Parental Alienation?

Family Law

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a big, scary buzzword defined thusly by PAS expert R.A. Gardner:

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 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.

(Excerpted from: Gardner, R.A. (1998). The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition, Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.)

Courts, the psychiatric community and lawyers have argued incessantly about whether  parental alienation syndrome is a “real” disorder and what its impact is on children and on litigation related to them.

In a recent case in New York, a woman was given jail time for repeatedly interfering with the relationship of her children and their father. In many courts, sanctions can be applied for interference with custody orders.

For both parties in divorce or custody battles, it is often difficult to separate what is best for the children from what is best for them individually because of the intense emotions that arise during these sorts of cases. It is easy to see how the legitimization of parental alienation syndrome could lead to an influx of accusations and the use of the syndrome as another litigation tool. However, it is important to note, from a common sense perspective, that children who are caught in the middle of two angry parents will feel conflicted, will feel pain. Courts can and should do more to mitigate this damage through the use of mandatory counseling and parental training on the impact of these behaviors on their children when such things arise.

For women, part of legal health is protecting yourself against not only falling into the trap of parental alienation, but also against accusation. Some steps you can take:

1. Although you should certainly advocate for your rights, be reasonable about parenting time issues when it is in the best interest of your child.

2. Avoid having arguments or even heated discussions about the child where the child is able to hear.

3. Do not share with your children the details of the litigation or your feelings about it. Do not allow other people in your life (grandparents, friends, etc.) to talk about the litigation or their feelings about it to your child.

4. If you feel that you are the one being alienated, keep careful logs of all behaviors and activities that the father of your children is doing that leads you to that belief. If you have an attorney, bring the issue up to them. If you are appearing before a judge, let the court know what is happening.

5. If you feel that your children are suffering from being in the middle, consider getting them into some counseling or play therapy if they are young. Not only is this good for them, but it also helps to demonstrate that you are putting their interests first.

6. Consider counseling also for yourself. You may not know how to direct your anger, and a good counselor can help make sure you aren’t even accidentally allowing your children to carry it.

Above all, remember that part of your legal health is seeing the big picture, not just the pain of the present. Keeping you and your child emotionally healthy is an important part of protecting your legal health as well.

– Reprinted from Legal Health for Her

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