What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Family Court Custody Crisis

A Discredited Theory

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a theory created by Dr. Richard Gardner for use against protective mothers in custody and divorce proceedings.  PAS is not based on any research but rather the personal beliefs, experience and bias of Dr. Gardner.  He assumed that virtually all reports of domestic violence or child abuse must be false.  PAS is not recognized by any legitimate scientific organization and is not included in any version of the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 

Click the button to read more about the crisis in the custody courts.

Who is Dr. Richard Gardner?

Gardner’s observation of a “parental alienation syndrome” focused on how one parent may misuse the powers of socialization to turn a child against a once loved parent. Gardner’s labeling of alienation processes as a “syndrome” remains controversial among psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. PAS has not been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or any other medical or professional association. It has been extensively criticized by scientists and jurists, who describe it as inadmissible in child custody hearings based on both science and law. Gardner’s claims that PAS is scientifically valid and legally admissible are not widely supported and PAS is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5 Task Force Chair David Kupfer and DSM-5 Task Force Public Representative James McNulty have written letters to concerned professionals that PAS will not be included in DSM-5.

Dr. Gardner believed it was okay for adults to have sex with children. Read his quotes below and ask yourself how any court could support this discredited theory

Read Dr. Gardener’s biography

Dr. Richard Gardner

American psychiatrist, (April 28, 1931 – May 25, 2003)

A really nice couple. A really bad divorce

We’ve all seen it. A really nice couple. A really bad divorce. They’re in court every other week. She says he abused her. She says he sexually abused the kids, but that couldn’t possibly have happened. Now she doesn’t want him to have anything to do with the kids, and he does the only thing he can do; seek full custody. It’s tearing the kids up; they’re a mess, and they used to be fun, happy, straight-A students.

Classic Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), right? No.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a thoroughly debunked theory by Dr. Richard Gardner, a psychiatrist who really wanted to make it easier and acceptable for adults to have sex with children. We don’t know he invented PAS specifically for the purpose of letting fathers sexually abuse children, but that certainly has been the effect.

Dr. Gardner’s basic theory was that if a child dislikes a non-custodial parent, the most likely answer is that the custodial parent is “brainwashing” the child. He believed this “brainwashing” was worse for kids than abuse, and the only solution was to sever all relationship between the custodial parent and the child.

Dr. Gardner self-published a book about his parental alienation theory and sent it to family court judges throughout the country. The theory sounded so plausible to many of them that they didn’t care that the mainstream psychological establishment didn’t support the theory. It was easier for judges, a group that shows strong gender bias against women, to believe this than it was for them to believe that domestic violence and child sexual abuse are common and can be committed by “successful” people.

A whole cottage industry of “Parental Alienation (PAS) experts” and evaluators sprung up. They are a significant reason why 58,000 children are placed in the hands of people who have abused them, or their mothers, each year. And the belief that un-abused women and children often fabricate stories of abuse has worked its way into many facets of our society.

So why do kids say horrible things about seemingly nice parents?

Well, if abuse has been alleged, it very likely happened. It’s logical for a child to hate a parent who abuses them or their other parent. It’s less logical, but common, for a child to act hatefully towards a non-abusive parent. There are lots of legitimate reasons for this. Children may even seek a relationship with an abusive parent; that doesn’t mean they weren’t abused. If a parent is constantly telling their child things like “don’t make Daddy angry” or “don’t sit on Daddy’s lap”, that’s not necessarily “brainwashing” or parental alienation. It may be the only thing a powerless mother can do to try and keep her child safe from someone she knows is hurting them. If a parent constantly says bad things about their ex that aren’t productive, or purposefully tried to make the child hate or fear their other parent, this is called domestic violence by proxy. This is not nice, and probably isn’t good for a child, but it doesn’t rise to the level of an ACE.

In other words, it is safer to send a child to live with someone who is “brainwashing” them than it is to send them to live with someone who abuses them.

Dr. Richard Gardner’s own quotes demonstrate his acceptance of adults having sex with children

“Older children may be helped to appreciate that sexual encounters between an adult and a child are not universally considered to be reprehensible act. The child might be told about other societies in which such behavior was and is considered normal. The child might be helped to appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who said, ‘Nothing’s either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ In such discussions the child has to be helped to appreciate that we have in our society an exaggeratedly punitive and moralistic attitude about adult-child sexual encounters.”

Gardner, Richard A.

“At the present time, the sexually abused child is generally considered to be the victim,” though the child may initiate sexual encounters by ‘seducing’ the adult.” Gardner, Richard A., Child Custody Litigation (1986)
“There is a whole continuum that must be considered here, from those children who were coerced and who gained no pleasure (and might even be considered to have been raped) to those who enjoyed immensely (with orgastic responses) the sexual activities.” Gardner, Richard A.
“If the mother has reacted to the abuse in a hysterical fashion, or used it as an excuse for a campaign of denigration of the father, then the therapist does well to try and ‘sober her up’… Her hysterics… will contribute to the child’s feeling that a heinous crime has been committed and will thereby lessen the likelihood of any kind of rapprochement with the father. One has to do everything possible to help her put the ‘crime’ in proper perspective. She has to be helped to appreciate that in most societies in the history of the world, such behavior was ubiquitous, and this is still the case.” Gardner, Richard A.
“It is likely that the mother has sexual problems… In many cases she herself was sexually molested as a child… She may never have achieved an orgasm — in spite of the fact that she was sexually molested, in spite of the fact that she had many lovers, and in spite of the fact that she is now married. The therapist, then, does well to try to help her achieve such gratification. Verbal statements about the pleasures of orgastic response are not likely to prove very useful. One has to encourage experiences, under proper situations of relaxation, which will enable her to achieve the goal of orgastic response… Vibrators can be extremely useful in this regard, and one must try to overcome any inhibition she may have with regard to their use… her own diminished guilt over masturbation will make it easier for her to encourage the practice in her daughter, if this is warranted. And her increased sexuality may lessen the need for her husband to return to their daughter for sexual gratification.” Gardner, Richard A.

Family Court Custody Crisis

New research from the Department of Justice confirms what many mothers know already. The family court custody crisis means too many courts are making dangerous decisions that send children of divorce to live with violent domestic abusers and child molesters. Studies show this is the rule, not the exception.

What is a Protective Mother?

A protective mother is a mother who has a child with an abusive partner who, during the divorce or custody process, finds her abusive partner is threatening to take custody of her child. Often, but not always, these cases involve child abuse as well, and the term could be applied to a case where there is child abuse, no domestic violence, and the abuser still gets unsupervised time with his children.