Parental Alienation Syndrome Essay

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The late Richard Gardner developed the theory of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) after claiming that one parent alienated the children from the other parent in 90% of his divorcing patients. Though claiming that the “disorder” was not sex specific, he used it almost exclusively against mothers, maintaining that mothers falsely raise domestic violence and incest during custody disputes for tactical gain. Even Gardner admitted PAS was not an actual syndrome; some call it parental alienation (PA), but the concept is identical.


Gardner claimed to have testified in 400 custody cases in 25 states. Although no state has codified PAS, at least 31 states have adopted Gardner’s friendly parent concept (FPC) in which courts are encouraged to give custody to the parent who will foster a better relationship between the children and the other parent. Even where not codified, many judges and custody evaluators base decisions or recommendations on PAS, PA, or the FPC.


There are problems associated with PAS, PA, and the FPC. They may deflect investigation from the validity of abuse accusations to the protective parent’s behavior. In addition, PAS, PA, and the FPC may deflect courts from noticing that men’s alienation allegations may themselves be alienating behaviors raised for tactical gain.

False Premises

Gardner incorrectly assumed that women need a tactical ploy to not lose custody under the best interest of the child standard. Gardner evidently was unaware that once a child passed its tender years, roughly at age 7, fathers were presumptively entitled to reclaim custody, and that most mothers still win custody under the best interest of the child standard.

Gardner also wrongfully assumed that women often make false incest accusations in custody cases and that they gain advantage from doing so. Incest is raised in only about 6% of custody cases, and only a very small fraction (2%–3%) of this 6% are false. Investigated incest allegations are substantiated as often during custody disputes as at other times, but many child protection agencies do not investigate when a case is in court. Men have been found to make 16 times as many false incest allegations as women (21% vs. 1.3%).

Gardner’s Motivations

Gardner, who had no hospital admitting privileges for his last 25 years and fraudulently claimed to be a clinical professor of child psychiatry, derived his theories to discredit mothers who complained that their partners were abusing them or their children. Gardner, who often testified on behalf of pedophiles, admitted that probably over 95% of all sex abuse allegations are legitimate, but claimed incest and many other deviant sexual practices are normal and not harmful.

Gender Biased And Punitive

PAS, PA, and the FPC may discourage battered women and mothers in incest cases from complaining. Gardner advocated removing custody and if the behaviors continue, denying visitation to the alienating parent. These concepts may not be in the best interest of children as they generally deprive them of their protective parents and place them in the custody of abusive parents. They also may prevent protective parents and children from realizing the wrongfulness of the abuse or from venting their anger, thus exacerbating their pain and inhibiting healing.

These concepts can be considered gender biased since their definitions exclude alienating behaviors most commonly committed by fathers: domestic violence, nonpayment of child support, and raising alienation allegations. They can be used only against custodial parents and impose no penalty on alienating noncustodial parents. An attempt to rename PAS as malicious mother syndrome confirms the bias.

Inadmissible Evidence

Gardner promoted PAS in self-published books. PAS has never been subjected to peer review or been recognized by any professional associations, including the American Psychiatric Association. The Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family characterizes PAS and PA as having no validity. With no validity within the scientific community, neither PAS nor PA is considered admissible in evidence.


  1. Bruch, C. (2001). Parental alienation syndrome and parental alienation: Getting it wrong in child custody cases. Family Law Quarterly, 35(3), 527–552.
  2. Dallam, S. J. (1998). Dr. Richard Gardner: A review of his theories and opinions on atypical sexuality, pedophilia, and treatment issues. Treating Abuse Today, 8(1), 15–22.
  3. Dore, M. K. (2004). The “friendly parent” concept: A flawed factor for child custody. Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law, 6(1), 41–56.
  4. Smith, R., & Coukos, P. (1997). Fairness and accuracy in evaluations of domestic violence and child abuse in custody determinations. The Judges’ Journal, 36(4), 38–42, 54–56.

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