Parental Alienation

Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is met with about as much disdain as “child support” when mentioned, even to attorneys. Our attorney, for instance, was quick to tell us not to mention the phrase when on the stand as it would seem like we were told to use the phrase.  Somehow, it would seem that only attorneys are educated enough to know what parental alienation syndrome is or some similar predisposition that those experiencing it don’t know about it and are coached to discuss it in court.

PAS was coined by Richard Gardner as “a disturbance in which children are obsessively preoccupied with depreciation and/or criticism of a parent. In other words, denigration that is unjustified and or exaggerated.” The purpose of the criticism is to end the relationship between the child and other parent. It often works, even though most of the children can’t even tell why they no longer love or want contact with the parent.  They are simply trained to do so.

For example, there was a time when my oldest son was talking to “Jane” (my ex-wife) on the phone, having an all out bash-session about me.  We could hear every word.  As with most of these calls, my son says he is afraid of me and goes on from there.

After the call we had a sit down conversation during dinner where we asked him straight up, “why are you afraid of Dad?” His answer, “I don’t know.”

“Okay, well has he ever hit you?


“Has he ever threatened you?


“Do you think he would ever hurt you?”


He suddenly thought for a second. “You know what, Mom is way more scary than Dad, she has hit me. She screams at me and chases me and threatens me. She sometimes hits me in the head and in the mouth.”

Still, every time Mom told him to think something, he would.  This has gone on for 4-years now and we have instances on tape where she compels him to begin to cry on the phone as she insists that he sounds unhappy, though he continually tells her that he’s fine and is having a good time at Dad’s… that is, until he is so worn down that he does what she wants, cries.

There are three different types of alienators according to Divorce Casualties: Protecting Your Children from Parental Alienation by Dr. Doug Darnall: naive alienators, active alienators and obsessed alienators.

Naive alienators are people that don’t really mean to alienate another, an aspect that is present at least a little bit in all of us.  Dr. Darnall uses the example where one parent tells their child to tell the other parent to buy something for them.  They don’t say anything like “because I don’t have any money thanks to them,” it’s just something that is implied by what they said, which they don’t realize.  Lexi will totally admit to this.  Her ex-husband has a bad habit of waiting for her to do things.  This is not new since they were divorced, I assure you, so she has told her kids that they need to have their father get their hair cut because she’s “tired of having to do it all the time.” Of course, she tells him nicely, too, but you can see where the kids could take this the wrong way.  (For the record, Lexi and her ex-husband get along incredibly well and are fantastic examples of post-divorce co-parents.)

Active alienators believe their children should have a relationship with the other parent, but they have a hard time controlling their anger or bitterness over the divorce.  They mean well, but when they lose control they lash out. Active alienators feel bad about the alienation however and often try to make up for it.

Obsessed alienators have only one goal – to align the children with themselves and destroy the targeted parent.  They believe no one can protect the children from the other parent other than themselves.  They don’t care what the court says, unless of course it’s on their side.  Dr. Darnell lists the traits of an obsessed alienator as:

  • They are obsessed with destroying the children’s relationship with the targeted parent.
  • They have succeeded in enmeshing the children’s personalities and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
  • The children will parrot the obsessed alienator rather than express their own feelings from personal experience with the other parent.
  • The targeted parent, and often the children, cannot tell you the reasons for their feelings.
  • Their beliefs sometimes become delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince obsessed alienators that they are wrong. Anyone who tries is the enemy.
  • They will often seek support from family members, quasi-political groups or friends that will share in their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent and the system.  The battle becomes “us against them.”  The obsessed alienator’s supporters are often seen at the court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
  • They have an unquenchable anger because they believe that the targeted parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the children is justified.
  • They have a desire for the court to punish the other parent with court orders that would interfere or block the targeted parent from seeing the children.  This confirms in the obsessed alienator’s mind that he or she was right all the time.
  • The court’s authority does not intimidate them.
  • The obsessed alienator believes in a higher cause, protecting the children at all cost.

At this time, there are no affective legal interventions that can stop PAS and help the children who are suffering, short of a change of custody.  As we often say, “there are no laws against being a malicious ex-partner.” It doesn’t matter to the court that the children are being emotionally abused.

We will give you tips to spot PAS and ways to mitigate your children’s reactions during your custody time and share with you some of the most common signs of parental alienation in your high-conflict ex and/or your children.


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