Family courts often do not consider the history of violence between the parents in making custody and visitation decisions. . . . Psychological evaluators not trained in domestic violence may contribute to this process by ignoring or minimizing the violence and by giving inappropriate pathological labels to women’s responses to chronic victimization. Terms such as “parental alienation” may be used to blame the women for the children’s reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father. [pg 100] 1996 Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family

Richard A. Gardner, M.D., former clinical professor of child psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University , is the progenator of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). PAS is a highly controversial theory that has not officially been recognized as a syndrome or a diagnosis.

 The theory of PAS is as follows: The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent . . .  


Interesting that PAS does not explain other types of scenarios involving abuse allegations–such as abuse allegations made against an individual who is not family or an allegations made before the dissolution of a relationship. Nor does PAS explain why a child would “contribute” to the “vilification of the target parent“. Similar questions and a lack of scientific credibility has cause criticism for PAS, some would call it “junk science”. Gardner has admitted that theory is not based on science but on observation and work as an “expert” witness. An “expert” witness is called to testify for one side, and usually frames an argument in one theory or point of view. Gardner has been highly sought after in his career as an “expert witness” and was paid hundreds of dollars an hour for testimony, Often, Gardner did not meet the people he testified against, which is not considered unethical.



The so-called treatment for PAS involves taking the child from the parent accused of alienation (usually the mother) and reuniting the child to the other parent. In many cases, a child is completely removed from one parent and custody is given to the other. Usually parenting classes or therapy is not part of treatment; and is difficult to obtain. Then again, it is very difficult to “treat” a syndrome which really does not exist! Indeed, a parent seeking therapeutic help may be accused of PAS and the “evidence” may be that they are creating barriers by involving therapists. Or a therapist that supports the child may be accused of bias. Reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:


“…And in a report filed in the Grieco case, Gardner noted that ‘PAS mothers have a way of finding therapists, almost invariably women, who reflexively join them in their campaign of denigration of the father … (and) in some cases even join the mother’s paranoid delusional system.’

In some cases in which ‘fanatic’ mothers want to limit or cut off visits to the father, he wrote, ‘I believe that the most important element in these children’s therapy is immediate transfer by the court to the home of the so-called hated parent.'”

Scenes like these, while seeming more fit for “The Twilight Zone”  are happening in courtrooms across America today based soley on the allegation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. In some instances, children have been placed with abusers only to run away from home and even, commit suicide.

Since Gardner came forward with his theory of PAS in the 1985, PAS has been used to counter abuse allegations–and to discredit the testimony of victims, including mothers, children, therapists and other witnesses (especially those connected to the mother in any way). PAS allegations may also be used to win sole custody of children or to wage lengthy legal battles as a form of harassment/intimidation against the other parent.

Further, “Mothers who choose to divorce a husband when sexual abuse is disclosed often lose much and pay a high price for protecting their children. The mother may lose her source of financial support. She may be threatened with violence if she supports her child and takes legal action against the offender. If the man has been violent with the mother, she may have a very difficult time doing what she needs to do to protect her child. If she is met by a high-powered legal team hired by her child’s offender, and she has no resources to fight, she may give up. She may feel a divided loyalty between her child and the offender. If she has been battered herself, she is likely to be isolated from social support and may have a hard time getting through the court appearances and other ordeals involved in protecting her child. She may be tempted at every juncture to abandon the protection of her child and give in to the offender. If such a mother is not supported by the legal and social services systems, the risk is great that she will capitulate and abandon her children to the offender.” (Merrilyn McDonald)

Often, individuals who are not qualified to make a psychological assessment of the mother or the child are the ones to make the allegation of PAS, and often without any supporting evidence or psychological examination. The reason why virtually anyone can be credible to “diagnose” PAS is because anything the mother says or does is automatically suspect, and again–there are no guidelines within the framework of PAS to prove otherwise! Further, in the way the family court system works, allegations of abuse have to be “proven”, and the suspicion of abuse can run concurrently with the allegation of PAS, which creates a hostile environment ripe with bias. 

It is highly questionable whether Gardner, himself was qualified to make such an assessment of PAS or any medical diagnosis. Gardner’s views on pedophilia and child sexual abuse are against what is scientifically known about sexual abuse, and what survivors of sexual abuse have reported. Gardner believes, “…that children are naturally sexual and may initiate sexual encounters by “seducing” the adult. Moreover, Gardner (1992b, pp. 670-71) maintains that sex abuse is not necessarily traumatic; the determinant as to whether sexual molestation will be traumatic to the child, is the social attitude toward these encounters.” (Dallam, Not surprising, that those accused of molestation often benefited from Gardner’s views. Gardner once fought to end the mandated reporting of sexual abuse and fought to end immunity for reporters of sexual abuse. Gardner developed the Sex Abuse Legitimacy Scale (SALS, 1987) to test the validity of the reports of sexual abuse from children. THE SAL Scale is heavily based on the PAS theory. For Gardner’s theories to work–the parent has to be purposely influencing the child, sexually frustrated and seeking revenge. PAS is a prerequisite of SALS–and its merit heavily influences the way credibility is established. I find this highly unethical and suspicious–Gardner is developing two theories that not only further his career but whose legitimacy is based on how the two theories (PAS and SALS) support each other! A Florida appellate court rejected SAL for lack of scientific merit; eventually Gardner withdrew it entirely.  

 PAS has been widely criticized, and in the absence of peer review, it seems the “testing” for PAS is being done on families and vulnerable children caught in ideological battles fought in the American family court system. PAS is considered non-diagnostic because it does not explain the cause of its condition nor does it show that any symptoms result from it. The suggestion of abuse has become some sort of symptom of PAS while the cause results from a trauma that has not been adequately explained or adequately diagnosed as anything but as alienation. It is highly suspicious that PAS has no methodology to rule out true accusations of abuse, and related symptoms from alienation.  At best PAS remains a theory, there is no substantial testing, case study or reviews to give it true credibility.

Gardner, now deceased will not be able to provide any further answers. Gardner died by his own hand of violent suicide ( While Gardner has escaped life, the legacy of PAS continues with tragic results. Irene Weiser reports, “Some children placed in the custody of their abusers have committed suicide; others have run away, and countless others have endured the abuse and are permanently traumatized.  In recent years, children placed in custody of their abusers have been coimg forward to tell their own stories and to warn of the harms of PAS.”( In one example from North Carolina, a 14 year old girl was jailed for three days after refusing to visit her father, a judge ruled she was afflicted with PAS. Both the American Bar Association Children’s Legal Rights Journal (2006) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (2006) have found no support for PAS and strongly cautioned against its use. It’s time the courts and psychologists start to listen—children have been suffering for too long. Not only has Gardner proven to be highly unreliable, biased, and to have personal motive to further PAS but the theory has been thoroughly discredited by various legal, psychological and scientific professionals. PAS is harming families—and causing damage to children, many who are traumatized for life or tragically, die. Parental Alienation Syndrome needs to be discontinued until it has been proved to be a scientifically valid syndrome.


Maverick expert exerts wide influence on custody cases

The Myth of Epidemic False Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Divorce Cases by Merrilyn McDonald

Richard Gardner and Parental Alienation Syndrome The debate rages on…By Jamie Talan,, July 1, 2003

 The Truth About Parental Alienation by Irene Weiser

The Parental Alienation Syndrome: Is It Scientific? by Stephanie J. Dallam, RN, MSN, FNP


Stop Family Violence: Parental Alienation Articles Page