scholarly style, it is not a balanced article. Bruch makes consistent choices by quoting professionals and articles with only one point of view, and does not vary from this. She does not consider documents advancing a point of view that opposes her own, despite the widespread availability of these numerous articles and cases. Courts of law must deal with two sides of an issue. This article does not.

The number of misrepresentations in this article is so great that it would take an article of equal length, if not longer, to attempt to correct them all. What I will do here is comment on the most egregious of the various distortions, misrepresentations, and even fabrications.

First, Bruch focuses on false sex-abuse accusations in PAS and assumes that one equals the other. Nowhere in my writings is there any confirmation of this. What I do say in my writings is that a false sex-abuse accusation can be a spin-off of the PAS and my own experience has been that this occurs in about ten percent of cases. I have also stated that in my clinical experience the vast majority of these are generally false, but that still, on occasion, one sees a true sex-abuse accusation along with a PAS.

Page 528, footnote 3. Bruch quotes studies that describe one-to-two percent true sex-abuse accusations. What is misleading here is that these studies are dated 1990 and 1992, based on data from the 1980s, a time when the false sex-abuse accusation was not as generally appreciated. It is likely that studies from the same sources conducted today, 15 years later, would provide a higher percentage. That said, Bruch is still confirming the existence of the false sex-abuse accusation phenomenon. Our only difference is the percentage of cases in which this occurs. From the vantage point of the innocent victim, it does not matter whether he (she) is in the one-percent group, the twenty-percent group, or any other percent group; that individual is still being falsely accused and may very well be sentenced to jail (as some such unfortunate people actually are).

Page 528, footnote 3. Bruch quotes a single article by K. Faller that Bruch repeatedly references throughout her article. However, Bruch selectively ignores my response article, which was published in the next issue (Child Maltreatment, 3(4):309-312) (Gardner, 1998a). Furthermore, Bruch fails to mention that the Faller article was published after I had testified in support of the plaintiff in a malpractice suit against her in Michigan (see Champney v. Faller et al., Washtenaw County #95-4760-CK).

Bruch states (p. 528-529):

“Although Dr. Gardner sometimes states that his analysis does not apply to cases of actual abuse, the focus of his attention is directed at discerning whether the beloved parent and child are lying, not whether the target parent is untruthful or has behaved in a way that might explain the child’s aversion.”

This quote is another example of the limitations of Bruch’s research. She states that I “sometimes state” that my analysis (of PAS, presumably) does not apply to cases of actual abuse. In fact, I routinely state that the diagnosis of PAS does not apply to cases of actual abuse (Gardner, 1992a1998b1999). She continues with the criticism that I am not evaluating for any weaknesses in the target parent’s behavior. In every case I assess the target parent as to whether or not he (she) has abused or neglected the children, or exhibited any other behavior that might contribute to their alienation. Chapter Nine of my 1998 book on the PAS is devoted to my techniques for making this differentiation (Gardner, 1998b). In addition, I have been involved in many cases in which, after an evaluation, I informed the client engaging my services that I could not support his (her) position because the children’s rejection was grounded in real abuse/neglect that became apparent in the course of the evaluation.

In addition, it is important to note that prior to being retained by a client to conduct an evaluation, I require the prospective client to sign my contract which confirms recognition “that Dr. Gardner may not ultimately support my position in the litigation.” In practice, this is not an uncommon outcome. When it occurs, the client usually elects, in one way or another, not to have me testify or submit my findings to the litigation at hand and my involvement with the matter ends then and there. Accordingly, my negative findings (e.g. no PAS but rather abuse) remain effectively off the record.

What then is on the record are the cases in which my findings support and coincide with the client’s position. My detractors shrewdly exploit this by accusing me of being a “hired gun,” fully available to absolve anyone who is willing to pay me. This contention couldn’t be further from the truth, but the rules of doctor/patient confidentiality prevent me from countering this accusation by citing those cases in which my evaluations failed to support the clients allegations of PAS or failed to exculpate them from accusations of abuse.

Bruch states (p. 529, footnote 6):

“Two examples are his efforts to distinguish true from false allegations and his blanket advice to judges that they should refrain from taking abuse allegations seriously, even when supported by a therapist who has seen the child.”

Once again, Bruch overstates her thesis. Her use of the word blanket implies that she has comprehensively looked at every case in which I have testified, and that in every possible case of sex abuse that arises in the context of divorce, I recommend that judges ignore the sex-abuse accusation. This is simply not true. I have taken care to make the proviso that only after a thorough evaluation has been conducted can one determine whether or not sex abuse has occurred. The elaborate protocols I use, generally requiring three or four hours of interviewing with the child alone, are described in two of my books (Gardner, 1992b1995). They also describe the detailed evaluation I conduct of the accused party, especially with regard to the presence or absence of pedophilic tendencies. This inquiry, of course, takes even more time. If, after this extensive evaluation, I find that bona-fide sex-abuse is extremely unlikely and that the child’s complaints are not related to the target parent’s behavior, but to the alienating parent’s and the child’s behavior (PAS manifestations), then I do advise that the children’s complaints not be taken seriously, because they are the products of fabrications and/or delusions-a result of their programming.

Unfortunately there are therapists who take PAS children’s allegations seriously, much to the detriment of all family members. This does not mean that I do not first make the differentiation between true and false accusations. I do so in every case. Furthermore, I am very much aware of the fact that there are bona fide abusers who claim that they are innocent of abuse and that the children’s accusations are the products of the other parent’s PAS manipulations. As mentioned, Chapter Nine of my 1998 PAS book is devoted completely to differentiating the true from false accusations in such cases. One of the purposes of this chapter is to “smoke out” these bona fide abusers who try to claim that they are merely innocent victims of PAS indoctrinations.

Bruch states (page 530):

“First, Gardner confounds a child’s developmentally related reaction to divorce and high parental conflict (including violence) with psychosis.”

Again, we see another gross misrepresentation. What I do state is that my experience has been that severe PAS represents about ten percent of the cases I have personally seen. Furthermore, I state that in some of those cases we do see paranoia in the accusing parent, which is a form of psychosis. In such cases, what one most often sees is a circumscribed delusional system centering on the victim parent. The DSM-IV diagnosis Delusional Disorder is often applicable here. In those cases, I do consider the indoctrinating parent to be suffering with this circumscribed paranoid delusional system centering on the target parent-a delusion that warrants the term psychosis. The children get swept up in this delusion and the dyad justifiably warrants the DSM-IV diagnosis, Shared Psychotic Disorder (Folie-à-Deux). When an unskilled therapist does not recognize the PAS, he (she) may join in with the parent-child dyad. In such cases the folie-à-trois designation is warranted. I believe that most family court lawyers, as well as mental health professionals who work with these families, have seen this phenomenon.

Bruch states (page 531) that my work has the “practical effect of impugning all abuse allegations, allegations which Gardner asserts are usually false in the divorce context.” PAS children routinely allege physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. In the context of the PAS, such accusationsare usually false. Furthermore, if my clinical findings are representative, about ten percent of PAS children may allege sexual abuse. Bruch is correct in stating that I consider most of these PAS derived sexual-abuse accusations to be false. (In contrast, I consider most intrafamilial accusations to be true). There is a vast amount of scientific literature describing the phenomenon of false accusations occurring in the context of child-custody disputes. These omissions reveal the bias that pervades Bruch’s argument.

Bruch states (p. 532):

“Worse yet, if therapists agree that danger exists, Gardner asserts that they are almost always man-hating women who have entered into a folie-à-trois with the complaining child and concerned parent.”

Once again, Bruch overstates her case. Her phrase “if therapists agree that danger exists, Gardner asserts…” is in itself misleading. She implies that whenever a therapist-any therapist, or group of therapists-concludes that abuse has taken place it must have happened. This is an overly credulous position. Those in the field know well that many errors are made in the typical evaluation, that there are many levels of evaluator competency, and that nothing conclusive can be said about their findings unless their findings have been thoroughly critiqued for proper evaluation methodology.

Moreover, the word always is a very dangerous word to use, especially in a learned document. I rarely use that word, whether in speaking or writing. Bruch will have a long search if she is looking to find that word in any of my publications, especially with regard to the folie-à-troisphenomenon. Yes, there are man-hating women who do join in with PAS programmers to victimize and scapegoat a target father. However, there are also male therapists who do this, and there are women therapists who do this who are not man-haters.

Bruch states (p. 534):

“In sum, children’s reluctance or refusal to visit noncustodial parents can probably be better explained without resorting to Gardner’s theory. Studies that followed families over several years, for example, report that visits may cease or be resisted when a variety of reasons cause custodial parents and children to be angry or uncomfortable with the other parent.”

Bruch would have the reader believe that I have no appreciation of alternative reasons for children’s alienation from a parent other than PAS. Such a statement is ludicrous. It indicates complete ignorance of my publications, books and articles that were written long before I wrote my first article on the PAS in 1985. I describe in these publications many other reasons why children are antagonistic toward one of the parents, reasons that have nothing to do with PAS. Even in my books on the PAS I advise examiners to be vigilant and explore alternative explanations for the children’s alienation. I have repeatedly stated that when bona fide abuse exists, the PAS diagnosis is not applicable. Furthermore, for each of the diagnostic criteria delineated in my books on sex abuse I detail the manifestations when the accusation is true and the manifestations when the accusation is false (Gardner, 1992b1995). Bruch completely ignores this pervasive principle in my diagnostic protocols.

Bruch continues (p. 534-535):

“First, Gardner is broadly (but mistakenly) believed to be a full professor at a prestigious university.”

Bruch is basically stating here that I misrepresent myself when I claim that I am Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons. If Bruch is correct here, then I have somehow duped the university and the medical school into listing my name for over 39 years on their rosters of faculty members, as well as convincing them to biannually reconfirm my appointment. And this occurs only after their review of extensive documentation, which I am required to submit to determine that I am still worthy of holding the appointment. The fact is that I was the first clinician in private practice to achieve full professorial rank in the Child Psychiatry Department at Columbia. In alleged confirmation of this fabrication, Bruch quotes from Newsweek (she has no hesitation using as references newspapers and magazines, giving them equal status with learned publications) that “the title Gardner enjoys indicates neither full faculty membership nor research accomplishment.” In reality, I had to satisfy the same rigorous qualifications as the full-time academicians to achieve full professorship rank at Columbia University Medical School, including: review of my peer-reviewed published articles, my books, comments by student evaluators, contributions to the field of child psychiatry, invited lectures throughout the U.S. and abroad, research accomplishments, and anonymous letters of recommendation from faculty members from other medical schools. Bruch would give the impression that the Columbia University Medical School frivolously dispenses its professorships. This is absurd, and is an important example of the kind of serious factual inaccuracies that underlie her scholarly style.

Bruch continues (page 535):

“Because this aura of expertise accompanies his work, few suspect that it is mostly self-published.”

This is a fabrication. As a research professor, Bruch knows full well that articles published in learned peer-review journals are not self-published. In contrast, books can be self-published. I have over 150 articles published in scholarly peer-review journals. In addition, prior to 1978 I published 16 books with major publishers (Doubleday, G.P. Putnam’s, Prentice-Hall, Avon Books, Bantam Books, and Jason Aronson) before I began publishing through Creative Therapeutics. I still get invitations from more well-known publishers to write books, and I last accepted an invitation from Bantam Books to do so in 1991.

Bruch states (p. 535-536):

“. . . receives referrals from the websites of fathers’ organizations, and provides packaged continuing education courses for professionals.”

It is true that I receive referrals from fathers’ organizations. The implication here is that there is something wrong with this. Many of these men have been victimized terribly by PAS accusations. However, I also receive many referrals from mothers, even mothers who belong to women’s organizations, who also have been victimized by PAS. And this has been even more the case in the last few years. Most of the PAS examiners with whom I have been in contact have observed, as have I, that men are now as likely to become PAS indoctrinators as women. Elsewhere I have described this gender shift (Gardner, 2001a2002a).

The statement that I “provide packaged continuing education courses for professionals” is a blatant fabrication. I do not provide packaged continuing education courses for professionals. Bruch does not provide the names of these so-called packages and/or courses. She cannot do this because they do not exist, either on my website or anywhere else. We see here yet another example of her irresponsibility. However, even if I did provide such packages, is there something wrong with that? Professional organizations are always encouraging their members to enhance their knowledge of their fields and continue their education.

Bruch continues (p. 536):

“Finally, he often inaccurately represents or suggests that PAS is consistent with or endorsed by the accepted work of others.”

My website ( currently lists 137 peer-reviewed articles by over 150 authors. This indicates acceptance. On the same website I list 66 courts of law that have recognized the PAS. These important lists provide compelling proof that PAS is accepted by the professionals who wrote those articles and the peer reviewers who accepted them for publication. It also indicates that PAS was accepted by at least 66 judges in courts of law who saw fit to mention the full term PAS in their rulings and ruled accordingly. Therefore, there is nothing “inaccurate” about my representation. What is accurate is her misrepresentation of me.

Bruch states (page 537):

“…whenever child sexual abuse allegations or disrupted visitation patterns arise in the United States, one must now be prepared to confront a claim asserting that PAS is at work, not abuse or other difficulties.”

An unseverable part of any PAS evaluation is to assess for the presence of (parental) “abuse or other difficulties.” Her argument goes on to say that a database search of reported (emphasis mine) cases between 1985 and 2001 reveal numerous mental health professionals in addition to Gardner having testified as to the presence of PAS within a custody dispute, “although far fewer were willing to recommend that custody be transferred and contact with the primary (alienating) custodian terminated.” The author’s implication is that even evaluators advocating PAS are unwilling to follow Gardner fully by recommending a change of custody. This is a distortion, in that most PAS experts agree with me that change of custody is appropriate only in severe cases of PAS, and severe cases are but a small subset of PAS cases as a whole. I will agree, however, that I am more likely to recommend custodial transfer in the severe cases than many other evaluators, because they have more commitment to the therapeutic treatment of such cases than I. I believe, however, that my follow-up study of 99 children (Gardner 2001b) provides strong support for my position regarding these cases and that ultimately other such studies will confirm that reduction of access to the alienator is the only hope for children in the severe category of PAS.

Bruch than professes to be “profoundly disturbed” by the degree to which expert witnesses, judges and attorneys have been invoking PAS, and the almost total absense of inquiries into its scientific validity. She then launches into a footnote which asserts that a compiled list of PAS positive caselaw on the Gardner website is misleading because it consists “most(ly) of cases unchallenged as to scientific validity of PAS.” (fn39). Bruch’s footnote is itself misleading in its own right in that she then cites four cases as examples of how the list is misleading. She fails to point out that two of her four case examples are not even found on Gardner’s list (Crews v. McKenna and Loll v. Loll). Basically, what she has done here is claim that my list includes cases in which the court did not recognize PAS and then cites as examples of such cases two cases that were never on my list. Equally reprehensible is her claim that in the other two cases the court did not recognize the PAS. In actuality, the court did recognize the PAS in these cases: one is even an appellate ruling (Truax v. Truax). Again we see gross misrepresentation.

Bruch would have the reader believe that in 66 different courts of law-spread across almost as many jurisdictions in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Germany-judges, attorneys, and mental health professionals, after careful review of the facts in the case, subscribe to PAS but that this trend is no measure of validity unless it has been subjected to a Frye or Daubert hearing.

With regard to PAS Frye tests, Bruch belies her underlying bias, devoting a substantial footnote (19 lines) to discussing an older case in which PAS did not survive the Frye challenge, and begrudgingly adding a passing reference (2 lines) to Kilgore v. Boyd, a more recent case in which PAS was found to satisfy the Frye Test requirements. The court’s decision followed a two-day hearing in which both Richard A. Warshak, Ph.D. and I testified. This case was appealed and the appellate court declined to even reconsider the trial court’s Frye test decision.

It may be of interest to the reader to know, that in January 2002 a court in Wheaton, Illinois-in a case in which I testified along with Christopher Barden, Ph.D., L.L.D.-ruled that the PAS does satisfy Frye Test criteria for admissibility (see Bates v. Bates, 18th Judicial Circuit, Dupage County Il. Case No 99D958, January 17, 2002). One cannot fault Bruch for not including the second Frye Tests decision because it was probably handed down too late for inclusion in her article.

Page 538. Bruch speaks here about reported cases in which the PAS has not been accepted and footnotes only one case to support her statement. She does not speak about reported cases in which the PAS has been accepted. In most of the cases in which I have testified on the PAS, the court has admitted my testimony and has not denied the existence of the disorder. However, more important, she would lead the reader to believe that reported cases represent the majority of, if not all, family court cases. This is not true. Only a small percentage of family court cases ever get reported. Most readers would not generally appreciate this misrepresentation. The word usually is important here. She gives no percentages.

With regard to my Sex Abuse Legitimacy Scale (SAL Scale) Bruch states (p. 539):

“Following considerable scientific criticism, Gardner withdrew the test he had constructed to determine whether sexual abuse had taken place.”

Again, Bruch is wrong here. The SAL Scale was published in 1987. I withdrew it in 1989, two years later, predominantly because too many evaluators were ignoring the requirement that it only be used when all three parties (mother, father, and alleged child victim) were interviewed. Bruch is again quoting here newspaper articles as her source of information, making no differentiation between learned publications and articles written by journalists-thus compromising her research.

Page 541. Here Bruch refers to the PAS as a “street myth.” I consider this a very revealing statement. It provides confirmation that Bruch has absolutely no experience “in the street,” “in the trenches,” where family lawyers and mental health professionals daily see the PAS. From her “ivory tower,” she somehow views it as a street myth. She would do well to go into the streets herself and see whether or not PAS exists.

On the same page, Bruch expresses some puzzlement and even amazement that the American Bar Association’s section on Alternate Dispute Resolution gave its annual prize to an article on the PAS. Apparently, the American Bar Association knows something she doesn’t. More importantly, as far back as 1991, the American Bar Association commissioned Clawar and Rivlin to write their now classic, Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children. The authors describe therein hundreds of cases of PAS, and references my book on the subject (Gardner, 1987). Lawyers all over the country and even abroad, continually refer to their seminal work.

Page 541ff Bruch makes reference to the work of Johnston, Kelly, and Sullivan. She somehow has the idea that these people have improved upon my work. A careful reading of their material and mine will confirm that we are both seeing the same cases, the same range of alienated children from mild, to moderate, to severe. The only difference is that they are giving the disorder a different name. This produces some confusion for Bruch who needs to maintain the delusion that PAS does not exist. Kelly and Sullivan even recommend custodial transfer in the severe cases, which is what I have been criticized for. Workers in the field know well that this is the only hope for children who have been severely alienated. Changing the name from PAS to PA does not cause the disorder to evaporate. PAS has been written on by professionals around the world. My website lists articles in English, French, Dutch, and German. At this point I am co-editing a volume completely devoted to the parental alienation syndrome. Submissions are coming in from authors in at least eight different countries: the U.S., Australia, Canada, The U.K., Sweden, Germany, The Czech Republic, and Israel. If we are to believe Bruch, all these people have been swept up in my delusion that PAS exists. Along these lines Bruch states (549):

“Until she provides further clarification, Johnston’s apparent support for forced contact between the members of high-conflict families should be construed narrowly, given her many publications questioning the wisdom of or need for such approaches.”

Johnston, for all her criticisms of me, has come to recognize that forced contact may be the only hope for children with severe PAS, whether or not she wants to call the disorder PAS. Since Bruch has cited her so frequently, she cannot dismiss Johnston’s work, but tries to minimize the direction her work has inexorably taken as Johnston continues to work “in the trenches.”

Page 547 Bruch quotes Wallerstein:

“Most dramatically, Wallerstein reveals that these children’s alignments were transient, with every child later abandoning his or her harsh position, mostly within one or two years and all before the age of eighteen.”

This is reported as having been stated in a telephone conversation with Judith Wallerstein. My own follow-up study of 99 PAS children, statistically analyzed and not anecdotally reported, provides very different conclusions. The study provides compelling evidence that the vast majority of severe PAS cases (91%) will not return to a good relationship with the target parent if the court does not force it. The summary of that article is found here: ( Bruch gratuitously dismisses this peer-reviewed article, giving it absolutely no credibility. This difference between Wallerstein’s experiences and my own is easily explained. Wallerstein saw her original group in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, under the tender-years-presumption, mothers almost automatically gained custody of their children. High-conflict divorce, at that time, was less related to custody than to property and even as to whether or not divorce would be granted. In the 1970s, when the tender-years-presumption was replaced with the best interests of the child presumption, and preference for mothers was generally considered “sexist,” courts were required to be gender-blind with regard to assigning primary custodial status. It was in this setting that parents began to program their children to gain leverage in courts of law-thus the birth of the PAS. Therefore, comparison between Wallerstein’s population and my group is not possible, and the conclusions that Bruch presents here are therefore moot.

Page 547, footnote 73. Bruch again makes reference here to a telephone conversation with Dr. Judith Wallerstein on April 10, 2001. There was no telephone conversation with me, the person who is named on practically every page of her article, the person who is the primary target of her diatribe. We see here another example of Bruch’s extreme bias, her selectively ignoring data that might shake and even tumble the house of cards she has built in this article.

Page 549. Bruch states:

“It is puzzling that Johnston expressly endorses many coercive aspects of Sullivan and Kelly’s legal framework”

Although Johnston, Sullivan, and Kelly are very critical of my work, they are seeing the same children-so ubiquitous is the PAS, “out in the streets”-and recognize that in severe cases coercive techniques are the only hope for the children and the target parent. She is puzzled here because these authorities, whom she is citing to discredit me, are making recommendations that are strikingly similar to my own, and thus could be seen as supporting my position.

Page 550-551 Bruch refers to the specious argument that PAS is not to be taken seriously because it is not in DSM-IV. In response to the absurdity in this statement I quote here a segment from my article Parental Alienation Syndrome vs. Parental Alienation: Which Diagnosis Should Evaluators Use in Child-Custody Disputes (Gardner, 2002b) that addresses itself to this point:

To say that PAS does not exist because it is not listed in DSM-IV is like saying in 1980 that AIDS (Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome) does not exist because it was not then listed in standard diagnostic medical textbooks. DSM-IV was published in 1994. From 1991 to 1993, when DSM committees were meeting to consider the inclusion of additional disorders, there were too few articles in the literature to warrant submission of the PAS for consideration. That is no longer the case. It is my understanding that committees will begin to meet for the next edition of the DSM (probably to be called DSM-V) in 2002 or 2003. Considering the fact that there are now at least 135 articles in peer-review journals on the PAS, it is highly likely that by that time there will be even more articles. (The list of peer-reviewed PAS articles is to be found on my website,, a list that is continually being updated.)

It is important to note that DSM-IV does not frivolously accept every new proposal. Their requirements are very stringent with regard to the inclusion of newly described clinical entities. The committees require many years of research and numerous publications in peer-review scientific journals before considering the inclusion of a disorder, and justifiably so. Gille de La Tourette first described his syndrome in 1885. It was not until 1980, 95 years later, that the disorder found its way into the DSM. It is important to note that at that point, Tourette’s Syndrome became Tourette’s Disorder. Asperger first described his syndrome in 1957. It was not until 1994, 37 years later, that it was accepted into DSM-IV and Asperger’s Syndrome became Asperger’s Disorder.

Bruch criticizes PAS because it conforms to the “medical model” and ignores the family systems model. The implication here is that the medical model cannot be applied to family issues. Somewhat paradoxically, however, she believes that inclusion of PAS in DSM-IV would indicate that PAS has greater credibility as a disorder. Yet each diagnosis in DSM-IV follows the medical model. In order to make a diagnosis, the physician must compare the patient’s symptoms with those listed in the book. The DSM committees have repeatedly rejected family systems diagnoses because they are nebulous and speculative. They are almost impossible to subject to controlled studies, especially studies in which statistical verification is warranted. Again, the implication is that I do not concern myself with family interrelationships. An unbiased reader can examine any page of any of my books on the PAS and see mention of family relationships and family systems. Last, I am certain that Bruch would want her doctor to follow the medical model when diagnosing any illness that she may have.

There are many other criticisms I have of the Bruch article, which is not the disinterested, comprehensive survey of the material available on PAS that it represents itself to be. My final conclusion is that it is not I who am biased and misrepresenting the material; it is clearly Bruck herself.

Last, I believe that all of Bruck’s attempts to discredit and deny PAS will prove futile, her obvious great labors toward that goal notwithstanding. PAS exists, and corroboration of that is the 66 judges who have cited it, and the over 150 authors who have written about it. Whether one wants to call it alignments, PA or PAS, we are all describing the same phenomenon, and this alone argues for the fact that we are describing a problem that is real. It is a syndrome in every sense of the word. In fact, it is “purer” than many of the syndromes described in DSM-IV. The phenomenon whereby, in the context of a high-conflict child-custody dispute one parent programs the child against the other, and the child joins in with his or her own contributions, has repeatedly been seen in courts of law in the last twenty years. Mental health professionals, lawyers, and judges will ultimately agree that the only hope for most of the children in the severe category is significant reduction of the children’s access to the programming parent (now approximately 50 percent fathers) and that if this is not done, the vast majority of these children will suffer lifelong alienation from a good, loving parent.

Richard A. Gardner, M.D.
Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry
Columbia University
College of Physicians and Surgeons


Champney v. Faller et al., Washtenaw County #95-4760-CK.

Gardner, R. A. (1987), The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiation Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

_______ (1992a), The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

_______ (1992b), True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

_______ (1995), Protocols for the Sex-Abuse Evaluation. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

_______ (1998a), Response to Faller article. Child Maltreatment, 3(4):309-312.

_______ (1998b), The Parental Alienation Syndrome (Second Edition), Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.

_______ (1999), Differentiating between the parental alienation syndrome and bona fide abuse/neglect. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 11127(2):97-107

_______ (2001a), The recent gender shift in PAS indoctrinators. News for Women in Psychiatry (A publication for the Association for Women Psychiatrists), 19(4):11-13.

_______ (2001b), Should courts order PAS children to visit/reside with the alienated parent? A follow-up study. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19(3):61-106.

_______ (2002a), Denial of the parental alienation syndrome (PAS) harms women also. (in press)

_______ (2002b), Parental Alienation Syndrome vs. Parental Alienation: Which diagnosis should evaluators use in child-custody disputes? The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30(2):101-123.

Traduzioni italiane di articoli sulla PAS di Richard Gardner

  1. Deve, il tribunale, ordinare che i bambini PAS visitino (risiedano con) il genitore alienato? Uno studio di follow-up – Richard Gardner (trad. Guido Parodi) (link)
  2. L’acquisizione di potere del bambino nello sviluppo della Sindrome di Alienazione Genitoriale – Richard Gardner (trad. Guido Parodi) (link)
  3. Raccomandazioni sulla condotta da tenere con genitori che inducono la Sindrome di Alienazione Genitoriale nei propri figli – Richard Gardner (trad. Guido Parodi) (link)
  4. Il ruolo del sistema giudiziario nel radicamento della Sindrome di Alienazione Genitoriale (PAS)- Richard Gardner (link)
  5. Disinformazione e fatti sui contributi scientifici di Richard A. Gardner MD – Richard Gardner (link)
  6. La Sindrome da Alienazione Parentale – Richard Gardner (trad. Rosa Polizzi)
  7. Teoria sulla varietà del comportamento sessuale umano – Richard Gardner (trad. I. Caccia e F. Ricca) (link)
  8. Diagrammi temporali dell’abuso sessuale – Richard Gardner (trad. Greta Scurati)
  9. Stimoli guida, gesti guida e domande guida – Richard Gardner (trad. Greta Scurati)
  10. La revisione del “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act”: una speranza per affrontare l’isteria dell’abuso sessuale negli Stati Uniti – Richard Gardner  (trad. Francesca Ricca)
  11. La sindrome divorzio-correlata della madre malevola – Ira Daniel Turkat (trad. Rosa Polizzi)

In fase di traduzione:

  1. The Role of the Judiciary in the Entrenchment of the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Sixteen Years Later – Richard Gardner

(Source: Academy Forum, 2001, 45(1):10-12  – A Publication of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis)

In 1985, the Academy Forum published my article, “Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigation.” This was the first article in which I described the parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a disorder that I began seeing in the early 1980s. The Forum article is generally considered to be the seminal publication on the PAS, parent to at least 100 peer-reviewed articles. Although this is certainly a source of gratification for me, the sixteen years that have ensued cannot be viewed as a straight path to glory, especially because of controversies that have swirled around the diagnosis. I address here the reasons for the controversies and provide suggested solutions.

The definition of the PAS I provided in the original article still holds:

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 the parent, a campaign that has no justification. The disorder results from the combination of indoctrinations by the alienating parent and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the alienated parent.

In the original article I described the primary symptoms of the PAS:

1) The Campaign of Denigration

2) Weak, Frivolous, or Absurd Rationalizations for the Depreciation

3) Lack of Ambivalence

4) The “Independent-Thinker” Phenomenon

5) Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict

6) Absence of Guilt Over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent

7) Presence of Borrowed Scenarios

8) Spread of the Animosity to the Extended Family and Friends of the Alienated Parent

Further work with these families confirmed my original definition and description of the primary symptomatic manifestations. Initially, many were dubious about the existence of the disorder, some even considering my descriptions a caricature. Generally, the dubious were those who were not directly involved in working with families embroiled in child-custody disputes. By the late 1980s I was no longer hearing this criticism, so obvious was it that the disorder was widespread.

The Syndrome Issue

When critics no longer denied the existence of the disorder, they often heatedly claimed that PAS was not a syndrome. Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary defines syndrome as:

A collection or grouping of disjunctive, variable signs and symptoms whose frequency of recurrence together suggests the existence of a single pathologic process or disorder that will explain them.

The PAS is one of the purest syndromes in psychiatry, especially the moderate and severe cases in which most if not all of the symptoms manifest themselves. Some claim that although PAS may be a syndrome, it is too early to apply the label, which should only be used after widespread acceptance. Such critics are not familiar with the traditional sequence used in psychiatry (and medicine in general) regarding the term syndrome. This sequence is also described in Campbell’s Dictionary:

In general, three levels of categorization can be differentiated in medicine: (1) an isolated sign or symptom, without reference to associated features or cause, and with little predictive value. . . . (2) a clinical grouping of signs or symptoms into a distinctive syndrome. . . . (3) a distinctive clinical picture that is accounted for by an identifiable pathophysiologic process or etiologic agent.

Clinicians routinely see isolated symptoms. When a particular cluster repeatedly appears, then the syndrome term is justified. The first articles on a disorder, which may involve only a few cases, still justify the term syndrome because the authors are attempting to bring to the attention of professional colleagues their observations regarding the existence of the syndrome. And this has been true of other syndromes described in medicine and psychiatry, e.g., acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Down’s syndrome, and Tourette’s syndrome. The sequence in psychiatry has been to change the name syndrome to disorder after repeated studies confirm its existence, especially when the etiologic agent has been identified. At such point the DSM changes the name from syndrome to disorder. For example, Tourette’s syndrome became Tourette’s Disorder when it first entered DSM-III in 1980. Similarly, Asperger’s Syndrome became Asperger’s Disorder when it entered DSM-IV in 1994.

When I first began seeing this cluster in the early 1980s, I discussed the question of the proper name with Dr. Robert Spitzer, then Chairperson of DSM-III and subsequently Chairperson of DSM-III-R. We both agreed that the term syndrome would be applicable at that point and that if subsequent research justified submission to a future DSM publication, then consideration would be given to changing the name to parentalalienation disorder. In the early 1990s, when the DSM-IV committees were meeting, there were not enough articles on PAS to warrant submitting a proposal for inclusion in DSM-IV. (I will comment below on where things stand with regard to DSM-V.)

In my 1992 book on the PAS, I described what I considered to be the etiological factors that were operative and delineated the steps by which these factors contributed to the development of the disorder. Other examiners as well have described the same etiological factors and pathogenic mechanisms. Accordingly, I consider there to be good justification for my conclusion that Level 3 has been reached.

At this point, even the most zealous critics agree that there are children who have been programmed to be extremely alienated from a parent and fit the picture that I have described. They will even list the same cluster of symptoms. Yet, they still vigorously claim that the term syndrome is not justified. To the best of my knowledge, the main reason for the reluctance to utilize the term syndrome relates to the PAS’s admissibility in courts of law. As mentioned, the PAS arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. Other syndromes that have been described in medicine and psychiatry are neither the result of litigation nor do they become a central issue in lawsuits. In courts of law, it often behooves an opposing attorney to not only discredit a new disorder, but even the person who has described it. Convincing the court that PAS is not a syndrome is a step toward getting the court to deny its existence entirely. If there is no PAS, then there is no PAS indoctrinator. Accordingly, those who call the phenomenon parental alienation will have an easier time in the courtroom than those who insist upon referring to the disorder accurately as the parental alienation syndrome.

The DSM-IV Issue

Another maneuver commonly utilized by attorneys is this: “PAS doesn’t exist because it’s not in DSM-IV.” This is the equivalent of saying in 1980 that AIDS does not exist because it is not in medical textbooks. The lawyer’s hope here is that the court will be naïve enough to buy into this argument and thereby support the position of the PAS-indoctrinating client who is denying the programming.

In spite of the reluctance of many to use the term PAS, at least 38 courts of law have recognized the PAS.

According to information I recently received from the APA, committees for considering newly described disorders will begin meeting in 2004-2005, with anticipated publication of DSM-V between 2007 and 2010. By that time, there will be many more than the 100 peer-reviewed articles and 38 legal citations that I now have to support consideration. (My list of publications and legal citations is being constantly updated and can be found on my website: Those who avoid using PAS at this point are being shortsighted. Although they may benefit in court now by avoiding the word syndrome, they are reducing the likelihood of consideration by DSM-V committees.

PAS vs. Bona Fide Abuse

With increasing recognition of the PAS, a new phenomenon has developed. Specifically, parents who are truly abusive have been claiming that the children’s animosity toward them has nothing to do with their abuse but is the result of PAS programming by the other parent. This has become a common rationalization and diversionary maneuver for abusing parents. Some such parents have even been successful in convincing courts that they were not abusive and that the PAS is responsible for the alienation. Critics, then, claim that I am somehow responsible for this unfortunate situation. This is the equivalent of blaming Tourette and Downs when someone misdiagnoses the disorders they first described.

In an attempt to improve the diagnostic acumen of evaluators and to provide courts with proper differentiating criteria, I have a chapter devoted to the discrimination between PAS and bona fide abuse in the 1998 edition of my book on PAS. Examiners who carefully follow these guidelines should have little difficulty making this important differentiation, even though there are some cases in which PAS and abuse may coexist. When the abuse factor is clearly the predominant one, then the PAS diagnosis is not warranted.

The Sex-Abuse Issue

Since my residency days in the late 1950s, I have seen patients who were sexually abused as children. I believe that the vast majority of these descriptions have been valid. In the mid-1980s I began seeing a new phenomenon, namely, sex-abuse accusations by PAS children that were highly likely to be false. This was especially the case if the accusation emerged after the separation and after the failure of other PAS exclusionary maneuvers. Most of the accusations were directed at fathers by mothers. In some cases, however, the programming father initiated the accusation against his ex-wife’s new partner or husband. When I first started speaking about this, I was once again met with incredulity. “Children never lie,” my critics said, “especially when claiming sex-abuse.” Or I was sanctimoniously criticized for not “believing the children.” My answer:

There are many things about these accusations that cause me to be very dubious about their validity. Some of them are patently preposterous, even impossible. There is often significant variation from one rendition to the next. Many include borrowed-scenario elements, taken directly from the programming parent. To believe these children is to believe that a father, in his 30s or 40s, switched his sexual orientation from straight heterosexual to pedophilia. Instead of denying this reality, we should develop criteria for differentiating between true and false accusations, especially because innocent people are now being jailed.

Subsequently, I gained extensive experience with such differentiation in accusations against teachers, scoutmasters, clergy, babysitters, neighbors, and adult women belatedly accusing elderly relatives of having sexually abused them in childhood. Experiences in these other realms enabled me to sharpen the criteria that I have used to differentiate between true and false sex-abuse accusations promulgated by PAS children. Although very few today wave the “Believe the Children” and “Children Never Lie” banners, we are still seeing false sex-abuse accusations, especially in the context of child-custody disputes.

The Recent Gender Shift in PAS Indoctrinators

In the early 1980s, when I first observed the PAS, mothers were the alienating parent in about 90% of the cases. Fathers were attempting to program their children, but they were less likely to be successful because the children were generally more closely bonded with their mothers. Accordingly, I still recommend that the mother be designated the primary custodial parent, even though she might have been a PAS programmer. Only in the severe cases (about 10 percent)–when the mother was relentless and/or paranoid–did I recommend primary custodial status to the father. Others, as well, recognized this gender disparity.

Although I was most often recommending that most mothers be designated the primary custodial parent–PAS indoctrinations notwithstanding–I was criticized as being “sexist” because I was stating that PAS indoctrinators were more often female than male. My answer to critics:

These are the facts. I am not alone in making this observation. Rather than just criticizing the person who describes the gender disparity, we should be looking into the reasons why women more than men are more likely to be indoctrinators.

My answer to this question has been that mothers are more likely to be the primary caretakers and so children are more likely to side with them in child-custody disputes. Because of this recognition, I still recommend that mothers, in most PAS cases, remain the primary custodial parent.

In recent years, I have seen a gender shift to the 50/50 ratio. Others 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, providing fathers thereby with deeper bonding and more time to program them. Moreover, with increasing recognition of the PAS, fathers have learned about PAS indoctrinational maneuvers–especially the money and power factors. This shift notwithstanding, I still recommend mothers, much more often than fathers, as the primary custodial parent because in most cases the mother has been the primary caretaker and is more deeply bonded with the children.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, when fathers began demanding primary custody, women would have done well to have argued that the real issue to be considered by the courts in child-custody disputes is not gender but bonding. Had women taken such a position, they could not be considered guilty of “sexism” and would have still enjoyed the benefits of being given preference in child-custody disputes. And the same preference would have been given to fathers who had been primary caretakers and more deeply bonded with their child than the mothers. Had the bonding principle been applied, the PAS probably would not have developed. Accordingly, the best way to prevent the PAS is for courts to give primary consideration to the bonding issue. Last, because more mothers now are becoming victims of PAS indoctrinations, it is likely that my work on the PAS will be received with greater receptivity by women.

The Rachel Foundation

Recently, The Rachel Foundation was established. Named after the biblical Rachel, who grieved over the loss of her children, the Foundation is devoted to research and assistance for PAS children. Particular attention is given to those who have been abducted in association with PAS indoctrinations. The Professional Advisory Committee consists of colleagues in both the mental health and legal professions who have had significant experience with PAS families. Further information about the Foundation can be found at The establishment of The Rachel Foundation is yet another outgrowth of the original article published in the Academy Forum 16 years ago.

Original source:

Judges Interviewing Children in Custody/Visitation Litigation – Richard Gardner

NEW JERSEY FAMILY LAWYER, Volume VII, Number 2, August/September 1987, p 26ff

Richard A. Gardner, M.D.

Introductory Considerations

It is important for judges to appreciate that when they interview children in their chambers they are doing so under significantly compromised circumstances. An appreciation of these compromises can help the judge place in proper perspective the information so gained. The court’s primary question in custody/visitation litigation is this: Who would be a better parent for this child to live with, the mother or the father? This question is not likely to be answered reasonably unless data is collected from all three parties referred to in the question. Furthermore, the data-collection process will also be compromised if the parties are seen only alone and not interviewed in various combinations. Restricting oneself to interviewing only the child alone compromises the data collection process significantly because it deprives the evaluator of obtaining data in joint interviews, which are often the most valuable part of the data collection process. Family interviews also enable the interviewer to “smoke out” fabrications in a situation in which children traditionally say to each parent what they think that parent wants to hear at the moment. In custody/visitation evaluations, observing the parent-child relationship is the best source of information for ascertaining parental superiority. The present structure of courtroom proceedings generally precludes the court’s conducting such parent-child and family interviews. It must rely on the information provided by mental health professionals who conduct these interviews elsewhere.

Another compromise relates to the fact that interviewees, regardless of the circumstances, are more likely to reveal themselves to known parties than to strangers. And the longer and deeper the relationship with the interviewer, the greater the likelihood the interviewee will provide disclosures. And the greater the “dangers” of such revelations, the greater the likelihood that valid information will not be obtained in a short period. Interviewing a child only once does not provide the court with the opportunity to develop the kind of relationship in which such divulgences are likely to be obtained. Judges rarely have the time for multiple interviews, which provide the optimum setting for the kinds of revelations the court is looking for. Furthermore, the child generally enters the judge’s chambers in a state of fear. Although in-camerainterviews are less frightening than courtroom testimony, the judge is still held in awesome regard by most children and many adults. The fear element is likely to compromise significantly the data-gathering process and this cannot but make the information so obtained of dubious value.

The child’s level of cognitive development is also an important consideration. Obviously, the younger the child, the less meaningful his or her verbalizations will be. In the individual interview, the court does not have the opportunity to get “translations” from a parent who understands better the child’s terminology, innuendos and gestures. Accordingly, judges must appreciate that the person they are interviewing is the one of the three who is likely to provide the least valuable data pertinent to the court’s considerations.

The younger the child, the less the capability of differentiating fact from fantasy — a differentiation to which courts pay particular attention. In a recent case in Florida with which I was involved, during the in-camera interview (in which the attorneys were present), Florida law required that the interviewers first establish whether the four-year-old girl being questioned could “tell the difference between the truth and a lie.” This interview was conducted with a child whose parents were litigating over her custody and whose father was brought up on charges of sexual abuse because the child had told her mother that “Daddy killed Santa Claus…. Daddy killed the Easter bunny…and Daddy put his finger in my ‘gina’.” No one sent an expedition to the North Pole to see if Santa Claus was dead. No one sent out a search party to find out whether the body of the dead Easter bunny could be produced. But a horde of individuals descended upon this family in response to the third allegation. A four-year-old child who believes in the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny ipso facto does not differentiate well between fact and fantasy. Yet all interviewers agreed that she could do so for the purpose of the sexual abuse investigation and the inquiry continued. (Incidentally, I concluded that the third allegation was as much a fantasy as the first two.) The purpose of the judge’s interview is to find out what “the truth” is with regard to various aspects of the custody dispute. The assumption is made that the child knows what the truth is with regard to a variety of issues. All of us distort the truth somewhat in accordance with what our wishes are and children even more so. Time generally blurs reality and the younger the person is at the time of a particular event, the greater the likelihood time will distort its recollection. By the time a judge sees a child in chambers, the events under consideration may have taken place months or even a few years previously. It is reasonable to say that for many of the events being discussed with the judge, many children no longer know the truth and could not tell what the truth was no matter how honest they were trying to be.

Technical Considerations

Many judges will tell children, at the beginning of their interviews with them, that what the children say will be held strictly confidential and that their parents will never learn about what they have said. Unless the court can be 100 percent certain that this promise will be fulfilled, it is a risky one to make. Generally, this reassurance is given under circumstances in which a transcriber is recording every word. The transcripts of the interview that ultimately are made usually are sent to the attorneys who may or may not be instructed to reveal their contents to the parents. It is but a short step to the child’s learning as well that the judge has not kept the “secrets.” Under these circumstances the child cannot but feel betrayed — especially by someone who is held in high esteem. It is yet another betrayal added to that of a parent’s leaving home. Accordingly, I generally discourage courts from making such promises. Rather, judges should proceed without such a promise and hope that the child’s needs to communicate important issues will override the fear that the parents may learn of the disclosures. If the child does ask about whether the divulgences will be revealed, the judge does well to tell the child that his or her comments may be available to the parents or that the judge must be given the freedom to decide which information will be revealed and which will not.

The court does well to begin the interview by asking the child simple questions, which the child can answer with ease and freedom from anxiety, e.g., name, address, age, telephone number, etc. Each time the child gets the “right” answer, the initial tensions and anxieties are reduced and make it easier for the child to answer the more anxiety-provoking questions that will inevitably ensue. The court should avoid questions that could be answered by either yes or no. Of course, this is just the opposite of what is done in cross-examination where the yes-no question has a deep-seated heritage. Although this form of inquiry may be useful in “nailing down the facts,” I do not hold it in as high regard as my legal colleagues. When one asks a question that could be answered with either yes or no, one does not really know whether the response is valid. A quick answer of yes or no may be an easy way for the responder to “get off the hook” with regard to providing a meaningful answer. Much more valid material is obtained with questions that elicit sentences and descriptions that are self-derived by the respondent. For example, if one asks a boy whether he loves his mother, one is likely to get a yes answer — even if she has been brought up on charges of physical abuse. Or, if a child says no, one still has very little information. however if one asks questions like, “Tell me about your mother” or “I’d like you to tell me the things about your mother you like and the things about her that you don’t like.” the responses are likely to be far more revealing. In the context of such discussions, the court should get specific details about each item described. One wants the child to verbalize from concrete imagery that is being visualized. The court does well to avoid questions relating to time. To ask a child about when a particular event took place is not likely to produce meaningful data. The younger the child, the less appreciative he or she is of the passage of time and the less capable the child is of pinpointing the exact time that a particular event occurred. Time questions only invite fantasized answers, which only compromise the data-collection process. The court should ask questions that begin with what, where, who and how.

When providing examiners with guidelines for the kinds of questions to ask children involved in custody/visitation conflicts, I generally recommend that they use what I refer to as “grandma’s criteria.” These are the parental manifestations that grandma’s ghost would consider if it were free to roam the house and then report its findings to the court. If she is like most grandmas, she does not have an M.D. or Ph.D. degree and has very little formal so-called “psychological sophistication.” She would observe the children from the minute they got up in the morning until they went to sleep She would determine who wakes the children in the morning, who gives them breakfast and prepares them for school. Of course, if father’s work requires him to leave so early that he cannot involve himself in these activities, this cannot be considered a deficiency on his part. This is similarly the case for spending lunch time with the children and being available after school. It is the after-work hours, when both parents traditionally are home, that grandma would get her most useful information. She would want to observe who helps the children with their homework and if this is done smoothly or whether there are typically power struggles, tears, fits, tantrums, threats, impatience, and other manifestations of a poor parent-child relationship She would observe disciplinary measures, especially whether they are humane, consistent and benevolently administered. She would pay close attention to the bedtime scene. Are bedtime stories read? Are the children lulled into sleep in a loving manner or is it typically a time of threats and punishments? What happens during the night may also be important. Who gets up to change the diapers? To whom does the child turn for consolation after nightmares? Which parent has traditionally taken the child to the emergency room or the doctor’s of rice when them have been evening and nighttime accidents and/or other medical emergencies? The judge does well to get information in these areas by discussing directly with the child the day’s events, from arising in the morning to going to sleep at night, and finding out who are the adults involved in these various activities.

Another important area of inquiry is parental attendance at school activities, both curricular and extracurricular. The court should find out who attends teacher conferences and what the parental reactions are to report cards. Is there pride and/or emotional reaction or complete indifference? Who attends various plays, concerts, recitals and open-school activities? These are among the most valuable criteria for ascertaining parental capacity and the nature of the parent-child relationship.

The court may learn much by asking the child about the details of the visitations: what is done, who was present, where did they go, etc. A child, for example, might describe a father who brings along every transient date, thereby fulfilling two obligations at the same time. Some children describe the visiting parent dropping them off at the home of third parties (aunts, grandparents, and an assortment of other individuals) and then pursuing their own interests. Many children describe the visiting parent’s cross-examination of them on visitation days to extract information that might be useful in litigation. Other children go on a round of circuses, rodeos, toes, etc. Although such overindulgence may serve the purpose of guilt assuagement or rivalry with the custodial parent, in excess it is a parental deficit.

Sometimes questions about the reasons for the divorce may provide the court with useful information. The child’s description of the nature of the marital conflict may include information about parental capacity. For example: “My mother couldn’t stand my father’s drinking anymore. I used to help her find the bottles that he would hide.” One can ask about each parent’s receptivity to friends’ visiting the home and the parental tolerance of the noise, rambunctiousness, horseplay and the minor damage that Inevitably occurs when children are in the home. Do the child’s friends like each of the parents? Is the parent receptive to the child’s visiting other homes? Although none of the aforementioned questions are in the category: “Who do you want to live with, your mother or your father?” they clearly provide vital information for the court in making its decision regarding parental preference.

If the child is allowed to talk about anything he or she wishes, and although the child’s comments may initially appear irrelevant to the court’s purpose, there are times when useful information regarding parental capacity can be obtained. Such discussion might be introduced with questions such as “What would you like to talk about now?” and “So tell me something else:’ In response to such a question, a boy might start talking about his interest in baseball. In the context of his discussion he speaks with pride about his accomplishments in Little League and how proud he is that his father is one of the coaches. he expresses regret that the rules do not permit him to be on the team that his father is coaching. Or, a 14-year-old girl, again after professing to the judge that she does not want to state her parental preference, may start talking about the fact that she goes shopping with her mother, who is quite expert at selecting perfumes, lipstick and make-up and with whom she can discuss such personal matters as her period and her feelings about boys. Time does not generally permit the court to indulge itself to a significant degree in this kind of inquiry, but it does well to appreciate its value and recognize that its investigations are compromised by its omission.

The court also should recognize that the child’s comments may be colored by individuals who are outside the judge’s chambers during the course of the interview. Children embroiled in custody/visitation disputes suffer with terrible loyalty conflicts. They generally say to each parent that which will ingratiate them to that parent at that time, regardless of their true beliefs and regardless of the consequences of fabrications they may provide. This principle extends itself to the in-camera interview wherein the child is likely to support the parent who is close by. Moreover, the parent who brings the child and/or the parent who takes the child back home is also likely to have an influence on what is said in chambers. Furthermore, children have short memories. A father who brings the child to the court on Monday morning, after a weekend of fun activities, may very well be viewed as the preferable parent. And a mother who brings the child to court on Friday afternoon, after a difficult week in which the child was forced to do homework, chores, and was disciplined for normal childhood transgressions, is likely to be viewed with disfavor. Accordingly, the court should have both parents bring the child to the courthouse and both parents bring the child home or have a neutral third party accompany the child to the courthouse. But even under such circumstances the court does well to make inquiries regarding the aforementioned considerations of recent parental involvement.

It is important for the judge to appreciate that by the time he or she interviews the child in chambers there probably have been numerous earlier interrogations extending over many months and even a few years. Under such circumstances, the child may no longer know what he or she wants. So mind boggling have been the child’s experiences with lawyers and mental health professionals that lying may have become a motus vivendi.Under these circumstances, many children operate on the principle that they will say whatever is most expeditious at that particular time, that which will ingratiate them to the person with whom they are speaking at that moment. The pattern has become so deeply ingrained that the bona fide preferences and opinions have long been suppressed and repressed from conscious awareness.

The Parental Alienation Syndrome

In recent years we have witnessed a burgeoning of a disorder that I refer to as the parental alienation syndrome. Judges interviewing children in custody disputes should be aware of this disorder, otherwise they may be “taken in” by a child who suffers with it and thereby make an injudicious ruling. I use the term to refer to a disturbance in which children are obsessed with deprecation and criticism of a parent — denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated. The notion that such children are merely “brainwashed” is narrow. The term brainwashing implies that one parent is systematically and consciously programming the child to denigrate the other parent. The concept of the parental alienation syndrome includes the brainwashing component but is much more inclusive. It includes not only conscious but subconscious and unconscious factors within the parent that contribute to the child’s alienation. Furthermore (and this is extremely important), it includes factors that arise within the child — independent of the parental contributions — that contribute to the development of the syndrome.

Typically the child is obsessed with “hatred” of a parent. (The word hatred is placed in quotes because there are still many tender and loving feelings felt toward the allegedly despised parent that are not permitted expression.) These children speak of the hated parent with every vilification and profanity in their vocabulary, without embarrassment or guilt. The vilification of the parent often has the quality of a litany. After only minimal prompting by a lawyer, judge, probation officer, mental health professional, or other person involved in the litigation, the record will be turned on and a command performance provided. Not only is there a rehearsed quality to the speech but one often hears phraseology that is identical to that used by the “loved” parent. (Again, the word loved is placed in quotations because hostility toward and fear of that parent may similarly be unexpressed.) Even years after they have taken place, the child may justify the alienation with memories of minor altercations experienced in the relationship with the hated parent. These are usually trivial and are experiences that most children quickly forget: “He always used to speak very loud when he told me to brush my teeth”; “She used to say to me ‘Don’t interrupt'”; and “he used to make a lot of noise when he chewed at the table.” When these children are asked to give more compelling reasons for the hatred, they are unable to provide them. Frequently, the loved parent will agree with the child that these professed reasons justify the ongoing animosity.

The professions of hatred are most intense when the children and the loved parent are in the presence of the alienated one. however when the child is alone with the allegedly hated parent, he or she may exhibit anything from hatred to neutrality to expressions of affection. Often, when these children are with the hated parent they will let their guard down and start to enjoy themselves. Then, almost as if they have realized that they are doing something “wrong” they will suddenly stiffen up and resume their expressions of withdrawal and animosity. Another maneuver commonly utilized by these children is to profess affection to one parent and to ask that parent to swear that he or she will not reveal the professions of love to the other parent. And the same statement is made to the other parent. In this way these children “cover their tracks” and avoid thereby the disclosure of their schemes. Such children may find family interviews with therapists extremely anxiety provoking, because of the fear that their manipulations and maneuvers will be divulged.

The hatred of the parent often extends to include that parent’s complete extended family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, with whom the child previously may have had loving relationships, are now viewed as similarly obnoxious. Greeting cards are not reciprocated. Presents sent to the child’s home are refused, remain unopened, or even destroyed (generally in the presence of the loved parent). When the hated parent’s relatives call on the telephone, the child will respond with angry vilifications or quickly hang up on the caller. (These responses are more likely to occur if the loved parent is within hearing distance of the conversation.) With regard to the hatred of the relatives, the child is even less capable of providing justifications for the animosity The rage of these children is so great that they become completely oblivious to the deprivations they are causing themselves. Again, the loved parent is typically unconcerned with the untoward psychological effects on the child of the rejection of these relatives.

Another symptom of the parental alienation syndrome is the complete lack of ambivalence. All human relationships are ambivalent, and parent-child relationships are no exception. The hated parent is viewed as “all bad” and the loved parent is “all good.” The hated parent may have been greatly dedicated to the child’s upbringing, and a deep bond may have been created over many years. The hated parent may produce photos that demonstrate clearly a joyful and deep relationship in which there was significant affection, tenderness, and mutual pleasure. But all these experiences appear to have been obliterated from the child’s memory. When these children are shown photos of enjoyable events with the hated parent, they usually rationalize the experiences as having been forgotten, non-existent, or feigned: “I really hated being with him then; I just smiled in the picture because he made me. He said he’d hit me if I didn’t smile.” This element of complete lack of ambivalence is a typical manifestation of the parental alienation syndrome and should make one dubious about the depth of the professed animosity.

The child may exhibit a guiltless disregard for the feelings of the hated parent. There will be a complete absence of gratitude for gifts, support payments, and other manifestations of the hated parent’s continued involvement and affection. Often these children will want to be certain the alienated parent continues to provide support payments, but at the same time adamantly refuse to visit. Commonly they will say that they never want to see the hated parent again, or not until their late teens or early twenties. To such a child I might say: “So you want your father to continue paying for all your food, clothing, rent, and education — even private high school and college — and yet you still don’t want to see him at all, ever again. Is that right?” Such a child might respond: “That’s right, he doesn’t deserve to see me. he’s mean and paying all that money is a good punishment for him.” Those who have never seen such children may consider this description a caricature. Those who have seen them will recognize the description immediately, although some children may not manifest all the symptoms. The parental alienation syndrome is becoming increasingly common and there is good reason to predict that it will become even more common in the immediate future if custody conflicts become even more prevalent. Further descriptions of this disorder may be found elsewhere (Gardner, 1982 and 1986).

A Theory on the Causes of the Parental Alienation Syndrome

I believe that the dramatic increase in the parental alienation syndrome that we have witnessed in recent years is a direct result of social and legal changes that have affected the legal principles by which judicial decisions in custody disputes are made. I present here a theory describing what I believe to be the relationship between these changes and the present epidemic of children with this disorder.

First, the displacement of the tender-years presumption with the best-interests-of-the-child presumption was initiated primarily by men who claimed that the tender-years presumption was intrinsically “sexist” because women, by virtue of the fact that they are female, are not necessarily preferable parents. State legislatures and the courts agreed. As a result, in the mid-1970s the best-interests-of-the-child presumption became uniformly equated with the notion that custody determinations should be “sex blind.” Considerable difficulty has been caused, I believe, by equating these two concepts. It is extremely important that they be considered separately. It is not necessarily the case that sex-blind custody decisions serve the best interests of children and the belief that they do is the fundamental assumption on which present custody decisions are being based. Somehow, the acceptance of the concept that fathers can be as paternal as mothers can be maternal was immediately linked with the concept that such egalitarianism serves the best interests of children. i do not accept this assumption of gender equality in child-rearing capacity and would go further and state that the younger the child, the less the likelihood that this assumption is valid. It follows then that I do not believe that sex-blind custody evaluations and decisions serve the best interests of children.

To elaborate, no one can deny that men and women are different biologically. No one can deny, either, that it is the woman who bears the child and has it within her power to feed it with her own body (although she may not choose to do so). I believe that this biological difference cannot be disassociated from certain psychological factors that result in mothers being more likely to be superior to fathers with regard to their capacity to involve themselves with the newborn infant at the time of birth. After all, it is the mother who carries the baby in her body for nine months. It is she who is continually aware of the baby’s presence. It is she who feels the kicks and movements. It is she who is ever reminded of the pregnancy by formidable changes in her body and by the various symptomatic reminders of the pregnancy: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, discomfort during sleep, etc. Even the most dedicated fathers generally do not have these experiences and form the attendant strong psychological ties that they engender. The mother, as well, must suffer the pains of the infant’s delivery. Even though the father may be present and an active participant in the process, the experience is still very much the mother’s. And, as mentioned, It is the mother who may very well have the breastfeeding experience, something the father is not capable of enjoying. All these factors create a much higher likelihood that the mother will have a stronger psychological tie with the infant than the father at the time of birth. This “upfront” programming places her in a superior position with regard to psychological bonding with the newborn infant at the time of birth. I believe that most individuals would agree that if parents decid’ed to separate at the time of birth and both were reasonably equal with regard to parenting capacity, the mother would be the preferable parent.

Some might argue that even if the aforementioned theories are valid, the superiority stops at the time of birth and men are thereafter equal to women with regard to parenting capacity. Even here I am dubious. It is reasonable to assume that during the course of evolution there was preferential selective survival of women who were highly motivated child rearers on a genetic basis. Such women were more likely to seek men for the purposes of impregnation and more likely to be sought by men who desired progeny. Similarly, there was preferential selective propagation of men who were skilled providers of food, clothing, shelter, and protection of women and children. Such men were more likely to be sought by women with high child-rearing drives. This assumption, of course, is based on the theory that there are genetic factors involved in such behavior. Women with weaker child-rearing drives were less likely to procreate and men with less family provider and protective capacities were also at a disadvantage with regard to transmitting their genes to their progeny. They were less attractive to females as mates because they were less likely to fulfill these functions so vital to species survival.

Accordingly, although it may be the unpopular thing to say at this time, I believe that the average woman today is more likely to be genetically programmed for child-rearing functions than the average man. Even if this is true, one could argue that we are less beholden to our instincts than lower animals and that environmental influences enable us to modify these more primitive drives. I do not deny this, but up to a point. There are limitations to which environment can modify heredity, especially in the short period of approximately ten years since the tender-years presumption was generally considered to be sexist. Environment modifies heredity primarily (and many would say exclusively) by the slow process of selective survival of those variants that are particularly capable of adapting to a specific environment. Accordingly, I believe that the strength of these genetic factors are still strong enough in today’s parents to be given serious consideration when making custody decisions.

The seemingly egalitarian practice of not taking into consideration the aforementioned factors and assuming that men are equal to women with regard to child-rearing capacity has been, I believe, a disservice to women. Many have responded to the threat of removal of their children by the utilization of a variety of maneuvers that have contributed to the development of the parental alienation syndrome in their children. Although many of these could be considered vicious, manipulative, and deceitful, I have a certain sympathy for these women. They have felt helpless and impotent and have often resorted to primitive techniques because of the failure of more civilized and adult maneuvers to work for them. And children, too, have been threatened by disruption of the mother-child bond. Their techniques have been even more primitive because of their naivete about the world. They have selected maneuvers that seem absurd and preposterous to the adult, but do not so to children because of their cognitive immaturity and inability to use more sophisticated mechanisms of defense against the disruption of the mother-child bond.

Another development that intensified custody litigation and contributed thereby to an increase in the frequency of the development of the parental alienation syndrome was the widespread popularity of the joint-custodial concept that we have witnessed in the last five to eight years. This ideal, too, is seemingly egalitarian. Ostensibly, one should not be able to argue against a visitation arrangement in which the time the children spend with each parent is divided equally and the parents are equal with regard to decision-making powers. This ideal is certainly realized by parents who are equally capable of rearing their children and have proven themselves capable of cooperating and communicating well with each other. however when the parents do not satisfy these criteria and the courts still decide (either by compliance with statutes orjudicial decision) to order ajoint custodial arrangement, the setting for further parental dispute is then created. Under such circumstances a joint custodial arrangement may be essentially a no-custodial arrangement. The children are then used as ropes in a tug of war. They are in a no-man’s land, up for grabs by either parent. Under these circumstances the viciousness of the litigation becomes further intensified and the likelihood of a parental alienation syndrome developing is enhanced even more.

Accordingly, two changes in the last 10 to 15 years have contributed to the burgeoning of child custody disputes and the development of the parental alienation syndrome. The first was the replacement of the tender-years presumption with the best-interests-of-the-child presumption. In association with this change, the assumption was made that children’s interests are best served when custodial decisions are sex blind. The second change, about five years later, related to the introduction of the widespread enthusiasm for the joint custodial concept. Both of these developments did not give proper consideration to the strength of the mother-child bond and were therefore a disservice to women. They increased the viciousness of the custodial conflicts and created a setting in which the parental alienation syndrome has become epidemic.

Interviewing Children with Parental Alienation Syndrome

Children suffering with a parental alienation syndrome may present the judge with a convincing picture. By the time the child reaches the judge, he or she has developed a well-rehearsed litany of complaints against the presumably hated parent. This can be quite convincing, especially because the script has probably been rehearsed many times over with the allegedly preferred parent. Also, by the Lime the child reaches the judge, he or she has probably presented the scenario to a variety of attorneys and mental health professionals. This has given them the opportunity to practice and sharpen their speeches. I have seen a number of occasions when judges have been completely taken in and have not appreciated that they were being handed a ”bill of goods:’ These children have a way of “snow balling” even experienced psychologists and psychiatrists, so I cannot be too critical of judges here. I present below a series of questions that judges should find useful when interviewing these children. It is important to appreciate that the questions provided here relate to the more common situation, the one in which the father is the hated parent and the mother the loved one. however when the situation is reversed (the mother the hated one and the father the loved one) I obviously reverse the questions.

Describe your mother to me. Children with parental alienation syndrome typically provide only positive responses. If any negatives are provided, they will usually be minimal. If asked to elaborate upon the negatives, only inconsequential criticisms will be provided. Children who are “normal” or suffer with other kinds of psychiatric disturbances will generally be able to list both positives and negatives about each parent. The complete idealization of a parent is a clue to the presence of this disorder.

Describe your father to me. The child with parental alienation syndrome will enumerate various criticisms at great length. These will be both present and past. Often the past indignities will be about experiences that other children would consider normal or would have forgotten long ago. Sometimes a complaint will be about an event which the child has not actually observed but which the mother has described. The child will accept as valid the mother’s rendition and not give any credibility to the father’s refutation. When it is pointed out to the child that few if any positives have been described, the child will claim flatly that there are none. Inquiries into past good times between the child and the father will be denied as nonexistent or the child will claim that these events were painful and the child’s professed enjoyment of them stemmed from the fear of punishment for not doing so. It is this complete one-sidedness of the response, the total absence of normal ambivalence, that should alert the interviewer to the fact that one is probably dealing with a child suffering with parental alienation syndrome.

How do you feel about your father’s family? The child with a parental alienation syndrome will generally respond that all members of the father’s extended family, even the child’s own grandparents and previously loved aunts, uncles and cousins, are somehow obnoxious and vile. When asked for specific reasons why there is absolutely no contact at all with any of these individuals, no compelling reasons are provided. Often inconsequential reasons are given. Attempts to impress upon the child how important it is to have relationships with these loving relatives is futile. The child extends the noxious view of the father to the father’s extended family. The child will describe no sense of loss or loneliness over this self-imposed removal from the father’s extended family. If a potential or actual stepmother is involved with the father, this hatred will extend to her and her extended family as well.

Does your mother interfere with your visiting with your father? Generally the child will describe absolutely no interference on the mother’s part. Often the child will proudly describe the mother’s neutrality and state that the decision is completely his or her own.

Why then don’t you want to visit with your father? The child may give very vague reasons. When asked to give specific reasons these children may describe horrible abuses in a very convincing way. In addition, they often provide gross exaggerations of inconsequential complaints. They make “mountains out of mole hills” and will dwell on frivolous reasons for not visiting. Often they will claim that they want absolutely no contact at all with the father for the rest of their lives, or at least not before they are adults. When it is pointed out to these children that the vast’ majority of other children would not cut their fathers off entirely, forever, for such “indignities:’ they insist that their total rejection is justified.

Does your mother harass you? Healthy children generally will give some examples of “harassment” such as being made to turn off the television, do homework, or go to bed earlier than they want. Children with parental alienation syndrome describe no such harassments. They often will describe their mother as being perfect and as never asking them to do things they don’t want. This is obviously a fabrication and is a manifestation of the whitewash of the mother. I use the word harassment with these children because it is a common expression utilized by mothers of parental alienation syndrome children. The father’s overtures for involvement with the child are generally referred to as harassment by the mother. If the child is unfamiliar with the word harassment, I substitute “bother you a lot.”

Does your father harass you? These children are likely to describe in great detail the father’s “harassments.” Generally, they involve attempts on his part to gain contact with the children. Letters, telephone calls, and legal attempts to gain visitation are all clumped under the term “harassments.” Although the father’s initial overtures may have been spaced reasonably, with mounting frustration over rejection and alienation, the father’s overtures increase in frequency and intensity. The love and affection that is at the foundation of these overtures is denied completely by both the mother and the parental alienation syndrome child. Rather, they are viewed simply as onerous harassments.

The above questions are general ones. The judge does well to ask more specific questions pertinent to the particular case. These might include questions regarding why the child wants to change his or her name back to the mother’s maiden name, why the father’s Christmas presents were thrown in the garbage (usually in the mother’s presence), why the child wants to have the father still contribute to his or her education even though he or she never wants to see the father again, what the brother’s and sister’s reasons are for not wanting to see the father (these too often prove inconsequential). and so forth.

Judges who interview children in chambers must be made aware of the fact that these children may be very convincing. They may be taken in by the litany of complaints and give such weight to the child’s statements that they may go along with the child’s stated preference. Judges must be alerted to the primary manifestations of this disorder, especially the complete lack of ambivalence, the dwelling on frivolous and inconsequential “indignities,” the total removal from the extended family of the hated parent, the absolute denial of any positive input on the hated parent’s part at any time in the child’s life, and the definite statement that the child wishes never to see the hated parent again throughout the remainder of his or her life. It is hoped that judges will increasingly appreciate what is occurring when they see such children and rectify the situation in accordance with the guidelines to be presented in the following sections.

The Role of the Judiciary in Dealing Optimally with Parental Alienation Syndrome Children and Their Parents

I believe that the courts can play a crucial role in helping families in which a child manifests a parental alienation syndrome. The courts have the power to make custodial assignments that can be quite therapeutic — a power that therapists do not have. I would go further and state that without the court’s utilization of its powers in many cases, it would be extremely unlikely, if not impossible, to treat certain children in this category.

It would appear from the aforementioned comments that I am on the verge of recommending that we go back to the tender-years presumption. This is not completely the case. What I am recommending is that we give preference in custody disputes to the parent (regardless of sex) who has provided the greatest degree of child-rearing input during the children’s formative years. Because mothers today are still more often the primary child-rearing parents, more mothers would be given parental preference in custody disputes. If, however, in spite of the mother’s superiority at the time of birth, it was the father who was the primary caretaker — especially during the early years of life — such a father would be considered the preferable custodial parent. This presumption, too, is essentially sex blind because it allows for the possibility that a father’s input may outweigh the mother’s in the formative years, even though he starts at a disadvantage.

I believe the courts have not been paying enough attention to the formidable influence of the early life influences on the child’s subsequent psychological status. Early life influences play an important role in the formation of the child’s psychological bond to the parent who was the primary caretaker during the earliest years. Courts have been giving too much weight to recent and present-day involvement and ignoring the residual contributions of early bonding to present experiences. Mothers have been much more often the primary custodial parents during the early child-rearing process. This produces a strong bond between the two that results in strong attachment cravings when there is a rupture of the relationship. Accordingly, when there is a threatened disruption of this relationship by a sex-blind judge or joint-custodial mandate, mother and child fight it vigorously. Commonly, the mother brainwashes the child and uses him or her as a weapon to sabotage the father’s attempts to gain primary custody. The children develop their own scenarios, as well, in an attempt to preserve this bond. I believe that residua of the early influences are playing an important role in the attempts on the part of both parties to maintain the attachment bond.

The implementation of the presumption that children do best when placed with the parent who is most involved in child rearing, especially during the formative years, would reduce significantly the custody litigation that we are presently witnessing. It would result in many mothers automatically being awarded custody. It would not preclude, however, fathers obtaining custody because there would be some fathers who would satisfy easily this important criterion for primary custodial assignment. The implementation of this presumption would still allow those parents who were only secondarily involved in the child’s rearing (whether male or female) to have the opportunity to seek and gain custody. They would, however, have to provide compelling evidence that the primary custodial parent’s child-rearing input was significantly compromised and their own contributions so formidable that they should more justifiably be designated primary custodial parents.

Let us envision a situation in which a couple has one child, a boy. During the first four years of the child’s life, the mother remains at home as the primary child rearer and the father is out of the home during the day as the breadwinner. When the child is four the mother takes a full-time job. During the day the child attends a nursery school and then stays with a woman in the neighborhood who cares for the children of working parents. At the end of the workday and over weekends both parents are involved equally in caring for the child. When the child is seven the parents decide to separate. Each parent wants primary custody. The father claims that during the three years prior to the separation, he was as involved as the mother in the child’s upbringing, and the mother does not deny this. The father’s position is that the court should make its decision solely on the basis of parenting capacity — especially as demonstrated in recent years — and claims that any custody decision taking his sex into consideration is “sexist” and is an abrogation of his civil rights.

In the course of the litigation the child develops typical symptoms of the parental alienation syndrome. He becomes obsessed with hatred of his father, denies any benevolent involvement with him at any point in his life, and creates absurd scenarios to justify his animosity. In contrast, his mother becomes viewed as faultless and all-loving. I believe that in this situation the child’s psychological bond is strongest with the mother and the symptoms of alienation are created by him in an attempt to maintain that bond. Because the child’s earliest involvement was stronger with the mother, residua of that tie are expressing themselves at the age of seven. If the father had been the primary caretaker during the first four years of the boy’s life, and if then both mother and father shared equally in child-rearing involvement, then I would consider it likely that the child would develop symptoms of alienation from the mother, the parent with whom the psychological tie is weaker. Under such circumstances, I would recommend the father be designated the primary custodial parent.

However the situation is not that simple. One does well to divide such mothers (I am now going back to the original vignette in which the mother was the primary caretaker during the earliest years) into two categories: 1) Those mothers who actively program the child against the father who become obsessed with hatred of the former husband, and who actively foment, encourage, and aid the child’s feelings of alienation, and 2) Those mothers who recognize that such alienation is not in the best interests of the child and are willing to take a more conciliatory approach to the father’s requests. They either go along with a joint custodial compromise or allow (albeit reluctantly) the father to have sole custody with their having a liberal visitation program. Although these mothers believe it would be in the best interests of the child to remain with them, they recognize that protracted litigation is going to cause all family members to suffer more grief than an injudicious custody arrangement, namely, one in which the father has more involvement (either sole or joint custody) than they consider warranted. I recognize that this division into two types of mothers is artificial and that in reality we have a continuum from those mothers who are in category one to those mothers who are in category two. To the degree that a particular mother falls into category one, my recommendations below for her category are applicable: in contrast, to the degree that the mother falls in category two, my recommendations below for her category are applicable.

With regard to mothers in category one who are fanatics in their animosity, I believe that as long as the child remains living with such a mother, the less the likelihood of the child’s establishing any rapprochement with the father. Once in the father’s home, therapy should be instituted in order to effect a gradual rapprochement with the mother. Whether the child will ultimately go back to the mother depends upon how the treatment evolves and how successful the therapist is in helping the mother reduce her hostility. In some cases, the therapy may be possible only if ordered by the court, so hostile and uncooperative is the mother. however the child will at least be residing in the home of the healthier parent and will derive the benefits from such placement, continuing hostile attitudes toward the father notwithstanding. My experience has been that in such cases the animosity gradually becomes reduced. In contrast, when such children are allowed to remain permanently in the home of the category-one mother, the animosity continues unabated and can go on for years, and there is good reason to believe that it may become lifelong.

With regard to mothers in category two, I believe that the children should remain with their mothers. In such cases the alienation is primarily of the child’s origin. It stems from the threat of being required by the court to live with the father — the parent with whom the child has had the weaker psychological bond. It is not significantly the result of maternal programming. Once the litigation has been concluded and a final decision has been made by the court that the child shall not be living primarily with the father, then the child is likely to go back to his/her previous level of involvement with both parents especially with regard to love and hate — and the hostility toward the father is likely to reduce itself significantly. Without the threat of placement with the father, the child can discontinue the utilization of the hostile maneuvers that were designed to insure his/her remaining with the mother.

Examiners involved in custody evaluations do well to make some assessment of the nature of the psychological bond that the child has with the parent who was primarily involved in the child’s upbringing during the earliest years. One should try to ascertain whether the bond is primarily a healthy or an unhealthy one. Again, although I am dividing this bond into two types, I am well aware that there is a continuum from the healthiest to the sickest. Mothers in category one generally have had an unhealthy bond with the child prior to the litigation and they are the ones who are more likely to be programming the child against the father. In extreme cases, as a result of the mother’s indoctrination, the child may actually be brought to the point of paranoid delusions about the father. A so-called folie à deux relationship may evolve in which the child acquires the mother’s paranoid delusions about the father. In such cases transfer is mandatory if there is to be any hope of salvaging the relationship with the father. In such cases, as well, treatment of the mother may be impossible. Then, at least the child will be with one healthy parent, rather than being brought up by a paranoid mother. Of course, this represents the most extreme form of the category-one mother; less animosity is the usual case. To the degree that such mothers can be helped to work out their problems regarding their feelings about their former husbands and to the degree that they can be brought to appreciate the importance of the child’s ongoing contact with him, rapprochement with her may be fostered. While the child is living with the father, contact with the mother is monitored by the therapist and father, with increased contact being given as her programming diminishes.

Mothers in category two have a healthy psychological bond with the child and, therefore, should be given preferential consideration in custody evaluations and not be considered automatically to be actively programming their children. The therapeutic program recommended for category-one mothers need not be instituted.

As mentioned, in the majority of the cases of parental alienation syndrome, it is the mother who is favored and the father denigrated. The reasons for this have been discussed elsewhere (Gardner, 1986). however, there are certainly situations in which the mother is deprecated and the father favored. For simplicity of presentation, and because mothers are more often the favored parent, I have used her as the example of the preferred parent — but recognize that in some cases it is the father who is the preferred parent, the one who may be programming the child, and it is the mother who is the despised parent. In such cases the fathers should be divided into the aforementioned categories and given the same considerations as described for mothers.

My final position with regard to the principle that should be utilized when ascertaining parental preference in custody disputes is this: Preference (but not automatic assignment) should be given to that parent (regardless of sex) with whom the child has established over time the strongesthealthy psychological bond. That parent (regardless of sex) who was the primary caretaker during the earliest years of the child’s life is the one with whom the child is more likely to have established such a bond. Residua of that early bonding are likely to influence strongly subsequent bonding experiences with the parents. however the longer the gap between the early bonding and the time of the dispute, the greater the likelihood other experiences will affect the strength of the bond. Whether or not these have resulted in the formation of an even stronger bond with the parent who was not the primary caretaker during the earliest years has to be assessed in the course of the evaluative process.

Last, I recommend that we replace the best-interests-of-the-child presumption with the best-interests-of-the-family presumption. The best-interests-of-the-child presumption is somewhat narrow. It does not take into consideration the psychological effects on the parents of the child’s placement and the effects of the resultant feedback on the child’s welfare. As mentioned, the strong bond that forms in early life between the child and the primary caretaker produces immensely strong cravings for one another when there is threatened disruption of the relationship. Just as the child suffers psychologically from removal from the adult, so is the adult traumatized by removal from the child. The psychological trauma to the adult caused by such disruption can be immense, so much so that parenting capacity may be compromised. This negative feedback, of course, is not in the best interests of the child. But we are not dealing here simply with the question of placing the child with a parent in order to protect that parent from feeling upset about the child’s being placed with another parent. Rather, we are considering the ultimate negative impact on the child of the disruption of the bond with the primary caretaker. Accordingly, I am recommending that courts assign primary custody in accordance with the presumption that the family’s best interests will be served by the child’s being placed with that parent who was the primary caretaker during the formative years, and the longer that parent continued to be primary caretaker, the greater likelihood the family’s interests will be served by placement with that parent. The implementation of this presumption will, I believe, also serve as a form of preventive psychiatry in that it will not only reduce significantly custody/ visitation litigation but serve to obviate the terrible psychological problems attendant to such litigation.


Gardner, R.A. (1982), Family Evaluation in Child Custody Litigation. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics.

— (1986), Child Custody Litigation: A Guide for Parents and Mental Health Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics.


The American Journal of Family Therapy. Vol. 27, No. 2, p 97-107 (April-June 1999)

Department of Child Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

In recent years, with increasing familiarity and recognition of parental alienation syndrome (PAS), 1 parent has accused the other parent of inducing PAS in the children. In response, the responding parent accuses the other parent 4 abusing and neglecting the children. In short, the children’s alienation is considered by 1 parent to be the result of PAS indoctrinations and the other to be the result of bona fide abuse-neglect. The purpose of this article is to provide criteria for differentiating between these 2 situations, a differentiation that is obviously crucial if courts are to deal properly with children exposed to and embroiled in these 2 very different situations.

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS, Gardner, 198519861987a1987b198919921998) is a disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. In this disorder, one parent (the alienator, the alienating parent, the PAS-inducing parent) induces a program of denigration against the other parent (the alienated parent, the victim, the denigrated parent). However, this is not simply a matter of “brainwashing” or “programming” in that the children contribute their own elements into the campaign of denigration. It is this combination of factors that justifiably warrants the designation PAS. When bona fide abuse-neglect is present, then the PAS diagnosis is not applicable. In recent years, with increasing recognition of PAS, abusive-neglectful parents have been claiming that the PAS designation is improper and that the children’s animosity has nothing to do with abuse-neglect but is a manifestation of programming of the children by the alienating parent. In response, the other parent might claim that there has been no such indoctrinations and that the children’s acrimony is in direct response to the abuse-neglect to which they have been subjected.

There is no doubt that some abusive-neglectful parents are using the PAS explanation to explain the children’s campaign of alienation as a coverup and diversionary maneuver from exposure of their abuse-neglect. However, there is no question, also, that some PAS-inducing parents are using the argument that it is the other parent’s abuse-neglect that is causing the children’s campaign of denigration and there has been no programming whatsoever. Obviously, this differentiation is an important one if courts are to deal properly with families embroiled in such disputes. Presented here are criteria that should prove useful for differentiating between PAS and bona fide abuse-neglect.


Criteria for Differentiating Between PAS and Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect in Children

Inducing a PAS in a child is a form of abuse. After all, it can result in the attentuation and even permanent destruction of the psychological bond between loving parents and their children. It is a form of emotional abuse, however, that is different from physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Here the term abuse will generally refer to physical abuse and, to a lesser degree, sexual abuse. Included also in such abuse would be such behaviors as frequent menacing, threatening, hovering, and other forms of child intimidation. These often serve as precursors to physical and sometimes sexual abuse. All these abuses, and neglect as well, will be encompassed under the terms abuse-neglect. This group will be compared to PAS, which is basically a form of emotional abuse. This is the distinction that will serve the purposes of this article.

When attempting to differentiate between PAS and bona fide abuse, examiners would do well to refer first to the eight basic PAS symptoms as guidelines. In general, PAS children are likely to exhibit these symptoms, whereas children who have been genuinely abused-neglected are not likely to. Listed below are the eight primary manifestations of PAS.

  • Campaign of denigration
  • Weak, frivolous, or absurd rationalizations for the deprecation
  • Lack of ambivalence
  • The “independent thinker” phenomenon
  • Reflexive support of the alienating parent in the parental conflict
  • Absence of guilt over cruelty to and/or exploitation of the alienated parent
  • Presence of borrowed scenarios
  • Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent

Listed below are the primary symptoms seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV]; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Many abused children (but certainly not all) will exhibit such symptoms. This is especially the case if the abuse has been chronic. PAS children rarely exhibit these symptoms. Accordingly, reference to these symptoms, as well as the aforementioned primary manifestations of PAS, can be useful for differentiating between bona fide abuse-neglect and the PAS in children.

  • Preoccupation with the trauma
  • Episodic reliving and flashbacks
  • Dissociation
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization and psychic numbing
  • Recreational desensitization and fantasy play
  • Trauma-specific dreams
  • Fear of people who resemble the alleged abuser
  • Hypervigilance and/or frequent startle reactions
  • Running away from home or the site of the abuse
  • Pessimism about the future

Criteria for Differentiating Between PAS and Bona Fide Abuse-Neglect in Parents

First, behaviors seen in the parents of PAS children–that is, PAS-inducing parents–will be compared with behaviors seen in abusive-neglectful parents. Then, behaviors exhibited by abusive-neglectful parents will be compared with those of PAS parents.

Relative Cooperation of the Two Parents with the Examiner

PAS Parents who are inducing PAS are typically uncooperative with examiners who might appreciate the manipulative tactics so often used in the process of inculcating the campaign of denigration in their children. They typically resist the targeted parent’s attempts to bring in an impartial examiner; rather, they seek a mental health professional who is naive enough to be taken in by their often-deceitful maneuvers. Frequently, they will select an examiner who is injudicious enough to evaluate only them and their children and not even make attempts to evaluate the deprecated parent. It is the alienated parent who is more likely to be willing to make the financial sacrifices to bring in competent mental health examiners to do assessments, especially neutral assessments. The programmers typically resist this.

Bona fide abuse-neglect Parents who are abusive and/or neglectful are usually quite reluctant to seek the services of an impartial examiner and will resist strongly the appointment of such. They recognize that the examination might reveal their significant parenting deficiencies. The accusing parent, who recognizes the children’s victimization and may be a victim him- or herself, is far more likely to seek the services of an impartial examiner and suffer the financial privations often associated with such an appointment.

The parent who induces PAS is the one (of the two parents) who is less likely to be cooperative with the examiner, and the parent who is a bona fide abuser-neglecter also is the one (of the two parents) who is less likely to be cooperative. In contrast, the parent who is a victim of PAS indoctrinations is likely to be the more cooperative one, and the parent who is a victim of bona fide abuse also is more likely to be cooperative. In short, the parent who is guilty of the accusation (whether it be of PAS inducer or abuser-neglecter) is more likely to be uncooperative, and the parent who is the victim (whether it be of PAS indoctrinations or abuse) is more likely to be cooperative. Accordingly, this is a strong differentiating indicator when applied to a single couple, where there is one accuser and one denier. It is not a strong differentiating indicator when one compares abusers-neglecters in general with PAS inducers in general, because individuals in both of these categories share the common trait of uncooperation.

Relative Credibility of the Two Parents

PAS Parents who inculcate PAS in their children often do so with conscious fabrications, which sometimes develop into delusions. Sometimes they will promulgate, and even believe, the most absurd and preposterous allegations, especially when a sex abuse accusation becomes incorporated into a PAS. In contrast, the targeted parent of the children’s PAS is far more likely to be credible and far less likely to reveal deceits in the course of the evaluation.

Bona fide abuse-neglect Abusive-neglectful parents are far more likely to lie, especially in the realm of their abuse-neglect. Predictably, they deny to others and even deny to themselves. In fact, denial is one of their central defense mechanisms. Their credibility is compromised in association with this defect. In contrast, the parent who is trying to protect the children from abuse-neglect is far less likely to reveal deceits in the course of the evaluation. Furthermore, the nonabusing parent’s complaints and denials are usually credible.

In short, parents who are inducing PAS are likely to exhibit deceits, and parents who are abusers-neglecters also are likely to manifest deceits. The spouses of the parents who exhibit each of these parenting deficiencies are likely to be far more credible and are far less likely to reveal deceits in other aspects of the evaluation. As was true of the cooperation indicator, this can be a strong differentiating criterion when applied to a single couple. In general, however, when one compares groups of abusers-neglecters with groups of PAS inducers, it is a weak differentiating criterion, because deceitfulness is significantly present in both categories of perpetrator.

Programming the Child’s Campaign of Denigration

PAS The programming process may be active and deliberate, or it may be passive and subtle. When active, the child is deliberately programmed to profess denigratory complaints about the targeted parent, and the programming parent fully recognizes that the inculcated material is false. The same goal can be accomplished with subtle maneuvers, such as encouraging the child to criticize the victimized parent and accepting as valid every absurd criticism the children have of the disparaged parent, no matter how preposterous.

Consistent with the programming process, PAS-inducing parents often support the child’s contributions to the campaign of denigration, both in the realm of material that they program as well as material derived from the child’s own contributions. Probably the most compelling manifestations of programming are the borrowed-scenario elements typically seen in PAS children. In the joint interviews, in the course of the evaluation, one may see manifestations of the programming process.

Bona fide abuse-neglect Parents of children who are, genuinely abused-neglected are not usually obsessed with seizing opportunities to talk about the abuses with the child. In joint interviews, the children do not make side glances to the nonabusing parent in order to be reminded about what occurred. The children know well what happened and do not need any input, reminders, or coaching from the nonabusing parent. This does not mean that a genuinely abused child might not occasionally ask an accusing parent in a joint interview to help the child remember some minor details. No one’s memory is perfect, and children are less capable of recalling details of events than adults are. The genuinely abused child, however, is easily reminded and does not have the same degree of dependency for recall that the PAS child has. After one word or phrase from the nonabusing-non-neglectful parent, the whole incident will come to the child’s mind and then be recalled.with a reasonable degree of accuracy. In contrast, programmed children, having no actual experiences to relate, will need much more input from the programming parent if they are to “get the story straight.”

Genuinely abused children do not usually need “refresher courses” from older siblings in order to remember what happened to them. The scenarios of abused siblings are generally credible, and each child in the family will independently relate similar events. They do not need to get input from their siblings, especially older siblings. This is in contrast to programmed children, whose scenarios are sometimes incredible. Furthermore, each child in the family will often (but certainly not always) provide a somewhat different rendition when seen separately. When PAS children are seen together, they can be observed glancing at each other in order to “get the story straight,” especially from an older sibling who has served as an assistant programmer.

Overprotectiveness and Exclusionary Maneuvers

PAS Mothers who program PAS in a child are often overprotective. Their exclusion of the child from the father often extends to other realms. Often, the exclusionary measures antedate the separation and may not only go back to the earliest days of the child’s life, but may even involve the father’s exclusion from the delivery room.

Bona fide abuse-neglect Parents who justifiably accuse a spouse of abuse may very well be protective of the children with regard to exposure to the abuser, but they are not typically protective or exclusionary in other areas that are unrelated to the abuser. Rather, their protectiveness is focused on the children’s relationship with the abusing parent. In fact, they may even encourage involvement with the abuser in situations where the abuse is not likely to occur, for example, public places.

Appreciation of the Role of the Other Parent in the Children’s Upbringing

PAS Parents who induce PAS in their children are often oblivious to the psychologically detrimental effects of the progressive attentuation of the child’s bond with the target parent. in extreme cases it appears that the alienating parent would be pleased if the alienated parent were to evaporate from the face of the earth–making sure, beforehand, to bequeath an annuity for the remaining family. Such alienators basically believe that absolutely nothing would be lost to the children under such circumstances.

Bona fide abase-neglect Accusing parents in bona fide abuse-neglect situations are often still appreciative of the importance of the child’s involvement with the abuser-neglecter. Most often they do everything in their power to reduce the abuse-neglect and hope that the situation can be salvaged so that the children may yet enjoy a more benevolent relationship with the abusive-neglectful parent. Accordingly, this is an important differentiating criterion between PAS and bona fide abuse-neglect.

When there is genuine abuse-neglect, the nonabusing parent may remove the children for protection from real dangers. Such removal may present a dilemma for the evaluator when using this differentiating criterion. Take, for example, the situation in which the mother takes the children to a shelter. Mothers of children who are genuinely abused actually need such shelters for their own and the children’s protection. But in the same shelter there are likely to be PAS mothers, with nonabused children, who are there as a conscious and deliberate PAS maneuver. There may also be mothers in the same shelter whose children are not being abused, who are operating on the delusion that abuse has taken place when it has not. Accordingly, it behooves the examiner to conduct a detailed inquiry regarding the events that resulted in the mother’s going to a shelter and to try to ascertain whether there were justifiable dangers or whether these were fabricated or even delusional. These qualifications and complications notwithstanding, this general principle still holds: PAS-inducing parents are typically unappreciative of the importance of the child’s bonding with the other parent, whereas parents of children who are actually being abused are still hopeful that the relationship can be salvaged because of recognition of the importance of a healthy psychological bond between a parent and a child.

At this point I focus on some of the more common behavioral patterns seen in abusing parents and compare them with parents who induce PAS.

Psychopathic Behavior

Bona fide abuse-neglect Abusive and neglectful parents are often psychopathic. They may have little guilt over the victimization of others, even children who are often safe targets for their hostility. They cannot project themselves into the children whom they victimize. They use any deceitful maneuver they can to shift blame away from themselves. They do not give consideration to the future consequences of their behavior on their children; for example, ongoing misery, formidable grief, relentless fear, and severe psychopathology. Such abusers are likely to have a history of psychopathic behavior in other realms of their lives. The nonabusing spouse is far less likely to exhibit psychopathic behavior, although such spouses usually have psychological problems of their own, considering the fact that they have married or involved themselves with an abusive person.

It is probable that among severe PAS inducers, there may be a higher percentage of psychopathic people than in the general population. It is probably also the case that psychopaths are overrepresented in those who abuse and/or neglect their children. In general, therefore, this is not a good differentiating criterion–when one compares groups of PAS inducers with groups of abusers-neglecters. However, it is a good differentiating criterion for assessing a single couple, because the presence of this trait in one of the parents can be useful in substantiating whether that parent is a PAS indoctrinator or whether he or she is an abuser-neglecter.

PAS Whereas some parents who induce a PAS are not fully appreciative of what they are doing, others are consciously and deliberately inducing the alienation. The latter will often profess innocence when confronted with their manipulations and are completely aware of the fact that they are lying. Many PAS inducers are psychopathic in association with the PAS programming but generally are not psychopathic in other realms of their lives. Furthermore, they are less likely to have been psychopathic prior to the onset of the child-custody dispute. When psychopathy is seen in a PAS programmer, it is more likely to be seen in the severe type, as is the case with paranoia. Psychopathy in other realms of life, outside of the family, is an important discriminator between the psychopathy seen in the PAS inducer and the psychopathy of the bona fide abusive-neglectful parent. Furthermore, the victim of the PAS inducer’s indoctrinations, like the nonabusing spouse of the bona fide abuser, is not particularly likely to exhibit psychopathic tendencies.

Comparison of Family Members Who Are Victimized

Bona fide abuse-neglect Fathers who abuse their children generally abuse their wives as well. Although some are selective in this regard, most are generally abusive to all family members. Most often, the wife is abused even before the birth of the children, and then the pattern expands after their arrival. The mother who flees to a shelter generally does so not only for herself but also for her children. Some of these mothers are justifiably considered “battered women.”

PAS According to the PAS programmer, the children’s campaign of denigration against the targeted parent is justifiable, allegedly because of his or her ongoing abuse-neglect of them. The programming parent generally focuses on the targeted parent’s abuse-neglect of the children with far fewer complaints about the denigrated parent’s abuse-neglect of the accusing alienator her- or himself. Certainly the programmer has a long list of complaints about the targeted spouse; otherwise she or he would not be involved in separation or divorce proceedings. However, PAS programmers usually focus primarily on the abuses to which the children have allegedly been subjected by the victimized parent because such emphasis enhances the likelihood of prevailing in the child-custody dispute.

Although this is not a strong differentiating criterion, it is useful nonetheless, especially in the bona fide abuse situations where there is good documentation, especially medical, that the accusing spouse has been physically abused.

Time of Onset of the Alleged Abuse

Bona fide abuse-neglect In genuine abuse, the abuses are generally described by the complaining spouse to have existed long before the separation. In fact, they may have existed from the time the children were born, and the accusing spouse may describe abuses of her- or himself prior to the children’s birth. In many cases of bona fide abuse, the primary reason for the separation may be that the abused parent can no longer tolerate the abuses to which he or she and the children have been subjected.

PAS Although the children, and even the mother, in a PAS situation may describe lifelong abuse and neglect, there usually is compelling evidence that such was not the case prior to the children’s learning about the child-custody dispute. In the vast majority of cases the campaign begins after separation and after the programmer begins the indoctrination. The children’s becoming aware that a child-custody dispute is in progress triggers the beginning of the phase when they provide their own contributions to the campaign, contributions that complement the programmer’s.

In short, in PAS the campaign of denigration does not antedate the separation; complaints of genuine child abuse date back long before the parents announced that they were going to get divorced.

Family History

Bona fide abuse-neglect Child abuse generally runs in families. Parents who abuse their children often grew up in families in which they themselves were abused, and this may be true of their parents as well. In fact, there are some families in which abuse of wives and children is the modus vivendi and dates back as far as anybody knows. It is almost as if such abusers do not know of any other way of relating to their families.

PAS When one looks into the family history of the parent who has been victimized by a PAS campaign of denigration, one generally does not find a family history in which there is a pattern of bona fide abuse, especially abuse that extends back to forebearers. Often, the programming parent will have to admit that she or he knows of no bona fide abuse in the family background of the targeted parent.

Comparative Concern for the Physical and Financial Well-Being of the Family

Bona fide abuse-neglect Typically, abusive-neglectful parents are deficient in their concerns for the physical well-being of their families. They do not strive to be high earners and often will spend their earnings elsewhere; for example, alcohol or gambling. They have little sense of family responsibility with regard to providing the spouse and children with a reasonable level of food, clothing, and shelter. It is not that they have absolutely no interest in such considerations, only that it has lower priority for them than for the healthy, committed breadwinner. Typically, such abusers are justifiably considered to be very self-indulgent.

PAS Typically, parents who have been targeted for PAS victimization are most often committed parents, very much concerned with providing their spouses and children with food, clothing, shelter, and child care. Children in these families want their alienated parent to continue contributing toward their education even though they want absolutely nothing to do with him or her. Such a demand usually derives from past experiences in which the parent has proven reliable for providing in this realm. Typically, these targeted parents are not justifiably considered to be self-indulgent, even though this accusation may be considered part of the campaign of denigration.


Bona fide abuse-neglect Parents who abuse their children are typically impulsive. They act out their impulses without consideration for future consequences. Such impulsivity may be seen in other realms of their lives, especially in their relationships with others. They are quick to fight and take action. They are often viewed as rumbling volcanos, ready to erupt at any point. A history of job loss is common because of their inability to get along with coworkers and supervisors, especially because of their propensity to deal impulsively with conflicts by using physical force. Assaulting people is only one aspect of a broader pattern of impulsive physical acting out, which may include smashing furniture, throwing objects, breaking windows, and putting fists through walls.

PAS Targeted parents in PAS are not likely to have a history of impulsivity. Typically, they do not act out, and their self-restraint exhibits itself in the family and in other realms of life. Such parents generally have a good job history and are unlikely to have been repeatedly discharged from their positions because of difficulty in their relationship with peers and supervisors. Thinking about the future consequences of their behavior also is typically part of the reviled parent’s personality pattern.

Hostile Personality Pattern

Bona fide abase-neglect Abusive parents are usually very angry people. The children are often safe targets for releasing their rage. They are a captive audience and cannot meaningfully protect themselves and certainly cannot effectively fight back The examiner is likely to observe such anger in the course of his or her evaluation. This is the rage that fuels the aforementioned destruction of property. Usually, inquiry into the background history of such abusive parents reveals a longstanding pattern of acting-out of anger, a pattern that probably exhibited itself in childhood, and often there is a family history of similar acting-out of anger.

PAS A parent who has been targeted for PAS indoctrinations is not likely to have a hostile personality pattern prior to the children’s campaign of deprecation. However, following the onset of their campaign, it is reasonable that such a parent will suffer with ongoing frustration and anger, often with a feeling of impotent rage. In short, the alienated parent’s anger typically begins at the time of the indoctrination, prior to which one cannot generally consider that individual to have been an angry person.


Bona fide abuse-neglect Parents who abuse or neglect their children are often very disturbed individuals. As mentioned, people who abuse their children are often very angry individuals, and anger fuels paranoia. Accordingly, it behooves the examiner to assess for the presence of paranoia when conducting an evaluation to differentiate between bona fide abuse-neglect and PAS.

PAS When paranoia fuels PAS, the victim of the paranoid delusional system is often limited to the denigrated spouse–at least, this is the case in the early phases. With ongoing litigation, the paranoia may expand to all the people who provide support to the targeted parent. Typically, the paranoid system becomes illogical and preposterous; for example, that the targeted parent would perpetrate abusive behavior–and even sexual molestation–in front of court-ordered supervisors.

Often the PAS parent and the programmed child jointly entertain the same delusion. This is referred to in psychiatry as a folie à deux (folly for two). Typically, a more domineering person with a specific form of psychopathology induces the same psychopathology in a more passive-dependent individual. This is a common occurrence in PAS. In such cases the DSM-IV diagnosis of shared psychotic delusion (folie à deux) is warranted.

There is probably a higher prevalence of paranoia in severe PAS indoctrinators than in the general population. Also, there is probably a higher prevalence of paranoia in abusive or neglectful parents than in the general population. The presence of paranoia, then, may be a strong indicator when applied to a single set of parents because it helps identify the one who is either an abuser-neglecter or a PAS inducer. It is a weak indicator when comparing groups of PAS inducers with groups of abusers-neglecters.


Differentiating between PAS and bona fide abuse is becoming increasingly important as the PAS diagnosis becomes appreciated both by mental health professionals and courts of law. A list of relevant publications and citations can be found in the Internet ( This list is continually being updated as more such articles and more courts of law are recognizing the syndrome. The purpose of this article has been to provide criteria for making this important differentiation.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Gardner, R A. (1985). Recent trends in divorce and custody litigation. Academy Forum, 29(2), 3-7.

Gardner, R A. (1986). Child custody litigation: A guide for parents and mental health professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R A. (1987a). Child Custody. In J. D. Noshpitz (Ed.), Basic handbook of child psychiatry (Vol. 5, pp. 637-616). New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, R A. (1987b). The parental alienation syndrome and the differentiation behveen false and genuine child sex abuse. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R A. (1989). Family evaluation in child custody mediation, arbitration, and litigation. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R A. (1992). The parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and legal professionals. Cresskill. NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Gardner, R A. (1998). The parental alienation syndrome (2nd. ed.). Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

Address correspondence to Richard A. Gardner, 155 County Road, P.O. Box 522, Cresskill, NJ 07626-0522, USA.