The psychological affects and treatment of parental alienation syndrome
(PAS) has now been studied by such pioneers as Dr Richard Gardner and
others. It establishes that children who are alienated from one of their
parents by the custodial parent suffer considerably both at the time of the
alienation and often for a lifetime unless action is taken to prevent such
alienation taking place as soon as possible.
At present the judicial system is still reticent to provide
fathers/mothers with the same rights as mothers in connection with having
an influence on the rearing of children. As a result of a hostile
separation or divorce many parents subtly, or directly, attempt to turn a
child/children against one of their parents.
The current situation
There are a number of short and long term problems suffered by children
due to the effects of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). The parental
alienation syndrome has not been generally recognised in the United Kingdom
but there have been a number of court cases, many of which have been
attended by the current author to emphasise the PAS condition. There are
few psychologists in the United
Kingdom that have a great deal of
knowledge concerning parental alienation or the syndrome associated with
it. It should be recognised that the reaction to PAS in children is not
limited to British children. It occurs world-wide in a similar manner.
There still is a great tendency among Judges and Courts in the United Kingdom
to virtually always give the benefit of the doubt to one of the parents,
usually the mother, when there are disputes between former partners in
relation to their children. It appears to go unrecognised that the
non-custodial parent frequently suffers from the fact that the custodial
parent has turned the child/children against him/her in the process of an
unhappy split in the relationship between the partners (Stamps et al, 1997;
The current author has been virtually the only voice in the United Kingdom
concerned with the process of repercussions or parental alienation as a
syndrome. It is hoped as a result of further court actions that this
important syndrome will be recognised and dealt with appropriately by
The effect of PAS on children has been investigated by relatively few
individuals in the United
Kingdom so far. I should like to
acknowledge my own gratitude to one researcher, Dr Richard A. Gardner for
the work he has done in this area. (Gardner 1992, 1998, 2001), particularly
on behalf of those who find themselves in a PAS situation and need some
guidance and assistance to convince others that such a phenomenon exists.
There are both short term and long term of parental alienation syndrome on
children. Whatever one may think, the children become victims, not of their
own making, but of their parents, most especially the parent who is
carrying out the alienation process.
We hear a great deal about child abuse, increasingly so, especially
sexual abuse, but less so about emotional abuse resulting from PAS. Many
would consider parental alienation syndrome and the process of
indoctrination to be a form of child abuse, since children are being used
for the purpose of animosity and even revenge. This animosity being shown
toward the alienated parent can have a terrible effect on the child in
question. Those children who are participating in the alienation process
are often unaware of its impact. They merely feel the consequences or
take-on the views of the alienating parent. Such views that the other
parent is “evil”, “wicked”, “stupid” or
“dangerous” or all of these, can do untold damage to the
relationship with the non-custodial parent who is being alienated. Children
may be used as “spies” or “saboteurs” in relation
to the alienated parent to provide “ammunition” for the
alienator or “fuel for the fire” to be used against them.
Additionally, the children are encouraged to treat the alienated parent
with a lack of respect with the purpose of humiliating him/her. This is
often taken up by the immediate family of the alienator. Some children may
even be encouraged to behave in a deceitful manner toward the other parent
when visiting, by lying, stealing and causing problems with another person
with whom the parent may have developed a new relationship. False
accusations may also be levelled against the alienated parent on the
grounds of false information supplied by the child. Eager misinterpretation
of information given to the alienating parent is then grasped to denigrate
the other parent with whom they may be having a custody battle. Denial of this
will of course be made by the alienator.
Encouraging a child to betray one of the two most important members of
the family produces a tendency towards psychopathic behaviour within that
child. Once the denigration process has started, the child, due to the
pressure of loyalty on him/her and the power wielded by the alienator needs
to carry on the process of denigration.
Children who suffer from the syndrome of PAS develop a concept that one
parent is the loving parent and hence to be loved back while the other is
the hated parent who has done ‘wicked and nasty things’, and
abandoned the family. This has been consciously or unconsciously
indoctrinated into the child and results in fear as well as hatred for the
alienated parent. Virtually all negative indoctrination is carried out by
the parent who retains the child in residence.
In cases of PAS in which I have been involved, I have found that the
child has developed a hatred for the non-resident parent (usually the
father) and there have been attempts to denigrate and vilify the alienated
parent. The destruction of one parent can have serious consequences, not
immediately recognisable in the short-term, but more so in the long-term.
One might say the child has been robbed of the possibility of having a
supportive and caring parent. All memories of a good relationship have been
destroyed. Additionally, there often has been brainwashing in order to make
the child fearful of the alienated parent, very often the father. The
animosity created permeates often to the extended family of the alienated
parent. This means the child will not merely lose one of his/her parents
but also the grandparents.
Another common reaction of children who have been programmed is to
pretend to the alienator that they have hatred or dislike for the alienated
parent, when in fact they do not feel this way, and do not demonstrate this
in the presence of the alienated parent. Hence they have practised
deception and a form of lying in order to placate the alienator, while at the
same time seeking to form some kind of warm relationship with the absent
parent. Such deception is unlikely to lead to an individual who will be
truthful and honest in other dealings now or in the future.
Exploitation of the alienated parent either by the child or by the
alienator can also be practiced This is done in various ways including
seeking money or clothes or other material objects for the children who are
then used in this scheme of manipulation. The manipulator may clothe the
children in the shabbiest of clothes hoping the alienated parent will be
forced to buy new clothes for the child. This teaches the child a strategy
that is unlikely to endear him/her to others in the future, and is also
likely to be repeated by him/her. Other forms of deception can be carried
out over the telephone by saying the child is absent when the other parent
calls, when in fact this is not the case. They simply are not allowed to
speak to the parent calling. The child who is aware of the conversation
learns from this that lying is acceptable. This may also cause confusion
with the child and forms a further rift with the alienated parent,
especially if they are not informed that the parent has called to ask after
them to make an appropriate arrangement for contact.
Lying and deception can become part of the child’s life,
especially if he/she wishes to endear himself/herself to the alienating
parent. This may be especially so if the other parent has another family or
relationship. This deception will develop a power of manipulation through
lies and will continue into later life and reflect on the child’s own
relationships in the future. In contrast non-PAS homes do not maintain
control over the child and the custodial parent does all he/she can to
promote a healthy feeling towards the other parent by being truthful and to
encourage the child to love and respect that parent. It is important that
parents who have been divorced or separated do all they can to enhance the
feelings of the child for the parent with whom they are not in residence,
As the child grows older in a family where PAS takes place, the position
often reverses. The child realises he/she is in a position of strength
where he/she they may manipulate situations in order to get his/her way.
This in turn reduces the capacity of the alienating parent to utilise
discipline to create the right type of ethical behaviour. The alienated
parent is dependent on the child to continue the process of alienation. The
child can use this against the alienating parent and frequently becomes
undisciplined as a result. Neither parent can do anything with the child
and the child is the loser in the end.
In severe cases of PAS the alienator can create a seriously unhappy
situation for the child who will often develop panic reactions when he/she
is asked to visit the alienated parent. This in turn can lead to
repercussions in his/her attitude to school and his/her capacity to
concentrate on education. In some cases, there can be psychotic delusions
in the child due to the pressure to passively submit to the alienating
parent. In some cases intensive psychological treatment is required to
overcome such serious disturbances. Serious indoctrination giving the child
warped and worried views of the alienated parent, following therapy, may
learn to be able to be more rational and realistic in the way he/she views
the alienated parent. This is difficult to resolve in the very young as
well as in the older child who may have developed a habit of hatred for the
The most interesting scenario is when the child who has been party to
the alienation realises what the alienating parent has done and eventually
turns against them. This may be through a falling-out, or merely through
the emotional development of the child later in life. Sometimes the child
will seek the alienated parent and find out the truth it at least be able
to see things from the alienated parent’s perspective.
Do the children of parental
alienation have rights?
What follows is a set of rights proposed by Divorce Headquarters on the
which I would like to endorse. It fits in well with the problems
encountered in PAS and is in the best interest of the child.
“We the children of the divorcing parents, in order to
form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity,
provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the
blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and
establish these Bill Of Rights for all children.
The right not to be asked to "choose
sides" or be put in a situation where I would have to take sides
between my parents.
The right to be treated as a person and not
as a pawn, possession or a negotiating chip.
The right to freely and privately
communicate with both parents.
The right not to be asked questions by one
parent about the other.
The right not to be a messenger.
The right to express my feelings.
The right to adequate visitation with the
non-custodial parent which will best serve my needs and wishes.
The right to love and have a relationship
with both parents without being made to feel guilty.
The right not to hear either parent say
anything bad about the other.
The right to the same educational
opportunities and economic support that I would have had if my parents did
The right to have what is in my best
interest protected at all times.
The right to maintain my status as a child
and not to take on adult responsibilities for the sake of the parent's
The right to request my parents seek
appropriate emotional and social support when needed.
The right to expect consistent parenting at
a time when little in my life seems constant or secure.
The right to expect healthy relationship
modelling, despite the recent events.
The right to expect the utmost support when
taking the time and steps needed to secure a healthy adjustment to the
Please realize that this is NOT law,
The "Children's' Bill of
Rights" is not legally enforceable, but rather suggestions made to
keep the best interest of the child a priority.”
All of the above situations I have personally come across when dealing
with cases of PAS. Unfortunately there has not been the willingness of the
parents to resolve the situations not the backing of the courts to uphold
censures against the alienating parent. Also, severe lack of funds for
treatment or mediation limit what can be done. Much of the liaison is left
to the Court Welfare Officers who do not have the clinical qualifications
to carry out the necessary treatment for the children who are, or will be,
the victims of the “warring factions”. Expert testimony is sought
only if the court is unsure of what direction to take in the case, and also
to guide the court as to the character of the alienated parent and the
manner in which contact visits should continue, i.e. supervised or
unsupervised. If called to assist in a case I take this opportunity to
spread the literature on PAS and seed to educate the Judiciary and others
of the existence of PAS.