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Published May 1, 2003 by Presented at the Child Sexual Abuse: Justice Response or Alternative Resolution Conference

Parental Alienation Syndrome in Family Courts

by Professor Carolyn Quadrio

I. Introduction

The question of allegations of sexual abuse in Family Law cases is a complex issue. It is becoming increasingly common to see Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) invoked as an explanation for such allegations, with the implication that the allegations are false.

This presentation will review some of the literature on both issues - false allegations and PAS – in the context of Family Law disputes. It will examine the concept of PAS and will suggest that it has neither validity nor utility.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was described by Gardener in the USA. He refers to cases of disputed custody or residency following divorce when one parent (usually the mother) seeks to deny access to the child(ren) by the other parent on the basis of alleged sexual abuse of the child(ren) by that parent. Gardner suggests that these are often situations where a false allegation is made in an attempt to deliberately alienate the child(ren) from the other parent. According to Gardner, in 90% of these cases the allegations are false.

The author has many years experience in preparing family assessments and giving expert witness testimony to the Family Court. Many of the cases assessed involve allegations of sexual abuse of children.

First, a review of the validity and the utility of the concept of PAS as a syndrome.

A syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur together and that constitute a recognizable condition. (Myers 1993)

A disease: has a cause that is likely to be known.

A syndrome: has a less certain aetiology, but a cause is assumed for the group of symptoms that present.

Some syndromes are diagnostic, others are not.

Because PAS is non-diagnostic syndrome, it is only useful in explaining the symptom presentation when it is known that an abuse allegation is a deliberately made false accusation. However, the reverse is not true. The syndrome cannot be used to decide whether a child has been sexually abused. It is of little probative value to courts making decisions about the presence or absence of sexual abuse.

In PAS as described by Gardener, every one his indicators is open to a different interpretation:

For example, his assertion that a child may be hostile towards her father because she is acting out her mother’s or her own sexual strivings. More simply the child may feel hostility because the accused parent has treated her badly. 

If an accused father has not abused the child, then the mother’s behaviour may be vindictive, it may be misguided, it may reflect excessive anxiety, it may arise out of a projection of her own experiences. Each of those explanations needs to be given equal weight but RG does not do this, he assumes that in 90% of cases the allegations are false and vindictive.

Click here to read the full article.

Posted by Rachel Allen on July 15, 2009.

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Child Abuse, Child Sexual Abuse, Custody and Abuse, Parental Alienation Syndrome, PAS

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