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Thursday, March 24, 2011

'Parental Alienation Syndrome' -- Judge Isn't Buying it

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 2:11 PM

click to enlarge Richard Gardner
  • Richard Gardner

One of the more controversial topics addressed in our recent coverage of problems in California's family courts is the legitimacy of 'Parental Alienation Syndrome.'

Invented by the late Richard Gardner -- a psychiatrist who argued that society treated pedophiles too harshly before he stabbed himself to death with a steak knife in 2003 -- the theory of PAS asserts that mothers brainwash children to believe that estranged fathers have sexually molested them.

As a practical matter, PAS has frequently been used in court to discredit abuse accusations. In one California case we examined, the theory was successfully invoked by a pedophile father to get custody of his daughter.

Some fathers' rights advocates and psychologists defend the legitimacy of PAS, and argue it should be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. SF Weekly recently interviewed Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jerilyn Borack, who served on a statewide task force that studied family-court reform, and asked whether she believed PAS should be admissible in court.

Her answer: Nope.

"I don't think that it is" admissible, she said. "I don't think that the psychological community will allow their people anymore to use it as a syndrome." (Actually, a number of psychologists who consult for the family courts still do.)

Borack said that inaccurate accusations of child abuse do occur in divorce proceedings, but are typically the result of a sincere belief by one parent that the child is being harmed.

As for the underlying idea of PAS -- that mothers frequently make false child-abuse allegations as a litigation tactic against fathers -- Borack said she doesn't buy it. Based on her experience as a family-law judge, she said, malicious false accusations simply don't happen often.

"I think it occurs incredibly seldom that someone actually designs a false allegation for an objective," she said.

For a thorough legal analysis of PAS' admissibility under the evidence rules of American courts, check out this 2006 article in the Children's Legal Rights Journal. The author's conclusion, like Borack's, is that PAS has no place in court.

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Peter Jamison

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