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What is parental alienation syndrome and what legally can be done about it?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2023 | Family Law |

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a somewhat controversial psychological term, but what it describes is real enough. PAS sometimes happens during or after a contentious divorce or custody case.

PAS is when children “programmed by the allegedly ‘loved’ parent, embark upon a campaign of denigration of the allegedly ‘hated’ parent,” in the words of the psychologist who coined the term.

What is remarkable about this campaign of denigration is that the child exhibits little to no ambivalence about it. Sometimes, the hatred spreads beyond the “hated” parent to that parent’s extended family.

What is really happening, according to the theory, is that the “loved” parent is engaging in a campaign of their own. People often say that this parent is “poisoning the children against” the other parent. It’s a relentless strategy of presenting unwarranted negative conclusions about the other parent to the children. It is done in an effort to destroy that parent’s relationship with the children.

‘Poisoning’ is a good description

The campaign of lies and manipulation isn’t aimed at the children; it’s aimed at the other parent. But many experts say that engaging in such a campaign is itself a form of child abuse.

The children are mere currency in the campaign to destroy the other parent, and this is painful and dehumanizing. Children also lose years of time with the “hated” parent even as they are being lied to and manipulated by their “loved” parent.

It is crucial to understand that, in order for it to be PAS, the “hated” parent cannot have abused or neglected anyone in the family. What makes it PAS is that the level of hatred the child apparently feels is unjustified.

Can parental alienation syndrome affect child custody?

Yes. Any attempt to poison the children against the other parent could affect custody if there is sufficient evidence. It doesn’t have to result in parental alienation syndrome to be child abuse.

If you believe your children’s other parent is trying to destroy your relationship with your children, sit down and write down why you believe that. Then, call an attorney for an evaluation.

If there is good reason to believe your ex is doing this, you may need to seek a change in your custody arrangements to prevent it. We might ask the court to order a child custody evaluation. If that evaluation finds evidence that your ex has been manipulating your children’s relationship with you, the court could take action to prevent it, such as:

• Giving you emergency custody
• Making temporary changes to your custody arrangement to promote immediate time with your kids
• Ordering family therapy
• Expanding your parenting time
• Denying your ex legal custody
• Requiring that your ex’s parenting time to be supervised
• Finding your ex in contempt of court

Talk to a lawyer right away. Time is of the essence, but the courts can move slowly. Be sure to hire a compassionate attorney who cares.


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