A Historical Perspective on Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation

Journal of Child Custody, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 232-257, 2009

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 527

GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 527

28 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2011

See all articles by Joan S. Meier

Joan S. Meier

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: 2009

Abstract

Claims of parental alienation syndrome (PAS) and parental alienation have come to dominate custody litigation, especially where abuse is alleged. While much psychological and legal literature has critiqued PAS, and leading researchers as well as most professional institutions have renounced the syndrome concept, alienation as a parental behavior or child’s condition continues to be extensively investigated and credited in research and forensic contexts. This article reviews the history of PAS, both as posited by its inventor, Richard Gardner, and as used and applied in courts, suggesting that it not only lacks empirical basis or objective merit, but that it derives from its author’s troubling beliefs about adult and child sexual interaction. It then examines the more recent explorations of non-syndrome "alienation" as proffered by Janet Johnston and others, noting both its more balanced and grounded nature and its more modest remedial implications. However, the article concludes that PA is too closely tied to PAS to be an adequate improvement, because it too is used crudely in courts to defeat abuse allegations, it continues to rely on speculations about mothers’ purported unconscious desires and their effects on children, and, more subtly than PAS, minimizes abuse and its effects on mothers and children. At root, while even PA researchers have found it to be a real issue in only a small minority of contested custody cases, courts’ and evaluators’ extensive focus on it in response to mothers’ abuse allegations continues to privilege false or exaggerated alienation concerns over valid concerns about abuse.

Keywords: domestic violence, child custody, abuse, child abuse, custody evaluation, parental alienation

JEL Classification: K19, K14, K30, K39, K41

Suggested Citation

Meier, Joan S., A Historical Perspective on Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation (2009). Journal of Child Custody, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 232-257, 2009; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 527; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 527. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1767440

Joan S. Meier (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
176
Abstract Views
961
rank
174,430
PlumX Metrics