Forensic, General & Medical
Expert Witnesses

Parent Alienation Syndrome, what to consider.

By Richard J. Stride, Psy.D., MBA, LPC, LMHC
Mental Health Expert Witness / Litigation Consultant/Ethics/Mental Health Business
Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in custody cases

The late child psychiatrist Richard Gardner coined the term, "Parent Alienation Syndrome," (PAS) in 1985 to describe his interpretation of the reasons why a child might begin to despise a parent, usually their father. I am not going to argue the scientific validity of the syndrome nor its veracity. I am merely a clinical eyewitness to its effects on a child. Whether or not a one believes in the relevancy of PAS, as described by Gardner, is irrelevant to the fact that custody battles hurt the entire family. Because of this there is a distinct possibility, in the midst of the battle, a parent might accuse the other of abuse, in order to obtain custody or to become the sole residential custodian.

I have come to believe, through over 15 years of doing custody evaluations, that there are factors that a forensic mental health professional must consider when deciding on the legitimacy of a claim of PAS. The divorce process by nature is adversarial, most often the parent’s personal anger and/or residual bitterness gets in the way of truly seeing what is in the best interests of the child.

A must in custody evaluations is taking into consideration the developmental stage of the child as well as the roles the parents played in early rearing. As well as evaluating the parents on their parental ability. For example, which parent took a more nurturing and which parent a more passive role? Is the child bonded equally to both parents or is the lack thereof evident?

It could very well be that one or the other parent is belittled and/or depreciated in the child's hearing. This type of projected bitterness by a parent can and usually does have a lasting effect on a child psychologically, and emotionally. In addition, the non-verbal behavior and demeanor of a parent can and usually does influence the child's perception, it may very well poison them to that parent. Parents are often cautioned by the courts about this type of behavior and its damaging effect. The gloomy truth is that it is rarely listened to or heeded. However, to jump to a conclusion of PAS without proper investigation can be equally damaging if not more so. One must take into consideration the domiciliary interaction patterns; past and present familial paradigms.

Care and caution must be taken so as to not jump on the emotional band wagon that is PAS; without proper and appropriate clinical investigation. It is a well known fact that children need emotional support, and affection provided in a nurturing caring environment. It is also well known that perceptions of children, of divorce can be manipulated, influenced and distorted by someone they trust. Careful analysis of the family dynamics pre and post divorce by a qualified mental health professional can help attorneys and courts navigate this most confusing of terrains. As well as make sound well written recommendations to help stabilize a most unstable situation.

PAS can happen, maybe not to the extreme, extent, or frequency or even manner as described by Dr. Gardner; but it indeed does happen in some cases. Whether one believes in the scientific validity of PAS is really beside the point. The real matter worthy of investigation is if one or the other parent trying to distort or poison the child's feelings toward the other. Only a methodical, systematic, and conscientious approach by the mental health professional, who truly believes in doing the work that is needed, will ferret out alienation or not. There is no excuse for not conducting a thorough, sound, clinical investigation. Any forensic mental health professional worth hiring to do a custody evaluation, will do just that.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Richard J. Stride, Psy.D.
Dr. Stride is licensed in Colorado and Washington states as a Licensed Mental Health Professional, as well as certified with the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Dr. Stride is also a Certified Forensic Mental Health Evaluator, Diplomate with the National Board of Forensic Evaluators.

Dr Stride has extensive knowledge of forensic evaluations of all types as well as effective case presentation in court. He has been qualified in court as an expert witness in mental health, child abuse, adult psychopathology, developmental disabilities, compentency, and child custody.

Dr. Stride is trained and qualified to administer a varietytesting instruments, including but not limited to the Minnesota Mutiphase Personality Inventory (MMPI), Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test, and a host of other testing instruments.

Copyright Richard J. Stride, Psy.D., MBA, LPC, LMHC

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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