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Letter to Child Psychologist regarding PAS and contact

This letter to Dr Tanya Byron, a child psychologist was in The Times yesterday.  Thought people might be interested in it as the subject regards PAS.

Artilce: My ex-wife has turned our kids against me

The Times (Britain)
17 June 2008

My ex-wife has turned our kids against me
After a bitter divorce, my ex-wife has ensured that I've lost touch with our children. Should I e-mail them on MySpace?
By Dr Tanya Byron
Mike said
I had a very acrimonious divorce from my first wife. Without going into the details, I no longer see my two sons, aged 8 and 14, or my 20-year-old stepdaughter from this marriage: nor, it seems, do they want to see me. My first wife was, and probably still is, a dangerous manipulator of my children's feelings, and I suspect that their feelings were severely influenced by her. I do not attempt to contact or see them because I believe that they have been forced to see contact as hurting their mother's feelings.

In the US this is termed parental alienation syndrome. It is not recognised in UK family courts, but I won't waste time talking about the UK family legal system. Suffice to say, not all Fathers4Justice supporters are lager louts. Recently I joined the social networking site MySpace, and noticed that my eldest son and stepdaughter have accounts. Would it be OK to contact them or would this do more harm than good, raising all sorts of half-forgotton ill-feelings and family politics? Common sense tells me not to even attempt to contact them, but to wait for that fateful day when (if?) they search and find my contact details. Presumably they are happy with the status quo. You might say that the same argument applies to letters, but of course the advantage of MySpace is that my ex-wife is not in control of such contact. However, I suspect that they would feel "harrased" (via their mother) if I even attempted any form of contact other than the yearly birthday and Christmas cards. I now have a new wife and family, and part of me wants to forget my previous family now… but part of me wants to be there in some way. So, should I drop them a line via MySpace or wait for them to find me online?

- Mike
It is estimated that there are up to 200,000 relationship breakdowns involving children each year: they usually result in fathers having less contact with their children, sometimes none at all. Your story is sadly familiar and painful to read because in the fallout from your marital breakdown there are so many casualties - especially the children. Clearly your story is more complicated than you can tell here and there is more than one side to the story (everyone will have their version of events), but what is clear is the amount of anger that has cut through parent-child relationships and how that has led to substantial loss for so many.

Unless a parent has been abusive and can't be rehabilitated, or is a risk to the health and wellbeing of their children, there is no acceptable reason why they should cease to have contact after a separation. Children value the relationships they have with their parents, and even in the most disturbed and dysfunctional circumstances there will be an attempt to enable supervised access so that children can keep a connection with a parent. However, given that divorce can be so acrimonious, children are often caught in the crossfire of adults' emotional assaults on each other. With emotions running high, parents can behave in the most selfish and ruthless manner and use their children as allies and missiles, rather than having the maturity to acknowledge that their issues as adults have nothing to do with the children. I despair when I am faced with families at war: I see troubled and anxious children pulled back and forth, their loyalties challenged and polluted with the bile and hatred pouring from irrationally hurt and angry parents. In the short term children may appear to be coping (in fact, probably just trying to keep the peace), but in the long term such childhood experiences can have devastating effects on their own adult relationships and relationships with their own offspring.

You mention parental alienation (PA), first described in the 1980s by the forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Gardner. When a child eventually begins supporting the negative, hostile and angry position of one parent (and believes this to be his or her own decision), PA becomes parental alienation syndrome (PAS): its features include access and contact-blocking, unfounded abuse allegations, deterioration in relationships since separation, and intense hostility and/or fear reaction by children.

Although this syndrome has not been formally recognised by either the American Psychological Association or the American Medical Association, you are right that, in the US, case law has sometimes recognised it in child custody disputes. However, its use in such cases, which are heavily litigated and filled with accusations and counter-accusations, is highly contentious, and there are concerns that it could be used by one abusive parent against another genuinely afraid and protective parent.

For any father who finds himself in the desperate situation of having limited or no contact with his children despite court-agreed access arrangements, I recommend finding support both legally and emotionally. The Fatherhood Institute ( offers a listing of all support services for separated dads; offers advice on all aspects of fatherhood, including separation; Families need Fathers ( has a helpline, 08707 607496, as does ParentLine Plus on 0808 8002222 ( For court and legal advice go to and

You ask whether you should contact your children via MySpace. If your son and stepdaughter have not set their privacy settings they are, in effect, allowing anyone to contact them. Your 14-year-old son may lack the judgment to critically evaluate who is contacting him, and so should really use privacy settings to restrict contacts to friends. But your stepdaughter is an adult and is probably the one to contact; she is outside the jurisdiction of her mother.

However, given that you contact them with cards at birthdays and Christmas, what is wrong with contacting both of them via MySpace? It's not as if you are suddenly arriving on the doorstep in person. If they don't wish to acknowledge you, they won't, and they can block you from contacting them again.

What you have to think about is what you want to achieve. Do you have a genuine desire to be in their lives or does this just present itself as an opportunity to contact them without their mother knowing? If they don't respond, do you intend to pursue other avenues to regain contact and a relationship? What would this attempt at contact mean in the long term?

These are fundamental questions that only you can answer, but I would advise that before you type a message and press the send button, you think long and hard about what you want to achieve, how you will follow through and how you will deal with any potential fallout, both for you and your son and stepdaughter. If MySpace hadn't presented you with an easy communication option, would you at this time be considering contacting your children by other more traditional means?
greebo, internet explorer cannot open this page?

Monaro try again. I've just changed the link.
thanks for that MikeT,
 i strongly believe that PAS exists, both in men and women, the closest that a family court judge has expressed her view that i have witnessed here in sydney was " i accept that there is a plethora of information on PAS but i am simpy just not going there?"
PAS is abuse, one with devastating consequences - yet very little action is taken.  

I also agree it certainly exists, but how does one prove it?. How do you prove that the custodial parent is manipulating the children, especially when they insist what they convey is coming from the children and when the children are asked they 'feign' ignorance of any such conversation or say 'i dont know' or 'I dont remember' and converse quite freely in conversations on phone.  We are at a crossroads now where my husband has to sit and wait for an invitation 'from his children to an event they may be involved in, told by the custodial parent that 'he' or 'she' has strongly expressed that they dont want him to attend and that the child 'does not want to talk about it'.
Stepmum I feel for you. Do you orders that state he should be involved in any events that the kids are involved in that a parent would normally expect to be in?
For all the research On PAS there doesnt seem to be alot of solutions to counter it.

You should also continue to remind the mother that she is obliged to facilitate the relatioship by providing all the details of events. It is assumed that he is invited to any sports, schooling or outside interests and that she should avoid having him there because it is the childrens wishes, if she wishes to have the children tell the father they dont want him there she should get the children to go to court.


Han Solo routine "We're all fine here, thanks. How are you?" *weapons fire* "It was a boring conversation anyway!"
if she wishes to have the children tell the father they dont want him there she should get the children to go to court. said
 not a good idea, if the children are involved in this way - i am sure the courts will frown upon you

PAS can be countered,the more contact the alienated parent has the less substance there is to poison the childrens mind. shared parenting may be one, if not the only solution.

well In mean she should file in court in respect the the childrens wishes. I doubt in this case she would respect the childrens wishes as she is using her wishes and the childrens wishes interchangeably.


Han Solo routine "We're all fine here, thanks. How are you?" *weapons fire* "It was a boring conversation anyway!"
there is a section in the FLA about the court taking into consideration the wishes of the children, the weight of this consideration falls heavilly on the age of the children off course.

This is always a difficult scenario with very limited legal solutions, it will not be addressed by the court unless a contravention of orders is sought. Even at this point you need to be specific about the contravention and how often it occurs and have evidence to prove it is disrupting the children's relationship with you. P.A.S. is not what you battle in court.

This is up to the individual to seek out methods of dealing with the condition and put some workable solutions in place, every case has different flash points so generalized solutions give you base possibilities that may work in your case.

This is definitely not about proving it's existence for legal reference it's about using tools to best reduce the effects on your children.

If you ply this to a legal solution you will not effect change simply because legally it is not recognized.

D.I.D.s has a section on their forum concerning some issues that you may gain from and you may find you wish to post on but please remember this is not a legal issue but rather a support issue combined with an emotional issue.

The only thing that may turn it into a legal issue is a breach of orders and this will not be a P.A.S. issue but a possible alignment issue.

One thing to try to remember with this style of abuse is that the parent who uses this form of abuse has control of the children and can sway their wishes to coincide with hers and if you put pressure on them they may well side with the abuser, at very least you will drive them further away, a great deal of caution must be used.

As parents it's important to realize that we are effected by this and it is easy to assume a victim mentality about how wrong we have been done by, hence we are drawn in to a desired effect from the abuser. It is aimed to hurt us by using the children. We need to look at how we deal with these problems and get support, once we work this out everything will take on a new light and you will be able to help your children.

Balance is hard to achieve sometimes impossible so it could well be a long fight, perhaps even a life time.
D4E thanks for the info, like a siad you have limtied options except remind the mother of her obligations to facilitate the relationship by including the father, where ever he should expect to be involved. if the mother continues to not do this you should continue to point out her job, build up evidence and file a contravention order if her bahaviour doesnt improve


Han Solo routine "We're all fine here, thanks. How are you?" *weapons fire* "It was a boring conversation anyway!"
If the mother is anything like my daughters she will simply excuse things away as unimportant to her enviroment.

This effectively reduces the importance of her actions through a myriad of excuses then defines points where she believes she has facilitated the relationship and therefore has committed no breach in her opinion.

Behind all those times she has facilitated the relationship there has been a push to do so but evidence will show she facilitated.

To which at the end of the day mediation is suggested.

Even seeking a contravention could be a total waist of time, if you are addressing orders you have a greater possibility to use alignment to your advantage, and by advantage I mean you can better address the issue and negate some of the symptomatic outcomes.

That is why in some cases learning how to deal with the problem may be more effective than addressing a breach.

I have used the path that you've suggested about pointing out certain aspects of things to my daughters mother as well as talking to her about what our child has said, to which defense is her first response, I subdue with ' I'm just letting you know in case it causes conflict I know children exaggerate '.

At the end of the day you will use what works for you and your situation, if I told my X what she had to do conflict would ensue, so for me pointing out her obligation does not work.

You need to decide whether the evidence you have is enough for a breach application or whether you will be perceived as the controlling parent.

In my situation unless there was a breach concerning time and attitude, in other words the amount of days is reduced combined with an out of caricature emotional change towards myself I personally would not pursue an alignment issue but I would address the issue in correspondence or mediation.

Long winded I know but perspective is in regards to personal situations.

Contravention on the basis of allingment is basically unwinnable unless ther are other factors like the parent makes unilateral decisions more than once or removes the children from school and doesnt fullfil ther basic parenting obligations. attitude arguments are just more relevant when your making orders, to get orders to prevent hostile actions. eg person has set phone time every week


Han Solo routine "We're all fine here, thanks. How are you?" *weapons fire* "It was a boring conversation anyway!"
Stipulated boundaries that use evidence to promote what is best for the child cam reduce some basic forms of alignment, yes.

To use alignment to advantage you will see certain paths and habits followed, if these are denoted as part of the orders then it makes the approach to include alignment in a breach easier. There needs to be a base for this though.

When I wrote out my orders by consent they reflected habitual situations that could be drawn on as evidence to support what I was asking for.

In these orders I stipulated schooling effectively reducing distance that could be moved because my X has the belief when it gets hard you move, I did not want her moving from the district of the school.

What does this have to do with alignment may not be obvious but to get my daughter to agree with a move that took her away from her father she would need to use this tool.

Simple things that I knew would invoke this would be covered therefore reducing the possible use but tyeing it to something that could be a practical reason to pursue a breach.

If you think this is totally paranoid, it is but I'm not alone.

My opinion in this is that you need to disarm the weapons as much as possible leaving enough space for the creation of a positive relationship with both parents, as soon as you start thinking of sole custody you are lost. ( Apart from the abusive extreme that need intervention ).

You are aiming to give you child the best balance not win an argument,
D4E said
In these orders I stipulated schooling effectively reducing distance that could be moved because my X has the belief when it gets hard you move, I did not want her moving from the district of the school.

If you think this is totally paranoid, it is but I'm not alone.
A stroke of pure genius, as well as a vote for stability.


Hi my friend.

I am becoming concerned about the confusion on this site about PAS, PA and HAP.

Theoretically, PAS is a 'disorder' developed in a child as a result of PA. PAS is a behavioural disorder a child develops when a parent alienates the other parent from the child. The alienating behaviour of the parent is referred to as 'Parental Alienation' or PA. PA is theorised by Dr Gardiner as causing PAS is children.

PAS does not exist in parents. PAS is not abuse. PA is abuse. PAS is the result of the abuse.

When need to get this straight - because on this site - members are misusing clinical terms.

HAP or Hostile Aggressive Parenting is not linked to Dr Gardiner's PAS theory.

Although some members on this site believe it is.

PA and HAP both attempt to describe similar maladaptive parental behaviour.

Then there is the issue of "Parental Alignment" and 'Parental Rejection' - which is the 'fashionable' terminology currently employed by the Family Law Industry.

Alignment and rejection are the terms used to describe the bilateral balance in the children."Parental Alignment" and 'Parental Rejection" are seen as more normal and natural behaviour resulting from parents separating and is not classified as a disorder as such - and hence is a term that is easier to apply in Court.  

Is a watered down, broader and more encompassing version of Dr Gardiner's PAS theory - but not related.

"Parental Alignment" and 'Parental Rejection" theory was developed by Johnston & Kelly and factors in the personalities of each parent.

In summary, the principal findings of the Johnston & Kelly study support common clinical observations that children's attitudes toward both parents after divorce are best described on a continuum from positive to negative, with relatively few children being extremely aligned or rejecting. However, in contrast to PAS theory that views the indoctrinating parent as the principal player in the child's alienation, the Johnston & Kelly study finds children's negative behavior and attitudes toward a parent have multiple determinants.

Last edit: by 4mydaughter


I have some input on gardner(1987, 1989) here he has provided excellent discriptions of the PAS. Here, a non custodial parent successfully engages in a variety of maneuvers to alienate the child from the non residential parent. Once successfully manipulated, the child becomes   " preoccupied with depreciation and criticism of a parent-denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated"(Gardner, 1989 p.226)

In a typical case of PAS both parent and child  engage in an array of abnormal actions. Gardner views "brainwashing" as a concept "too narrow" (Gardner, 1989) to capture the psychological manipulation involved in turning a child against his/her non-residential parent.

 look up the word "abuse" in the dictionary - i think it describes PAS to a T.  look into MMS by Ira Daniel Turkat, it goes hand in hand with PAS and abuse.

Most people do not concern themselves with the theory of PAS but rather it's impact  (PAS, MMS, HAP, EXN, PA or PR or anything else it may be called) on all involved, whether derived from abuse, a form of abuse or abuse in itself it is of devistating consequence non the less.  

I beg to differ 4md I believe P.A.S. does exist in parents. This may well be residual effect from their youth but to suggest that a syndrome is discovered when it is named does not effectively describe the depth one suffers.

Sometimes children grow into parents and inflict this syndrome on their own children because this is all they know. The syndrome can occur in families that are still functioning as a unit and is solely attributed to separated families.

The subject is being addressed on two different forums at this time in similar ways to the same effect.

In Australia when addressing the court it is in your best interest to address it as Alignment, this is not because one term is more fashionable than another but more to the fact that this is what is accepted.

It is best suited to use your evidence and the term alignment then let the judge make up their decision as to the extent of the evidence and if it needs to acted on further. This is simply a tactic to be used in this country's family court.

Going back to parent alienation.

How do you know this parent is in fact not suffering from the syndrome and therefore acting only as they have been taught because to them this is normal, are they then still not the victims of P.A.S. or are they simply Alienators, when do they stop becoming victims ?

Personally I know my X is at least first generation P.A.S. possibly even second generation and she uses the same techniques with her children.

She is too far gone to help, but my daughter is not. her other children show the attitude but are beyond my influence so they may well follow their mothers path.

Although this was directed to monaro it was placed on the forum which puts it in a position to be answered by all who read it and not a personal correspondence.
I again reiterate that this is simply a theoretical discussion in Australia because at this time it is not recognized, I also ask you that you may consider that if a person on this portal/forum is preparing court action it may be neccessary to explain things to them so they can understand how to use their evidence to best apply to their case. To do this it may be pertinent to group these specific disorders under one heading and explain how they can keep focused on the case ahead.

I have no problem with discussing these issues on any forum until a person who is proceeding to court becomes confused, once they see the relevance of using alignment in court and not referring to  P.A., H.A.P. or P.A.S..

Once this is understood the person can discuss the issues and not effect their case.

In the end it's a name given to something by someone that describes a situation and in time that name may be used in Australia.
I originally had several brochures on PAS and MMS filed away ready to use in my case, after further research and discussion on how this may affect my case i quickly removed the documents.
Alignment is a less intrusive way to express PAS and the way i would address it to the courts, though i have heard specialist's use the phrase extreme narcissism, they are specialist's, i would think twice before using it,

 Please understand this is my view, i adopted and presented my case in a non denigrating way, even though it was a contravention, the magistrate saw the pattern by the respondent through the array of actions that had taken place to circumvent access, i brought forward a strong case from the evidence presented and knowledge of applicable case law, being courteous, respectful and truthful also helped….oh, one more thing - a colourful tie!:thumbs:

D4E said
…… also ask you that you may consider that if a person on this portal/forum is preparing court action it may be neccessary to explain things to them so they can understand how to use their evidence to best apply to their case.
This is the essence of where the advocation of a case is crystallized. Barristers are constantly learning how to effect this. The more thay ask for it could be suggested how good they are.

A strategy in repect of how to approach the court and run cases in the court is worthy of consideration. The purpose of the court is to deliver order-ed resolutions. The sharpest minds can obtain consent orders and get on with their lives. Alienation or misalignment or however defined is present in matters before the court. Judges experience too few moments when rational people appear before them. Orders can be sought to remediate the denigration of the other parent and "alignment" is often the argument that is run. When the tendency is overt the court might be convinced that it is not in the best interests of the child(ren) for a parent affecting a child to be allowed to retain or gain custody. The court is a good place to reflect on how good a parent one is and how one could be a better parent.

What is done for you, let it be done, what you must do, be sure you do it, as the wise person does today that what the fool will do in three days - Buddha
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