« Lizzie Borden: Did She Or Didn't She? | Main | Federal Court Protects Parents - Social Workers Blocked by Federal Order »

July 11, 2006

Child Abuse Experts Applaud Legal Community for Rejecting Parental Alienation Syndrome

The Leadership Council

Child Abuse Experts Applaud Legal Community for Rejecting
Parental Alienation Syndrome

July 11, 2006 Bala Cynwyd, Pa. People who care about abused children
finally have something to celebrate. Two recent high profile legal
publications have rejected "Parental Alienation Syndrome" (PAS), a
controversial label often used to discredit allegations of
child abuse or domestic violence in family courts. According to PAS theory,
children's disclosures of abuse by one parent are reinterpreted as evidence
of "brainwashing" by the other parent. The solution proposed by PAS theory
is to immediately award custody to the alleged child abuser.

The newly revised, 2006 edition of "Navigating Custody and Visitation
Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge's Guide," published by
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, includes a
strong statement condemning the use of PAS which it calls a "discredited"
syndrome that favors child abusers in custody determinations.

At the same time the Spring 2006 issue of the American Bar Association's
Children's Legal Rights Journal provides a comprehensive analysis of all
legal case involving allegations of PAS. This definitive review concludes
that science, law, and policy all oppose the admissibility of PAS in the

"PAS is junk science at its worst," says Dr. Paul Fink, President of the
Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, and a former
President of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Fink explains,
"Science tells us that the most likely reason that a child becomes estranged
from a parent is that parent's own behavior. Labels, such as PAS, serve to
deflect attention away from those behaviors."

Judge Sol Gothard is glad to see that the legal community has joined other
professionals in recognizing the harm that PAS can cause. Recently retired
from Louisiana's 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge Gothard has been
involved in over 2000 cases of allegations of child sexual abuse. He states,
"PAS has caused emotional harm, physical harm and in some cases, even death
to children."

Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist and Executive Vice President
of the Council, has also seen first hand the long-term emotional damage this
so-called syndrome has caused. "How do you explain to young children forced
to live with abusers why the courts have considered them liars and ignored
their cries for help?" Silberg has found that it can take years for these
children to get past their feelings of betrayal by the system that was
supposed to protect them.

Dr. Silberg views PAS allegations as part of a larger strategy in which
abusive parents try to fool the courts, attorneys, child custody evaluators,
and mental health professionals into believing that their children and
ex-spouses are crazy when they raise concerns about safety. She notes the
recent case of Darren Mack, accused of shooting his custody judge and
stabbing his wife to death. Mack successfully convinced a custody evaluator
that he was a loving parent with no violent tendencies, notes Silberg.

Stephanie Dallam, MS, a researcher with the Leadership Council, has spent
the last 10 years researching PAS. She traces the syndrome to a
controversial psychiatrist, Richard Gardner, who described sex between
fathers and their offspring as normal and natural. In his voluminous
self-published writings, Gardner blamed abused children's suffering on our
society's "overreaction" to sexual abuse, notes Dallam.

Dr. Paul Fink concludes, "Children suffer when law embraces a 'syndrome'
just because a so-called 'expert' coined a snappy phrase. Increasingly,
courts are seeing through the PAS charade and refusing to allow the
courtroom to be used as theater for the promotion of junk science."

The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is composed
of national leaders in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, law, and public
policy who are committed to the ethical application of psychological science
and countering its misuse by special interest groups. Members of the Council
are dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of children and other
vulnerable populations. More information can be found at: www.leadershipcouncil.org

Posted on July 11, 2006 at 02:19 PM | Permalink


Why is the language so polite and gender-neutral? We all know it's disgruntled dads bashing women. It's nowhere near equal.

Posted by: ginmar at Jul 17, 2006 11:23:08 AM

I think it's a political strategy, Ginmar. We know that PAS is not in the least gender neutral. Far from it. Stephanie Dallam did say that Gardner described sex between fathers and children as "normal and natural". Ick. It's sexual abuse. It's not "normal and natural." Ick. Ick.

Posted by: The Countess at Jul 17, 2006 12:09:10 PM

Why is the language so polite and gender-neutral? We all know it's disgruntled dads bashing women. It's nowhere near equal.

Being polite and neutral doesn't mean they're averring some sort of parity of abuse. Here's my excerpt from my comment in gin's LJ, for the Countess' readers:

"Because, according to their site, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is composed of national leaders in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, law, and public policy who are committed to the ethical application of psychological science and countering its misuse by special interest groups. They are not a feminist organization, and I am sure any gendered language would be seized upon by their legal opponents as some sort of a proof of unscientific and preferential "buckling under" to special interest groups.

In the intro to an article on "Custody Myths" (http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/cust_myths.html), they explicitly state (while using the same gender neutral language):

We have become increasingly concerned about the legal system's treatment of victims of family violence during divorce and child custody proceedings. The LC has reviewed documentation from a number of cases in which children were placed in the sole custody of a parent that the child alleges is physically or sexually abusing them. Many of these children were prohibited from any contact or provided only limited contact with the parent seeking to protect the child - despite the fact that this parent had never been found to have harmed the child. In most cases the child's allegations were quite credible.

Some groups have opposed exposure of this problem claiming that the information is politically motivated or constitutes "father-bashing." Our analysis indicates that the problem of abusers or batterers obtaining custody is widespread and well documented by research. Presenting this information is not an attempt to "bash" any particular group, but is offered simply to educate professionals about the extent of this serious problem affecting child safety.

If you look at their website, they don't seem to care that much about the dichotomy of "men vs. women"; they seem to be fixed pretty squarely on "children vs. adults", or perhaps even more abstractly on "the abusers vs. the abused". They don't need to fuzzify the facts by calling "almost all" abusers male and victims female; the statistics speak for themselves, and their careful non-gendered language allows them to use the same research pieces and press releases in the admittedly rare cases where women are, in fact, at fault.

Other than their work on PAS, their other major recent accomplishment is the Amicus Curiae accepted by the California Supreme Court in Taus v. Loftus et al. (http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/lg/taus.html), a case hinging on a past case in which custody was awarded to the father and stepmother of a little girl abused by her mother. The defendants in this case are the people who supported the mother, now being sued by the grown-up victim. The article for which they are being sued, http://faculty.washington.edu/eloftus/Articles/JaneDoe.htm, argues precisely some sort of PAS cover-up, alleging that the biological mother was completely innocent, and the child brainwashed and used as a pawn in a bitter divorce by the ex-husband determined to get full costody of the child through this concocted scheme. Read the article -- I think you might find it persuasive, I know I did, because I think I really don't want to believe mothers to be capable of such behaviour. But then read the Amicus Curiae and the other links to see why the article is a biased piece of crap.

In short, as hard as we may find this to believe, here the female is the convicted abuser, and her advocates think the child should have been removed from the full custody of the father and shared with the abuser because the abuse was just an engineered ploy. The Leadership Council supports the position that these maternal advocates' "research" into the little girl's life aiming to discredit her testimony was invasive and unethical. They really don't give a damn about the gender of the parties. Their careful use of language supports that flexibility, so kudos to them."

Posted by: O. d. T. at Jul 17, 2006 2:05:31 PM

Thanks for letting us post this article for the second edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. As a former CASA who just couldn't stomach the bs anymore, thinking we were actually helping these kids, I do look for whatever good news we can get sometimes. When I first found out about PAS, I was appalled. It's just another ploy by the abusers (like "false memory syndrome") to attempt to suck everyone else into their sick denial.

Posted by: Marj (aka Thriver) at Jul 18, 2006 4:41:33 PM

Thanks so much for including my post in the Carnival. I lose track of Carnivals. There are too many of them.

One of my colleagues pointed out something about PAS that I hadn't considered, and it went a long way to explain why it keeps getting introduced in court even though it's bogus and the legal and psychological communities don't recognize it as valid. People who promote PAS make a lot of money from it. I recall reading that Dr. Richard Gardner charged $300.00 per hour when he was hired as an expert in court for PAS cases. With the industry that now surrounds custody cases where parents are forced into joint physical custody and all the add-ons that come with it, I think it's going to be a long time before PAS is finally out of court for good. There are people who make a lot of money from divorce and custody cases - custody evaluators, psychological evaluators, "forensic consultants", mediators, parenting coordinators, GALs, and the like. Then there are the conferences that charge money to teach people how to make money from custody cases and how to get training. Training costs money, and people who make their money from divorce and custody cases train others as a means of lining their wallets. They aren't going to give up their cash cow without a fight. That's what the people against PAS are up against.

Posted by: The Countess at Jul 18, 2006 6:29:12 PM

Thank you for posting! This is so upsetting--knowing that courst sent kids back to live with abusers. I have known a number of abusers who "cleaned up well" and appeared more "together" than the children or partners they lived with. And no wonder! They'd spent years destroying that other person's self-confidence. This is such an important issue!

Posted by: April_optimist at Jul 19, 2006 8:37:48 PM