Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) refers to specific negative behaviors that children exhibit when one parent intentionally turns them against the other parent. This manipulation radically alters the family dynamic. Left unchecked, it can be nearly impossible to reverse the brainwashing.

History of PAS

Psychiatrist Richard Gardner introduced the concept of Parental Alienation in 1985 after observing patients and reviewing literature on child development and divorce. At first, Gardner’s work was viewed with skepticism by many of his peers. He countered by arguing that the research community was neglecting an epidemic of PAS across the country in much the same way as it had turned a blind eye to the problem of domestic violence for decades. He saw himself as a crusader for the rights of children.

By taking a radical stance, Gardner left himself open to criticism. For instance, when actress Mia Farrow accused director Woody Allen of child abuse, he issued a statement of support for Allen’s general position. The response from Farrow’s defenders was fast and furious.

His New York Times obituary, written in 2003, captured the essence of this debate and the fractious relationship he had with the research community:

“Dr. Gardner, who testified in more than 400 child custody cases, maintained that children who suffered from parental alienation syndrome had been indoctrinated by a vindictive parent and obsessively denigrated the other parent without cause.
In severe cases, he recommended that courts remove children from the homes of the alienating parents and place them in the custody of the parents accused of abuse.

His theory has provoked vehement opposition from some mental health professionals, child abuse experts and lawyers. Critics argue that it lacks a scientific basis, noting that the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association have not recognized it as a syndrome.

They also say that the theory is biased against women, as allegations of abuse are usually directed at fathers, and that it is used as a weapon by lawyers seeking to undermine a mother’s credibility in court.”

Gardner’s Shifting Stance on the Role of Gender in PAS

Dr. Gardner wrote an article in the American Academy of Psychoanalysis in 1994 arguing that fathers deserve more legal protection from alienating mothers than vice versa. He later changed his views and declared that the problem was gender neutral.

Some thought leaders have stood with Gardner. For instance, psychologist Amy Baker authored a book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking the Ties That Bind, wherein she catalogues numerous PAS instances and observes that both men and women can be victimized.

Scientific Challenges to the Theory of Parental Alienation

A research paper written by Jennifer Hoult, The Evidentiary Admissibility of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Science, Law, and Policy, published in 2006, examined the reliability and validity of PAS and assessed Gardner’s original work. She argued that PAS should not be admitted in court as a defense based on scientific and legal precedent.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, the American Psychological Association had no stated position on PAS.

Famous PAS Case

Jason Patric, a Hollywood actor who appeared in Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Lost Boys, fathered a child with his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, in 2009. Gus was fathered via in vitro fertilization. After his birth, the parties argued. Schreiber claimed that Patric never wanted to be a father, while he insisted that he had wanted to be involved in the child’s life from the start. The courts eventually awarded full custody to Schreiber, due in part to a letter Patric wrote stating that he wasn’t ready to be a father.

However, Patric countered these allegations, and he has since been seeking paternity. He claims that Gus is a victim of PAS, and he fears that the child will suffer from related issues for the rest of his life.

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Photo of Jason C. Brown Jason C. Brown

Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as

Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.