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Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as defined by American Psychiatrist, Richard A. Gardner, is a disorder in a child which causes them to express hostility frequently to one parent, often without a specific cause or justification.

This behaviour can occur for many reasons.  It is most commonly the result of one parent intentionally influencing and feeding a child negative information about the other parent, or preventing the child spending time with the other parent as a form of punishment (essentially brainwashing the child into forming unsavory opinions about the other parent).  This is most often done during custody disputes/litigation surrounding separation and divorce.

Children typically need and want both parents in their life.  When parents are separated or divorced a child rarely ever gets the quality time that would have usually been present in the communal home.  The parent who has primary custody may now have additional responsibilities which would require him/her to be away from the home and the parent who has access to the child on the weekends may not be able to have a quality relationship within that short period of time.

Prominent studies have shown just how detrimental parental alienation is to a child.  Behavioral, emotional and cognitive impairments manifest themselves in the child and some of the effects that were documented include increased suicidal tendencies and extreme misconduct.

There are some cases where the court system can fail a family.  In a past case, a six year old boy was assigned to live primarily with his father.  His mother who lived less than a ten minute drive away from him was awarded visitation rights but they were not enforced by the courts when her ex-husband made frequent excuses to not uphold her allowed visitation dates.  (He was a criminal lawyer and his ex-wife alleged that there had been favoritism towards her husband in the handling of the entire custody battle which lasted for twelve years).

The young boy started showing signs of distress not long after the divorce and separation from his mother.  By the time he was nine he was threatening suicide and becoming increasingly hostile towards his mother.  He was sixteen when he jumped to his death off a Vancouver bridge.

PAS is a recognized affliction across the globe and Parental AlienationAwareness Day was recognized in 2015 on April 25th in Canada.

If your child suffers from PAS, below are a few tips on what you can do to safely help your child.

  • PAS is a form of emotional child abuse and educating yourself about this affliction will help you combat it in the most effective way possible.  This is the most important step. By conferring with a mental health professional, you can aid in your understanding of this disorder and learn how to best cope and foster positive interactions with your child.
  • Inform the courts and your lawyer of any parental alienation and do your utmost to ensure that they take the necessary steps to stop and remedy the situation.  Do your part in presenting all the information you have collected (for example, document specific dates that the child was/wasn’t visited) and be vigilant in the way your case is processed (to help avoid unnecessary and constant delays).
  • Have patience with your child.  As much as they may lash out at you and say hurtful things, they are simply expressing the feelings that arise from a deep sense of hurt, separation anxiety and other damaging emotions.  It is not their fault; they simply do not know the appropriate way to communicate their feelings during this time.  Speaking to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor can help.
  • As much as you may be attacked by your ex, try to take the high road, as an equally negative retaliation may further damage your relationship with your child.

At Zeidman, our family law practice has handled many cases that have involved some sort of parental alienation.  We recognize how serious this problem is and support our clients in working towards minimizing its impact during and after a separation or divorce.

Contact our experienced staff today online or call us for a free initial consultation.

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