Parental Alienation Syndrome Misused in Child Custody Cases
September 29, 2008
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP), Stop Family Violence, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, four of the nation's leading domestic violence victim advocacy organizations, call on the media and the courts to rectify the misunderstanding and misuse of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in custody cases.
"Child custody cases are among the toughest cases courts have to handle. And in custody cases where domestic violence is involved, the judges have an even higher responsibility to ensure that the safety of family members is not dangerously impaired by misleading - and legally unjustifiable - ‘parental alienation syndrome' theories," said Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
"Parental Alienation Syndrome" is a claim that has been used to suggest that some parents try to undermine their children's relationship with the other parent, typically the noncustodial parent, by making false statements about that other parent, most often in the form of abuse allegations. In fact, actor Alec Baldwin made that claim about his own child custody case in a recent interview with Diane Sawyer.
"PAS is being used by some abusers as a tactic to demonize parents' attempts to protect their children from abuse, denying victims of domestic violence justice in the courts. The fact that some parents behave badly in ordinary cases is no reason to ignore real abuse when it is presented to the court," also stated Else.
Joan Meier, DV LEAP's Executive Director, said, "PAS was invented to defeat child abuse claims - and it has been remarkably successful in misleading family courts into believing that women who are sincerely trying to protect their children and themselves from abuse, are just seeking to end the children's relationship with their noncustodial father."
According to NNEDV, DV LEAP, SFV, and NCADV, victims of domestic violence face a surprisingly uphill battle in family court to win custody of and safety for their children. All too often, courts award custody and unsupervised visitation to parents found to have committed domestic abuse. Many courts handling custody cases do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and fail to properly factor in the impact of abuse when considering the best interests of the child.
"The most important factor judges should be weighing in making custody decisions is the safety of the mother and children, and the introduction of PAS overshadows this critical need for safety," said Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Meier states that research has shown that children become "alienated" from a parent for a variety of valid reasons, most often resulting from the parent's own negative behavior and relationship with that child.
"The proponents of ‘parental alienation syndrome' are purveying invalid junk science is not even legally admissible. PAS has been emphatically rejected by the Presidential Task Force of the American Psychological Association and by the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges. Leading researchers in the field of custody have agreed that PAS has no scientific validity and the only courts to address the issue have found it inadmissible," said Meier.
"With the increased media attention surrounding the release of Alec Baldwin's book, it is important to let the public know that victims of domestic violence are being silenced through the use of ‘parental alienation syndrome.' We cannot afford to consign thousands of children to unsafe custody or visitation with abusive parents because family courts have come to believe that abuse allegations mean nothing more than a campaign of alienation," said Else.