I have met and heard the tragic stories of many parents. PA is a function, by and large, of a custodial ex-partner, although some alienation can start while the couple is still together.

This blog is a story of experiences and observations of dysfunctional Family Law (FLAW), an arena pitting parent against parent, with children as the prize. Due to the gender bias in Family Law, that I have observed, this Blog has evolved from a focus solely on PA to one of the broader Family/Children's Rights area and the impact of Feminist mythology on Canadian Jurisprudence and the Divorce Industry.

Saturday, December 1, 2001

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS): Sixteen Years Later

The American Academy of Psychoanalysis

Academy Forum, 2001, 45(1):10-12 ( A Publication of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis ), by RICHARD A. GARDNER, M.D.

In 1985, the Academy Forum published my article, "Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigation." This was the first article in which I described the parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a disorder that I began seeing in the early 1980s. The Forum article is generally considered to be the seminal publication on the PAS, parent to at least 100 peer-reviewed articles. Although this is certainly a source of gratification for me, the sixteen years that have ensued cannot be viewed as a straight path to glory, especially because of controversies that have swirled around the diagnosis. I address here the reasons for the controversies and provide suggested solutions.

The definition of the PAS I provided in the original article still holds:

The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against the parent, a campaign that has no justification. The disorder results from the combination of indoctrinations by the alienating parent and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the alienated parent.

In the original article I described the primary symptoms of the PAS:

1) The Campaign of Denigration

2) Weak, Frivolous, or Absurd Rationalizations for the Depreciation

3) Lack of Ambivalence

4) The "Independent-Thinker" Phenomenon

5) Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict

6) Absence of Guilt Over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent

7) Presence of Borrowed Scenarios

8) Spread of the Animosity to the Extended Family and Friends of the Alienated Parent

Further work with these families confirmed my original definition and description of the primary symptomatic manifestations. Initially, many were dubious about the existence of the disorder, some even considering my descriptions a caricature. Generally, the dubious were those who were not directly involved in working with families embroiled in child-custody disputes. By the late 1980s I was no longer hearing this criticism, so obvious was it that the disorder was widespread.

The Syndrome Issue

When critics no longer denied the existence of the disorder, they often heatedly claimed that PAS was not a syndrome. Campbell's Psychiatric Dictionary defines syndrome as:

A collection or grouping of disjunctive, variable signs and symptoms whose frequency of recurrence together suggests the existence of a single pathologic process or disorder that will explain them.

The PAS is one of the purest syndromes in psychiatry, especially the moderate and severe cases in which most if not all of the symptoms manifest themselves. Some claim that although PAS may be a syndrome, it is too early to apply the label, which should only be used after widespread acceptance. Such critics are not familiar with the traditional sequence used in psychiatry (and medicine in general) regarding the term syndrome. This sequence is also described in Campbell's Dictionary:

In general, three levels of categorization can be differentiated in medicine: (1) an isolated sign or symptom, without reference to associated features or cause, and with little predictive value. . . . (2) a clinical grouping of signs or symptoms into a distinctive syndrome. . . . (3) a distinctive clinical picture that is accounted for by an identifiable pathophysiologic process or etiologic agent.

Clinicians routinely see isolated symptoms. When a particular cluster repeatedly appears, then the syndrome term is justified. The first articles on a disorder, which may involve only a few cases, still justify the term syndrome because the authors are attempting to bring to the attention of professional colleagues their observations regarding the existence of the syndrome. And this has been true of other syndromes described in medicine and psychiatry, e.g., acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Downs syndrome, and Tourettes syndrome. The sequence in psychiatry has been to change the name syndrome to disorder after repeated studies confirm its existence, especially when the etiologic agent has been identified. At such point the DSM changes the name from syndrome to disorder. For example, Tourettes syndrome became Tourettes Disorder when it first entered DSM-III in 1980. Similarly, Aspergers Syndrome became Aspergers Disorder when it entered DSM-IV in 1994.

When I first began seeing this cluster in the early 1980s, I discussed the question of the proper name with Dr. Robert Spitzer, then Chairperson of DSM-III and subsequently Chairperson of DSM-III-R. We both agreed that the term syndrome would be applicable at that point and that if subsequent research justified submission to a future DSM publication, then consideration would be given to changing the name to parental alienation disorder. In the early 1990s, when the DSM-IV committees were meeting, there were not enough articles on PAS to warrant submitting a proposal for inclusion in DSM-IV. (I will comment below on where things stand with regard to DSM-V.)

In my 1992 book on the PAS, I described what I considered to be the etiological factors that were operative and delineated the steps by which these factors contributed to the development of the disorder. Other examiners as well have described the same etiological factors and pathogenic mechanisms. Accordingly, I consider there to be good justification for my conclusion that Level 3 has been reached.

At this point, even the most zealous critics agree that there are children who have been programmed to be extremely alienated from a parent and fit the picture that I have described. They will even list the same cluster of symptoms. Yet, they still vigorously claim that the term syndrome is not justified. To the best of my knowledge, the main reason for the reluctance to utilize the term syndrome relates to the PASs admissibility in courts of law. As mentioned, the PAS arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. Other syndromes that have been described in medicine and psychiatry are neither the result of litigation nor do they become a central issue in lawsuits. In courts of law, it often behooves an opposing attorney to not only discredit a new disorder, but even the person who has described it. Convincing the court that PAS is not a syndrome is a step toward getting the court to deny its existence entirely. If there is no PAS, then there is no PAS indoctrinator. Accordingly, those who call the phenomenon parental alienation will have an easier time in the courtroom than those who insist upon referring to the disorder accurately as the parental alienation syndrome.

The DSM-IV Issue

Another maneuver commonly utilized by attorneys is this: "PAS doesnt exist because its not in DSM-IV." This is the equivalent of saying in 1980 that AIDS does not exist because it is not in medical textbooks. The lawyers hope here is that the court will be naïve enough to buy into this argument and thereby support the position of the PAS-indoctrinating client who is denying the programming.

In spite of the reluctance of many to use the term PAS, at least 38 courts of law have recognized the PAS.

According to information I recently received from the APA, committees for considering newly described disorders will begin meeting in 2004-2005, with anticipated publication of DSM-V between 2007 and 2010. By that time, there will be many more than the 100 peer-reviewed articles and 38 legal citations that I now have to support consideration. (My list of publications and legal citations is being constantly updated and can be found on my website: www.rgardner.com/refs.) Those who avoid using PAS at this point are being shortsighted. Although they may benefit in court now by avoiding the word syndrome, they are reducing the likelihood of consideration by DSM-V committees.

PAS vs. Bona Fide Abuse

With increasing recognition of the PAS, a new phenomenon has developed. Specifically, parents who are truly abusive have been claiming that the childrens animosity toward them has nothing to do with their abuse but is the result of PAS programming by the other parent. This has become a common rationalization and diversionary maneuver for abusing parents. Some such parents have even been successful in convincing courts that they were not abusive and that the PAS is responsible for the alienation. Critics, then, claim that I am somehow responsible for this unfortunate situation. This is the equivalent of blaming Tourette and Downs when someone misdiagnoses the disorders they first described.

In an attempt to improve the diagnostic acumen of evaluators and to provide courts with proper differentiating criteria, I have a chapter devoted to the discrimination between PAS and bona fide abuse in the 1998 edition of my book on PAS. Examiners who carefully follow these guidelines should have little difficulty making this important differentiation, even though there are some cases in which PAS and abuse may coexist. When the abuse factor is clearly the predominant one, then the PAS diagnosis is not warranted.

The Sex-Abuse Issue

Since my residency days in the late 1950s, I have seen patients who were sexually abused as children. I believe that the vast majority of these descriptions have been valid. In the mid-1980s I began seeing a new phenomenon, namely, sex-abuse accusations by PAS children that were highly likely to be false. This was especially the case if the accusation emerged after the separation and after the failure of other PAS exclusionary manoeuvres. Most of the accusations were directed at fathers by mothers. In some cases, however, the programming father initiated the accusation against his ex-wife's new partner or husband. When I first started speaking about this, I was once again met with incredulity. "Children never lie," my critics said, "especially when claiming sex-abuse." Or I was sanctimoniously criticized for not "believing the children." My answer:

There are many things about these accusations that cause me to be very dubious about their validity. Some of them are patently preposterous, even impossible. There is often significant variation from one rendition to the next. Many include borrowed-scenario elements, taken directly from the programming parent. To believe these children is to believe that a father, in his 30s or 40s, switched his sexual orientation from straight heterosexual to pedophilia. Instead of denying this reality, we should develop criteria for differentiating between true and false accusations, especially because innocent people are now being jailed.

Subsequently, I gained extensive experience with such differentiation in accusations against teachers, scoutmasters, clergy, babysitters, neighbors, and adult women belatedly accusing elderly relatives of having sexually abused them in childhood. Experiences in these other realms enabled me to sharpen the criteria that I have used to differentiate between true and false sex-abuse accusations promulgated by PAS children. Although very few today wave the "Believe the Children" and "Children Never Lie" banners, we are still seeing false sex-abuse accusations, especially in the context of child-custody disputes.

The Recent Gender Shift in PAS Indoctrinators

In the early 1980s, when I first observed the PAS, mothers were the alienating parent in about 90% of the cases. Fathers were attempting to program their children, but they were less likely to be successful because the children were generally more closely bonded with their mothers. Accordingly, I still recommend that the mother be designated the primary custodial parent, even though she might have been a PAS programmer. Only in the severe cases (about 10 percent)--when the mother was relentless and/or paranoid--did I recommend primary custodial status to the father. Others, as well, recognized this gender disparity.

Although I was most often recommending that most mothers be designated the primary custodial parent--PAS indoctrinations notwithstanding--I was criticized as being "sexist" because I was stating that PAS indoctrinators were more often female than male. My answer to critics:

These are the facts. I am not alone in making this observation. Rather than just criticizing the person who describes the gender disparity, we should be looking into the reasons why women more than men are more likely to be indoctrinators.

My answer to this question has been that mothers are more likely to be the primary caretakers and so children are more likely to side with them in child-custody disputes. Because of this recognition, I still recommend that mothers, in most PAS cases, remain the primary custodial parent.

In recent years, I have seen a gender shift to the 50/50 ratio. Others are reporting a similar phenomenon. Why this shift? One probable explanation relates to the fact that fathers are increasingly enjoying expanded visitation time with their children, providing fathers thereby with deeper bonding and more time to program them. Moreover, with increasing recognition of the PAS, fathers have learned about PAS indoctrination manoeuvres--especially the money and power factors. This shift notwithstanding, I still recommend mothers, much more often than fathers, as the primary custodial parent because in most cases the mother has been the primary caretaker and is more deeply bonded with the children.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, when fathers began demanding primary custody, women would have done well to have argued that the real issue to be considered by the courts in child-custody disputes is not gender but bonding. Had women taken such a position, they could not be considered guilty of "sexism" and would have still enjoyed the benefits of being given preference in child-custody disputes. And the same preference would have been given to fathers who had been primary caretakers and more deeply bonded with their child than the mothers. Had the bonding principle been applied, the PAS probably would not have developed. Accordingly, the best way to prevent the PAS is for courts to give primary consideration to the bonding issue. Last, because more mothers now are becoming victims of PAS indoctrinations, it is likely that my work on the PAS will be received with greater receptivity by women.

The Rachel Foundation

Recently, The Rachel Foundation was established. Named after the biblical Rachel, who grieved over the loss of her children, the Foundation is devoted to research and assistance for PAS children. Particular attention is given to those who have been abducted in association with PAS indoctrinations. The Professional Advisory Committee consists of colleagues in both the mental health and legal professions who have had significant experience with PAS families. Further information about the Foundation can be found at www.rachelfoundation.org. The establishment of The Rachel Foundation is yet another outgrowth of the original article published in the Academy Forum 16 years ago.

Friday, August 24, 2001

False accusations by vicious women ruin men's lives

Another in a long chain of false allegations by vindictive, vicious and likely mentally ill women.

National Post
August 24, 2001

'A cautionary tale' on courtroom honesty
Woman's claim of sex assault wrecked Jamie Nelson's life

By Christie Blatchford

ACQUITTAL COMES AFTER 3 YEARS IN JAIL ON THE TESTIMONY OF A QUESTIONABLE WITNESS: During his time in prison, Jamie Nelson tried to hang himself, and one of his sons was put up for adoption.

TORONTO - Even in an era when a Canadian can no longer count on a single hand the number of those wrongfully convicted in the nation's justice system, the story of Jamie Nelson is sobering and instructive.

Mr. Nelson, 34, yesterday sat still, barely breathing, at Osgoode Hall while a three-member panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal formally overturned his convictions and registered in their stead acquittals.
As he watched Mr. Justice John Laskin complete the paperwork, Mr. Nelson's senses were on such high alert, he said later, "I'm almost convinced I heard him writing."
It was all over in minutes. Mr. Nelson, who lives now in Stratford, Ont., wasn't even asked to get to his feet. There was more ceremony attached to his suicide attempt in June of 1996, when, denied bail, awaiting trial and unable to imagine ever emerging from the quicksand in which he was mired, he made his careful preparations -- waited for lights out; waited for his bunkmate to fall asleep; waited for the guard to make his last walk-past for an hour; fashioned a noose from his bedsheet and affixed one end to the big metal box around the smoke detector in the ceiling; stepped on to the little sink in that cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, and stepped off.

Mr. Nelson stands apart from Guy Paul Morin, Donald Marshall, David Milgaard et al. because he went to federal prison solely on the say-so of a woman who claimed he had raped her, and not, as with his more famous predecessors, as a result of unreliable testimony from jailhouse stoolies or a botched investigation or prosecutorial tunnel vision or because good men in a human justice system made bad mistakes.
Cathie Fordham said that he sexually assaulted her. Mr. Nelson said he didn't. It was a classic he said-she said case.
The tie went to the woman, as so often it does. Ms. Fordham has since been revealed as a girl who cries wolf.
Convicted last summer of one count of public mischief in connection with a false allegation of assault, under a peace bond now in connection with another count of mischief over another false allegation; found by one judge to be an inventive and theatrical witness, Ms. Fordham may have complained to or at least called the police on as many as 55 occasions, seven of which reportedly involved claims of sexual assault.
In a remarkable coincidence, she is slated to appear in court in Ottawa next Monday -- she seeks to change her plea of guilty in another case where she is alleged to have threatened an ex-boyfriend with death -- before Mr. Justice Hugh Fraser, the very judge who on Nov. 1, 1996, found Mr. Nelson guilty of sexual assault (and three related charges) on her evidence.

Ms. Fordham, who turns 31 next month, was yesterday still standing behind that discredited testimony; she appeared on television last evening, duly photographed in shadow so her face was hidden, saying as much.
It does not appear there were any errors -- police, prosecutorial or judicial -- in the way the investigation of Ms. Fordham's original allegation of rape was carried out or at Mr. Nelson's trial. Ms. Fordham appears to have come to the attention of authorities only in 1998, in the wake of a raft of complaints from parolees about the-then "general administrator" of a halfway house called the Vanier Community Support Group.
That administrator was Ms. Fordham.
Contained in a May, 1999, report to Ottawa Crown officials from Ottawa Police Sergeant Keith Patrick were allegations that Ms. Fordham made "sexual advances" toward the male residents of the house, was actually "having sex with two or three of the males," allowed drug use and sometimes used drugs herself, and was an emotional volcano and chronic liar who manipulated the vulnerable men under her control, their limited freedom in part dependent upon what she told their parole officers about them.
It was to a subsequent meeting of Crown and police and Mr. Nelson's original trial lawyer, Ken Hall, that an Ottawa detective came bearing a computer printout of "hits" of Ms. Fordham's various contacts with local police, Mr. Hall said yesterday. He and Mr. Nelson both remember the total number of contacts as 55, with "seven being of a sexual nature," Mr. Hall said. When the mischief charges against Ms. Fordham were added into the mix, Crown attorney Scott Hutchinson consented to the so-called "fresh evidence" application filed by Mr. Nelson's appeal lawyer, Todd Ducharme of Toronto.
In court documents, Mr. Hutchinson said "the entire Crown case" against Mr. Nelson was Ms. Fordham's testimony, noted new evidence showed she "had deliberately fabricated complaints against other individuals" and joined Mr. Ducharme in asking the appeal court to set aside the convictions against Mr. Nelson. Mr. Hutchinson walked over to Mr. Nelson yesterday after the brief proceeding, shook his hand and warmly congratulated him.
Absent state misconduct or mistake, given Mr. Nelson's unwavering protestations of innocence and that he was vigorously represented at trial by an able defence lawyer, Mr. Hall, and given Mr. Nelson's demeanour (he has what Mr. Hall agreed yesterday was "an air of truth," just as some testimony has the unmistakable ring of it), what on Earth happened here that this shy, gentle chef should have spent 1,047 days of his life in jail, lose his business and nearly his life, and see his youngest son, while he was serving his time, be first abandoned by his mother, then taken into the care of a children's aid society, and ultimately adopted?
The answer would appear to be not only that Ms. Fordham is what Mr. Ducharme yesterday called "a complainant who is sophisticated and who lied," but also that she is, simply, female. "This," said Mr. Ducharme, "is a cautionary tale for anyone who suggests that people who make allegations of sexual assault must be telling the truth because why else would they go through the process?"
That notion -- that surely no woman would put herself through the ordeal of having to testify in a public courtroom about such an intimate matter if the crime did not happen -- is the fuel that has seen sexual assault, like child abuse, like criminal harassment, or "stalking" as it is popularly known, become crimes apart from other offences.
Many such allegations have their origins in family and custody disputes; Ms. Fordham, for instance, was a close friend of Mr. Nelson's common-law wife, with whom he was engaged in an ongoing custody-and-access dispute over their son.
He was, in fact, in prison, serving a 120-day sentence for assaulting Ms. Fordham when she alleged that he had been following her with his car, trying to hurt her. When this became inarguable, Ms. Fordham simply said she had been mistaken about the alleged dates.
It was for this reason Mr. Nelson was denied bail pending his rape trial. As he put it yesterday, "I was already in jail for something I didn't do." It was shortly afterwards he tried to hang himself in his cell, saved only when his swinging feet kicked awake his bunkmate, who, Mr. Nelson said with a grateful smile, "almost broke my neck pulling me down."
At the sexual assault trial, Ms. Fordham hardly made a compelling witness. The alleged rape had occurred in the early morning of Feb. 28, 1996. When Ms. Fordham went to the hospital hours later, she complained only of assault, said she'd been beaten four days before by an ex-lover, described bite marks that were not found by doctors or nurses, and made no mention of having been raped.
It was only the following month that she first called police -- and again made no mention of any assault, which she explained in court by saying she thought the officer could figure that out for himself. Nine days later, when she saw her doctor, she claimed of pain and mentioned the alleged rape for the first time. Her first formal complaint to police wasn't until April 29 that year.
By the time Mr. Nelson was arrested, he had no specific recollection of the alleged night in question. He and his girlfriend, with whom he had another son, and her parents, tried to narrow the date down, but their evidence, collectively, was confused -- and understandably so, for indeed nothing particular had happened to them. Mr. Nelson had been at home, with his family.
Justice Fraser, in convicting him later, noted that their evidence was "lacking." The judge pronounced Ms. Fordham's evidence "not perfect," but he found her in the main to be credible. She was, in short, to be forgiven her confusions and contradictions; Mr. Nelson was not.
This was 1996: Advocates for sexual assault centres were in full flight; police forces across the country were getting the message that women did not lie about this sort of thing and that they should treat such allegations as gospel. Jamie Nelson was ripe for the plucking.
He was plucked; the tie went to the girl.

Copyright August, 2001 National Post Online