Alienation and the Judiciary
Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D
Southern England Psychological Services
Journal (1999) Vol.67 Part 3, 121-123
Increasing numbers of cases are coming before the Courts where
one parent feels displaced in relation to the children in the family.
The syndrome, parental alienation (PAS),' as it is now called, is
not a new one, but its importance is being highlighted in the United
States as well as in the UK. Judges are often uncertain as to how
to treat the situation where one parent seeks to make contact with
the children following an estrangement, separation, or an unusually
unpleasant and vicious divorce.
There is some pressure on the Judiciary to keep the child or children
with the person who has major control, usually the mother. Parental
alienation however, also affects some mothers denied contact with
their children who are resident with the father. On the whole, it
is the male member of the partnership who suffers from the alienation
In recent cases in which I have personally been involved, I had
the opportunity of talking about PAS and its problems with two judges,
on different occa-sions. The dilemma is how to deal with the case
where the resident partner i.e. the alienating partner, fails to
co-operate with the courts in providing ade-quate access for the
other partner. I will recreate the general conversation, on an informal
basis and hence no names can be mentioned. Interestingly, similar
conversations were repeated with both judges, one male and one female,
demonstrating how similar problems are often faced by the Judiciary
in parental alienation cases.
Psych.: Your Honour, this is a case typical
of parental alienation and I feel it is only right that the alienated
parent should have contact with the child in question.
Judge: But the mother says that the child does
not want any contact with the boy.
Psych.: This is because there has been a consider-able amount
of programming, I have discovered through my assessment, to make
the child respond in this manner.
Judge: This may well be so but how do I deal
with this situation when mother stubbornly refuses to allow contact
of the child with the father?
Psych.: It is a difficult situation, your Honour,
but the question remains: should justice be done or should it
Judge: It is not as easy as that. I have spent
time with mothers, even sitting in a cell, to try to get them
to see reason to allow their former husbands to have access to
a child. Sometimes this has worked while at other times, there
has been a refusal. This puts me in a very awkward position since
I must consider carefully, first and foremost, the children concerned
and they are, after all, in the care of their mother who, if they
are deprived other, due to her being sen-tenced for failing to
follow instructions, will lose a mother vital to their welfare.
Psych.: Again it comes down, your Honour, to
considering the question of failure to comply with the Court ruling.
If an ordinary criminal fails to obey instructions of the Court,
some punitive action is taken. Should not some punitive action
also follow when a mother, or father for that matter, refuses
to accede to the ruling of the judge and the Court?
Judge: Well, I will see what I can do on this
par-ticular matter and the case before me but I still feel that
it is a difficult one to settle, when one of the part-ners is
totally opposed to contact with the child and the child in question
has decided openly and before me, to refuse to have any contact
with the other par-ent. Are you suggesting that I fine the mother
in question or place her in a prison for failing to adhere to
my instructions and that of the Court?
Psych.: I personally see no other alternative.
It may well be that if such a threat is made, the alienat-ing
parent may, in due course, accept what has been recommended by
the Court and there will be no need to take the action which you
and I both feel is undesirable and may even be counter-productive.
Both judges agreed the case before them was typical of parental
alienation and the difficulties they faced are only too obvious.
Their first concern, and also that of myself, was the children.
If the children have been "brain-washed" and "programmed"
in a partic-ular direction, this made the judge's decision all the
It is my view that no exception can be made for failing to adhere
to the ruling of a court and that jus-tice must be done however
painful this may be. It may well be that the alienated parent should
eventu-ally gain access following a period of therapy between the
psychologist and the child or children in question, to make them
aware of what is happening. If older they themselves may well be
able to put pres-sure on the alienating parent to see sense.
From the conversation, it can be seen that many judges are undoubtedly
unsure how best to deal with alienating parents - this usually being
the mother. Judges are often saved by the fact that fathers cease
to pursue their role of wishing to play a part in their children's'
lives. This is due to the resistance they meet from the former spouse,
who has often formed a new relationship and wishes the new partner
to take over the role of father. I have even known cases where the
mother insisted the child call the new hus-band "dad"
and the natural father by his first name.
Fathers who pursue both their right and their sense of responsibility
through the courts are relatively few. Many opt out due to the resistance
they meet from their ex-partners, the programmed child and the reluctance
of judges to give them justice. This is undoubtedly due to the following:
Judges are reluctant to punish and most espe-cially incarcerate
obdurate mothers who refuse to comply with a judge's decision
that they must allow access with an estranged father.
Judges often are reluctant to ignore the view expressed by
children that they do not wish to meet their fathers, despite
the fact that such children have been "intensively programmed"
to respond in this way by mothers and the mother's relations.
Judges are reluctant to advise that therapy should take place,
despite the fact that when such alienation occurs, children
are damaged. Such thera-py is often recommended by expert witnesses
such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Such recommended periods
of therapy for the child and mother are viewed by judges (with
the aid of the mother's Counsel!) as likely to damage further
the children who are involved in this conflict and hostility
between the parents.
Despite such reservations, judges have a moral duty to provide
justice for the alienated party, this usually being the father.
The threat of punishment for the alienator must be supported by
punishment, including removing the child from mother's care to a
neutral place or to the alienated parent, and to use incarceration
when necessary. Failure to carry out this distasteful, but necessary,
action against the obdurate party would constitute a mockery of
the judicial system. It is my experience as an expert wit-ness to
the Courts as a forensic, clinical psychologist, that most alienating
parents, whether mothers or fathers, will obey a court order if
punishment is threatened for failure to adhere to the ruling. Hence
the carrying out of the various possible measures is rarely necessary.
In connection with PAS many judges have, with-out always being
aware, adopted a double standard. They see mothers who are alienators
as "victims" to be protected even when they have committed
what can only be described as a form of "emotional abuse".
They have abused their powerful position by influencing the young
children and turning them against the other parent. They have usurped
the role of the other parent or given it to yet another partner
with whom they have become associated. In this way, they have, by
destroying the right of the other parent taken away that parent's
opportunity to con-tribute to the child's welfare. This is at a
time when we are seeking to promote the equality of the sexes. Partners
should have equal power and responsibility toward their children.
PAS, when it has been proven, is a vicious form of gender opportunism
or gender apartheid, which those seeking through justice can no
longer ignore. Judges must stop worrying about public outcries if
they remove a child from the care of a vicious program-ming parent
who is showing their hostility toward the former partner.
I therefore suggest that the alienated parents, be they fathers
or mothers, be protected. In so doing we are also protecting the
children of such a relationship from a gross and calculated mis-use
of power or position, that of the resident care giver.
Judges in cases of proven PAS should act as deci-sively as they
would if judging a case of proven crime such as rape or murder.
They must remove the child from the emotional damage being heaped
upon it, to a safe place, where the non-alienating parent, with
the help of therapy for the child, can have his influences felt
by the child. At the same time, it is necessary to help the parent
who has alienated the child in the first place. He or she has undoubtedly
suffered from a considerable amount of pathological hostility towards
the former partner.
By removing the child, or children, from the influ-ence of the
"brain-washing" alienator, the child has the opportunity
of experiencing the dedication of the previously alienated parent
and to develop a less biased view of that parent. Also the child
can devel-op a positive view of both parents despite them being
at war with each other.
This will do much to ensure for that child that both parents, although
hostile towards one another, care and are devoted to him/her. This
provides the child with a reasonable start in life, which he or
she would not have had, had the influence of the alienator been
allowed to continue along with a failure to have any contact with
the alienated parent at the same time.
- Parent Alienation Syndrome: What the legal profession should
know, MLJ Vol 66 (1998) pt 4,151.