San Diego, California


Parental Alienation Family Advocacy & Consulting Services



Parental Alienation and what is it?

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the unhealthy coalition between a narcissistic parent and his or her children against the targeted, non-narcissistic, non-abusive parent.  The innocent or targeted parent receives hostility and rejection from his or her children in this system.  The psychological health of the children is used as arsenal in the narcissist’s twisted world.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a family systems pathology involving the triangulation of children into the abusive, narcissistic parental relationship.  In the case of PAS the cross-generational coalition exists between the narcissist and the child or children, and is a covert type of narcissistic abuse.  In typical family systems therapy there would most likely be cooperation with the offending parent to break the coalition with the child and stand united with the other parent. With a narcissist this will not happen.  Narcissists have limited insight so they will be unwilling or unable to see their unhealthy union, believing it to be occurring because he or she happens to be the superior parent, deserving of loyalty, deeming the innocent parent as “bad.”  In addition to this, narcissists are unwilling to collaborate on anything; even in therapy.  Going to therapy with a narcissistic partner will usually backfire on the targeted partner.

The symptoms of PAS are:  (1) The children sit in judgment of the targeted parent’s adequacy and competency as a parent. (2) The narcissistic parent covertly encourages, empowers, and rewards the children for this behavior. (3) The narcissistic parent feigns innocence in this process.  (4) The children believe they are acting independently (that is, they believe they are not being influenced by the alienating parent.)

The system is created as the alienating parent rewards the children when they say hostile or angry things about the targeted parent by encouraging and displaying “understanding” for the children’s negative feelings, when what should really be occurring is the children should be taught to respect the other parent.  In essence, the children are gaining acceptance from the narcissistic parent as they complain about the target parent.

For instance, suppose the targeted parent tells the child to do a chore and the child resists as is so often the case with children being told to do something they don’t want to do.  Now, suppose the child goes to the narcissist and complains about the “mean” other parent.  The narcissist will then sympathize with the child, encouraging him or her to feel victimized by the “outrageous” expectations of the targeted parent, and will excuse the child from having to do the chore.  Thus, the child is getting sucked into the web of PAS.  The targeted parent is outraged, bewildered, hurt, and betrayed.  The child has been covertly empowered to disrespect the one parent who is actually trying to develop a decent human being.  The narcissist sits back, effortlessly creating the destructive coalition with his or her child.

In essence, the children are empowered to disobey, disrespect, and disregard the non-narcissistic parent.  On the surface, the children feel and believe they are benefiting and winning, but in reality they are playing a sordid part in the narcissist’s perverse mind games.  There are some detrimental effects to the children because of this:

  1. Children’s sense of value is diminished because they believe the targeted parent is unworthy of being identified with. If the children have any interests or traits similar to the rejected parent then the children will be forced to reject those aspects of themselves as well.
  2. A child’s character is damaged as he or she is covertly rewarded to be disrespectful, entitled, rude, judgmental, condescending, ungrateful, parentified, and hateful.
  3. The children develop a toxic-bond to the alienating parent, as he or she manipulates them into fearing a lack of acceptance from him or her.

Be Proactive

If you are a victim of PAS, here are some suggestions for you to try to help turn things around:

  • Be proactive; do not believe this problem will just go away on its own. It will most likely get worse.
  • Realize that there is not much you can do about the alienating parent. You can only change yourself.  Take a good look at your own behaviors and modify where necessary.
  • Be a strong parent. Do not roll over easily no matter how angry your children may be with you.
  • Find ways to attach with your children every day. Even if they don’t want you to. Call them, text them, talk to them, touch them; do whatever you can to connect to your children.
  • Be solid. Be direct. Be firm. Be consistent. Be stable. Even if you don’t feel those things, act as if you do.
  • If at all possible, find a good therapist who understands PAS and bring yourself and your children to see him/her.
  • Use strategies akin to those used when people leave a cult; in essence, PAS is a form of brainwashing.
  • Take very good care of yourself. Do things that are good for you and bring you joy.
  • Do not grovel, beg, or allow your children to see that you are threatened by their behavior. Stand strong.
  • If the narcissist encourages your children to disobey you, hold your ground and make sure your children do what you request; starting with “no disrespectful behavior in the home.” Period.
  • Develop some catch phrases to use with your children that you can say in moments when things are particularly difficult for you to handle.
  • Use humor. Be enjoyable to be around.
  • Be smarter than the narcissist.
  • Be determined and refuse to let the abuser destroy the relationship between you and your children.
  • Educate yourself. Never stop reading and arming yourself with knowledge. In addition to this, educate your children.
  • Join a support group so you can get help as you deal with this battle for your children.

PAS according to the APA & Family Law

PAS in Family Court 

Psychologist Richard Gardner coined the term "parental alienation syndrome" in 1985, making PAS a recent addition to considered psychological conditions. As such, it has been challenged in court on several occasions. This has helped define PAS for use in court. In Williams v. Williams in Florida in 1996, courts determined that PAS could be caused by the mother or father, and that it was not gender-specific. In other cases, when parents argue against a charge of PAS, the behavior is enough to influence the court. This allows PAS to be a part of the court system without having to be a diagnosable condition.

Bala, Fidler, Goldberg, and Houston (2007), speaking about the importance of case management in the alienation context, wrote

It is important for judges to take control of alienation cases, to limit the possibility of manipulating the court process by the parents, and to ensure a firm and quick response to violations of court orders. These are cases for which judicial case management is especially appropriate. Given the need for timely assessment and intervention, judges should ensure that assessments are completed in a reasonable time (say 90–120 days). Further, cases that cannot be settled should be brought to trial as soon as possible after completion of the assessment, so that it does not become stale and require an update.
This view is reinforced in Fidler, Bala, Birnbaum, and Kavassalis (2008), where the authors emphasize the importance of early identification, case management, and post-judgment control. As Sullivan and Kelly (2001) exclaimed more than a decade ago:
A clear mandate for support, with a threat of court sanctions if alienating behavior persists, is essential to the intervention process. These sanctions may include financial payments or enforcement of an order that the aligned parent’s primary legal or physical custody is conditional on supporting therapy and facilitating reasonable access.
Justice Martinson (2010) of British Columbia recommended:
“several steps are necessary in order to maintain the focus on the best interests of the children and move the case to a resolution in a just, timely and affordable way:

  • Early identification of the high conflict cases;
  • Early identification of the issues that need to be resolved;
  • Setting, right at the start, firm rules about the expected conduct of the parents towards the litigation, the children and each other, both in and out of the courtroom; advising them that there will be consequences if they do not comply, and spelling out what the consequences will be, and then, if necessary following through with appropriate sanctions;
  • Setting a time frame within which the case must be concluded that ensures that the case will be resolved in a timely manner, through either judicial or other dispute resolution processes or after a trial;
  • Setting a schedule within the time frame for all the steps that must be taken before a solution can be reached including any necessary psychological or other assessments, or, where permissible and appropriate, therapeutic intervention;
  • Sticking to the time limits; not permitting changes to the schedule unless there would be a miscarriage of justice not to do so; and
  • Putting temporary (interim) court orders in place relating to the care and financial security of the children, and in doing so: 
    • Limiting the number of interim applications to the ones that are required to move the case to the resolution stage;
    • Monitoring the nature of the evidence that is presented to make sure that it focuses on the issues, is not inflammatory and/or irrelevant and does not inappropriately involve the children;
    • Ensuring that any court orders that are made are specific, clear and comprehensive; and
    • Ensuring that the temporary orders are followed.”

Mental Health

Poor parental mental health can have a detrimental effect on the health and development of children, leading to an increased risk of mental health problems for the children themselves.

The court has an obligation to act in the best interests of the child involved in a divorce. In some situations, a parent may pose a significant risk to a child due to mental illness or psychological instability. If you are facing a divorce soon and think your spouse may have a psychological issue that could be dangerous for your child, it’s vital to understand your options and how to approach the situation.

Psychological Tests in Divorce Cases

Psychological testing plays a role in many divorce cases, even when mental illness isn’t a glaring concern for either parent. The court needs to accurately assess the parenting capability of each parent and determine whether a parent’s mental state poses a risk to the children’s safety. Some of the tests that custody evaluators may use during divorce proceedings include:

  • The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), which evaluates cognitive functioning and identifies psychological disorders.
  • The Rorschach Inkblot Test, although many psychological experts do not take the results seriously because they believe the test is subjective.
  • The Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMMI-3), which uses 175 true/false questions to help find personality disorders.
  • The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). This test requires respondents to view 31 black-and-white drawings of people, and draws conclusions about the respondent’s personality based on his or her answers.
  • The Ackerman-Schoedorf Scales for Parent Evaluation of Custody (ASPECT), which includes the MMPI-2 test, IQ testing for children and their parents, interviews, and parts of the TAT.
  • The Bricklin Perceptual Scales (BPS), which focuses on discerning the child’s perception of her parents using 64 questions, picture-drawing, storytelling, and questions for the parents.

PTSD: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and it is referred to as a psychological diagnosis made after an individual’s experiences a traumatic event. Due to the nature of trauma, symptoms may not start showing immediately after the traumatic event, but rather several months after. This is usually caused by denial, as most survivors of traumatic events often suppress the event all together in an attempt to get back to a place of normalcy. Once the denial starts to wear off this is when symptoms start to manifest themselves.

According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is reported that about 6 in every 10 men in the U.S. will suffer from a minimum of one trauma in their lifetime that may cause serious PTSD. It is also reported that 5 in every 10 women will experience the same. Not every traumatic event leads to PTSD, however, 80% of trauma survivors will experience some if not all symptoms of PTSD.

Children's rights

 Children's rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Children's rights includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child's civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child's race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics. Interpretations of children's rights range from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement of children being physically, mentally and emotionally free from abuse, though what constitutes "abuse" is a matter of debate. Other definitions include the rights to care and nurturing. There are no definitions of other terms used to describe young people such as "adolescents", "teenagers", or "youth" in international law, but the children's rights movement is considered distinct from the youth rights movement. The field of children's rights spans the fields of law, politics, religion, and morality.

FAQs & Statistics

Wendy Archer, officer and North Texas chapter manager of Parental Alienation Awareness Organization USA (PAAO USA)

  1. Many experts call parental alienation “the worst form of child abuse.”
  2. Alienated children and young adults often struggle with severe depression and thoughts of suicide. Sadly, many alienated children attempt suicide because of the unbearable pain and heartbreak they suffer.
  3. Children understand that they are half of each parent. To make a child hate the other parent is to make a child feel that half of him is not worthy of love.
  4. Alienating parents will often claim emphatically that a child or young adult “doesn’t want a relationship with the other parent,” but formerly alienated children have confirmed that this is not true.