The Truth Behind Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) — part 1

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a theory developed by Richard Gardner, MD, who claimed that PAS is “a disorder of children, arising almost exclusively in child-custody disputes, in which one parent (usually the mother) programs the child to hate the other parent (usually the father).” The theory was developed in 1985 and was based on Gardner’s own clinical experience, and not on scientific research of any kind. Even still, Gardner’s theory has had a profound and damaging effect on the family court systems since he introduced it.

Gardner has managed to convince the media and many court systems of the existence of PAS and ever since, protective mothers have been losing custody of their children, to abusive fathers, at an alarming rate. This is especially true in cases where sexual abuse has occurred and has been brought to light by the protective mother, during the custody part of the divorce process. Because of the popularization of this unfounded theory, children are now being given into the hands of their abusers for unsupervised visitation, joint and even sole custody, with orders for the protective mothers to have, at best, supervised and limited visitation rights. Why? Because the courts now believe that in order to “cure” PAS, the children must be placed with the parent who is accused of the abuse, and have little to no contact from the other parent, because it is assumed that the accusation of abuse is almost always false and a tactic, used mainly by women, to gain custody.

The statistics do not bear this out.

Studies document that at least 49 percent of the recent maternal allegations about incest are true, not false, and that neither mothers nor child advocates allege paternal incest more often during a custody battle than at other times. — Chesler, Phyllis (2011). Mothers On Trial. Lawrence Hill Books. (p.346)

Alarmingly, no one in the court systems has seemed to look deeper into Gardner’s theories and beliefs, let alone question the lack of real research that his damaging theory is based on. If they had, they may have thought twice about simply accepting this junk science as truth, and thereby irreparably damaging the lives of many, many mothers and children.

Gardner has self-published all of his work. He has authored more than 250 books and articles and has testified as an expert in more than 400 cases. A little deeper look into some of these writings will reveal a very concerning belief system of a very disturbed man.

Richard Gardner has authored two books in which he details his beliefs on PAS and pedophilia: Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited, Cresskill, (1991), NJ: Creative Therapeutics; and True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse, Cresskill, (1992) NJ: Creative Therapeutics.

The following are just a few quotes from these books and a few other papers by Garnder. To simplify the citations below, I’ve used short forms for the two book titles.


What Gardner says about pedophilia

“There is a bit of pedophilia in every one of us.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited (p. 118)

“It is because our society overreacts to it [pedophilia] that children suffer.”
True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse (pp. 594-5)

“Pedophilia may enhance the survival of the human species by serving ‘procreative purposes’.”
True and False (pp. 24-5)

“Children are naturally sexual and may initiate sexual encounters by ‘seducing’ the adult.”
Gardner, R.A. (1986). Child Custody Litigation: A Guide for Parents and Mental Health Professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics (p. 93).

“If the sexual relationship is discovered, the child is likely to fabricate so that the adult will be blamed for the initiation.”
Gardner, R.A. (1986). Child Custody Litigation: A Guide for Parents and Mental Health Professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics (p. 93).

“Sex abuse is not necessarily traumatic; the determinant as to whether sexual molestation will be traumatic to the child, is the social attitude toward these encounters.”
True and False (pp. 670-71)

His ideas on therapy for children who have been abused sexually

“The child should be told that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. The sexual exploitation has to be put on the negative list, but positives as well must be appreciated.”
True and False (p. 572)

“Older children may be helped to appreciate that sexual encounters between an adult and a child are not universally considered to be reprehensible acts. The child might be told about other societies in which such behavior was and is considered normal. The child might be helped to appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who said, ‘Nothing’s either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ ”
True and False (p. 549)

His ideas on and advice to mothers who have discovered the abuse

“If the mother has reacted to the abuse in a hysterical fashion, or used it as an excuse for a campaign of denigration of the father, then the therapist does well to try and ‘sober her up’. . . Her hysterics . . . will contribute to the child’s feeling that a heinous crime has been committed and will thereby lessen the likelihood of any kind of rapproachment with the father. One has to do everything possible to help her put the ‘crime’ in proper perspective. She has to be helped to appreciate that in most societies in the history of the world, such behavior was ubiquitous [i.e., everywhere], and this is still the case.”
True and False (pp. 576-7)

“Perhaps she can be helped to appreciate that in the history of the world his behavior has probably been more common than the restrained behavior of those who do not sexually abuse their children.”
True and False (pp. 585)

“Her increased sexuality may lessen the need for her husband to return to their daughter for sexual gratification.”
True and False (p. 585)

What does he say should happen to the perpetrators?

“He has had bad luck with regard to the place and time he was born with regard to social attitudes toward pedophilia. However, these are not reasons to condemn himself.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria (p. 119)

“The removal of a pedophilic parent from the home should only be seriously considered after all attempts at treatment of the pedophilia and rapprochement with the family have proven futile.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria (p. 119)

“He must learn to control himself if he is to protect himself from the Draconian punishments meted out to those in our society who act out their pedophilic impulses.”
True and False (pp. 585-592)

“Therapy with the father should not be spent focusing on the primary problem (i.e., sexual molestation). Instead, therapy should be spent ‘talking about other things’ as the goal of therapy is ‘to help people forget about their problems’.”
True and False (pp. 585-592)

How does he want society to respond to this heinous crime?

“One of the steps that society must take to deal with the present hysteria is to ‘come off it’ and take a more realistic attitude toward pedophilic behavior.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria (p. 120)

“The Draconian punishments meted out to pedophiles go far beyond what I consider to be the gravity of the crime.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria (p. 118)

“Abolish mandated reporting of child sexual abuse. Do away with immunity for reporters of child abuse. Create federally-funded programs to assist those claiming to have been falsely accused of child sexual abuse.”
Gardner, R.A. (1995). Written testimony on HR3588 – Proposed revision of the child abuse prevention and treatment act (CAPTA) (Public Law 93-247).

“The removal of a pedophilic parent from the home should only be seriously considered after all attempts at treatment of the pedophilia and rapprochement with the family have proven futile. Pedophiles who abuse children outside of the home should first be given the opportunity for community treatment. If that fails then and only then should some kind of forced incarceration be considered.”
Sex Abuse Hysteria (p. 119)

Quotes and factual information cited by The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence (Click here [Internet Archive link]) unless otherwise specified in the text


I think we have sampled enough of Mr. Gardner’s views on sexual abuse to see that his PAS theory is clearly his attempt to allow abusers to get away with their abusive ways, and to justify their actions. It’s all about blame shifting and not having to pay any consequences for one’s own actions.

Our children are paying the price for this sick model that has no basis in reality. They are paying a heavy, heavy price, all because one man decided to con the courts and the media, in the name of advocacy, when in reality, he and his theory are helping thousands of abusers get away with pure evil in plain sight.

[UPDATE added by Barbara Roberts, April 1 2014]  We highly recommend this video. Please share it widely.

Quote from the 16:20 mins into video:

About 20-25 years ago, Dr Richard Gardner developed a concept called the Parental Alienation Syndrome. He made up symptoms and self-published books and articles about this syndrome, and marketed it as a device to be used in child custody litigation. Although he claimed, in later years, that it did not apply to cases involving domestic violence, its primary use all along has been by abusive men against women who are trying to protect their children.

It has been disavowed by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. But a lot of custody lawyers use it or attempt to use it to obtain custody awards in favor of their abusive clients. — Allen Bailey, Attorney, Anchorage, Alaska.


Posts in this series

Part 1: Is this post.

Part 2: The Real Parental Alienation

Further Reading

Update to Deborah’s post on Richard Gardner and Parental Alienation Syndrome

47 thoughts on “The Truth Behind Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) — part 1”

  1. As a product of pedophilia I would like to see this man taken away in a straight jacket and locked away where he belongs. There may be many in this world who don’t see anything wrong with this practice, but we live in a fallen sinful world with evil lurking all around us. How anyone can think this sin is even remotely acceptible is beyong all understanding. Children, especially young children who know nothing of sex, cannot make this up. They either have experienced the abuse or they haven’t. Any judge who does not fully investigate the details of any accusation of sexual abuse in children should be locked away with Gardner.
    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most never say a word. I know I didn’t, but I begged my mother to leave my step-father before I was a teenager, but her theory was that if she did she would probably end up with someone worse. My father abandoned us when I was a year old and my sister was 7 months away from being born.

    Saying that everyone has a bit of pedophilia in them is obsurd. He may as well say murder is alright because everyone thinks about stabbing someone 57 times. I can see why he is self published. No one else would touch that can of worms.

  2. Note: Multiple sources confirm that Gardner committed suicide in May of 2003. His son Andrew reported that Gardner had advancing symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a painful neurological syndrome, had been distraught over this and chose to take his own life. However, his theory on PAS is still help up by Fathers Rights organizations and through out many court systems today.

  3. For the court system to accept this insanity so easily makes the case that many in the courts are abusers themselves

    1. Many believe women are lying and don’t believe they should take these children away from their fathers, no matter what they have done. It’s very scary.

    1. Yes, Father’s rights groups have latched onto his theories and use them to help abusive fathers win custody battles.

  4. It is sickening that the courts give any credibility whatsoever to this man…
    So many young lives are being damaged…
    So much of truth is being twisted …
    So many in positions of power are going to have to ONEDAY give an answer…

  5. If I may make an observation here, it really seems like to me the only thing this sorry jerk was doing was writing books and using “psychology,” or rather, HIS IDEA of psychology, and the legal system, to try to justify his own sick desires. Anyway, very informative post, Deborah. Good to have you here at ACFJ. 🙂 I better navigate to another ACFJ post, though. This guy is REALLY making me nauseous!

    1. Yes, that makes sense. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was a pedophile himself and that his warped views were nothing more than an attempt to normalize his own pathology.

  6. My abuser sent four letters to the judge before the hearing. They were full of poison about what a supposed evil, manipulative and atrocious mother I am in alienating the kids from him. There is no justice. Where is God? Why do the Psalms about God’s avenging His own against wicked men make me feel even more hurt and hopeless?

    1. Because you don’t understand why He hasn’t intervened for you. I don’t understand that either. I struggle with that very thing too. The only thing we can do is cry out to God with our pain and keep fighting for our kids. Keep fighting. Look for Protective mother’s groups and keep fighting for them. The battle isn’t over yet.

      1. In the recent movie God is Not Dead there was a scene in which a woman with Dementia suddenly has a lucid moment and explains very well the reason wicked people are often allowed to continue in their sin. She said that the Devil knows that people who have everything they want will never see their need for God and so these people are often lost forever, their sin being a jail cell except that it’s nice and comfortable so that they will see no need to leave. The door is always open (free will) but one day it slams shut (death) and it’s too late. It’s hard to understand, but I think sometimes wicked people are allowed to prosper until that door slams shut, and then they have eternity to deal with their sin and it’s consequences.

  7. This is mind boggling and leaves me speechless.

    Whenever his nonsense is used in court, it must be incumbent on the woman’s lawyers to refute it with full disclosure of this lunatic’s absurd theories, so the judge can see where the nonsense is coming from. He has no credibility at all.

    Wow. Just, wow. That anybody would quote him in a serious context just leaves me dumbfounded.

  8. Wow! I had a physical reaction reading this. It’s absolutely disgusting what this man has written. I feel sick that material such as this is out there. I did a quick search on PAS and Gardner’s book on PAS is still being recommended as suggested reading on some websites. It’s horrible to think people would read his stuff on PAS and possibly then his other books.

    I am also horrified with the laws in Australia. Abusive fathers are often given unsupervised visits with their children despite their history of abuse and violence. I know of several women who have been beaten black and blue by their ex partners and have been forced to send their children to their fathers for unsupervised visits. It’s saddens me so much when I see the fear and horror on these women’s faces talking about how they feel powerless to protect their children.

  9. Deborah, I am so glad you have brought this info to the blog. I had read about Gardner’s views some time ago, but never got round to writing a post about them.

    What does it mean that so many people involved in the family court system have swallowed this poison? To me, it suggests that there are far more perpetrators of incest than society realises. I read the phrase “an epidemic of incest” somewhere on the web recently. This epidemic may not be all that new a phenomenon, though I would guess it is getting bigger because of internet porn corrupting people who, pre-internet, might not have become so corrupt.

    For so many people who work in the family law system (lawyers, judges, barristers, psychologists, guardians ad litem, etc) to be believing Gardner’s garbage . . . at least some of them must be perpetrators themselves. Otherwise how could the lie have got so much traction?

  10. My children are suffering from “PRESENT” traumatic disorder, added on to the intense “post” trauma that they suffered when their daddy filed for divorce after beating their mama in front of them. The court ordered joint custody and a very short period of counselling that was supposed to help them relax and get over their fear of him that the GAL said was caused by my overreacting to abuse to me. They insisted he did the children no harm. Now they are forced to spend long periods of unsupervised time with the man who terrorized them and there is nothing I can do to stop it. This is real life and I am living it. This is America and there is very little freedom for children who have been traumatized. God help us!!!

    1. Rachel, I’m so sorry to hear this. I understand your pain. Many of us here do. I can only tell you that what saved my children from h-ll on earth was not the court system, or lawyers, or GALs. It was God Himself. During the vicious court battle I learned that no one really cared about the kids but me and God and so I started praying like their lives depended on it. I read the Bible daily, sought and found very good Christian counseling, and put my children in God’s hands trusting that somehow He would protect them, and He did. I can’t even explain how it all happened but eventually it all worked out so that my children are only with their dad a total of 24 hours per month even though he’s allowed to have them much more. And to the shock of my own attorney the ex agreed at the last moment to no overnight visits. She told me that she had never seen that and that no judge would have ordered it. There’s really no explanation whatsoever except that it was a miracle. I will pray for a miracle for your children. Put them in His hands. He cares for them like no one on earth does.

    2. Rachel, I am so sorry to here this. Why a GAL gets such a large voice in this is beyond my comprehension. Watching anyone being beaten would be devastating for anyone with a conscience, but beating their mother in front of your children…….my heart breaks for them and you. Where is CPS in all of this? Or are they only interested in their physical welfare and not considering the child’s emotional and mental state. It just seems that in these cases that CPS or some kind of agency would act in the child’s interest over ruling the judge and the GAL.

      1. Brenda,

        Sadly, the courts don’t listen very well to CPS in these cases. They often ignore them, as well as therapists and doctors. They depend heavily on GALS. So GALS are who we need to be educating.

      2. Deborah, I don’t know about other places, but where I live a GAL is an attorney appointed by the court on a rotating basis. I certainly hope they are not teaching this garbage in law school, but after reading about what books are on seminary libraries it would not surprise me at all.

      3. BTW, for those who don’t know, GAL stands for Guardian ad litem. It is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests. At least, that’s what I understand by the term: correct me if I’m wrong. In Australia we have such lawyers appointed by the court, but we don’t call them GALs. So far as I can recall from when I went thru the Oz Family Court, that person is just called the child’s solicitor.

      4. Barb,

        GAL’s are “suppose” to look out for the child’s best interest, but they more often sympathize with an adult involved. My daughter was appointed a GAL after her father died. The trustee was his niece who sweet talked her way through the GAL. She squandered every penny and my daughter wound up with nothing. It was suppose to be for her college education. That did not happen. The money was gone before she finished high school. My daughter paid an attorney to try to have her garnished or put in jail. She had no money and didn’t own anything of value so the case was dropped. Fortunately, her father didn’t take his visitation very long and he disappeared until we were informed of his passing 2 months after he died. This was all very traumatic for her. She has taken a few college classes, but has to work full time to support herself. I don’t have the money to help her. She earns too much for assistance, but not enough to afford to finish college.
        I hate the fact that GAL’s are allowing legal abuse for our kids. I feel even worse for those of you that are experiencing having to put a smile on your faces while you send you children out the door for weekends with a person who you know might turn to rage at any moment. God be with you and them.

    3. Rachel, yes this is what American courts are doing to our children. It’s what Father’s Rights groups advocate for in the courts. And it’s spreading. There are protective mothers groups out there, organizing. And we need to use them, to fight for our children. You can still fight this decision. They can help you. Many women have won on appeal. It can happen.

      The Fathers Rights groups are very well organized and some are led by celebrity, which is how they gain traction in the media. It’s how the theories of Gardner are believed. They advocate Gardner’s theories with the courts and even train court personnel in it. They are actively pursuing this agenda. Protective mothers are beginning to fight back but they need us all to speak out with the truth. There is hope. But it will take us not standing for this atrocity any more. The courts need to be educated on what abuse really is, just as our churches do. That’s why this article. Exposing lies. Now to get this info into the hands of court personel.

    4. Rachel I believe your experience of this is similar to countless other women and children’s stories. The injustice being handed down by the ‘justice system’ is mind boggling.

      I agree that your children (and you) anre suffering PRESENT trauma as well as lots of “post” trauma. And calling it a ‘dis’order is in some ways wrong: because that could imply that you are the one who is ‘dis’ — wrong in the ways you are responding to the trauma. The only ‘dis’ about this is the dishonourable way the abusers and the courts are handling this stuff. That’s where the disorder is. Its a moral, ethical disorder of the highest magnitude.

      Having said my little soap box bit on that, I shall add that we like the term “Continuing Traumatic Stress Disorder”. I don’t konw whether I coined it or someone else did — doesn’t matter. To call it just ‘post’ is wrong when the abuse is still continuing.

  11. Psalm 37, I have spent over two years being subjected to my extremely abusive to be ex’s spewing of vicious lies about me to many people, including my family and business associates. It caused me untold grief and pain. I would read the Psalms and Proverbs and ask God why he did not intervene. I knew that in time He would, but would ask, “When, Lord…?”

    God has now avenged on my behalf. I can see it in my life situations. My abuser however is still trying to destroy me by alienating my grown children against me and God knows what other things he is up to. I am in a better place now, but next month I need to return to my home town for awhile. I have almost no support there. I need to get unfinished matters tied up and will need to move away from that place after the legal work is done.

    I realize that my to be ex is my enemy and that he will try to use almost any manner of tools to try and destroy me, especially while I am there. But I am not afraid, because God is my powerful and everlasting advocate, and He will protect me. I will truly be free after almost 45 years of marriage to a cruel and hateful minded individual.

    1. Nowfree,

      Thanks for your reply, but in my situation, I have an absolutely wicked judge who is all about father’s rights and both he and the absolutely wicked abuser have victimized me for 6 years of legal abuse. I’ve started to feel God doesn’t care about me because there is never any relief from this and certainly no justice on my behalf. Things are getting worse, God is still silent, and our family’s faith is being shaken.

      1. I will likely need to go before a judge again if my to be ex persists in his games and lies. He did take me to court less than a year ago, even though he did not give proper disclosure of his assets. How he got away with taking me to court, I don’t know, but I do know that I should have been more assertive with my lawyer. Nothing was really accomplished but further draining of my funds.

        I have been trying to contact my lawyer, and he has not been forthcoming, and that is an understatement. There are very few people on my side. Being alienated from my children and grandchildren is the worst part of my separation from the ex.

        No matter how painful and unfair things are, never doubt God’s love and guidance for you. Sometimes my faith was hanging on a very thin thread, but God in His mercy and overwhelming love helped me through. The way is still hard but with God’s guidance, I am getting there, step by step.

        My to be ex chose not to be involved with my family; in fact, with the exception of my mother, he hated them all, saying they were all sick. What heinous, horrible and vicious lies. No-one ever said anything bad about him. They treated him very well. I hid everything about his abuse for decades. Now I have reconnected with my wonderful family. So I feel very blessed indeed.

  12. I think Gardner is a pedophile and is using the system and our childern to carry out these sick acts. I’m sure he has a lot of supporters, as pedophiles stick together and are drawn together. His BS theories are just that what a disgusting human being.

  13. It is not often that I find myself exclaiming anger and horror out loud. It may not be right to say that I’m glad that man is dead, but I am. I am still angry that anyone would accept such harmful nonsense.

  14. About 20-25 years ago, Dr Richard Gardner developed a concept called the Parental Alienation Syndrome. He made up symptoms and self-published books and articles about this syndrome, and marketed it as a device to be used in child custody litigation. Although he claimed, in later years, that it did not apply to cases involving domestic violence, its primary use all along has been by abusive men against women who are trying to protect their children.

    It has been disavowed by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. But a lot of custody lawyers use it or attempt to use it to obtain custody awards in favour of their abusive clients. — Allen Bailey, Attorney, Anchorage, Alaska.

    This statement by Allen Bailey can be viewed 16:20 minutes into this video:
    Domestic Violence Continued: Contested Child Custody

    We highly recommend this video. Please share it widely. I have added it to the bottom of this post by Deborah.

    The video was made by Sharon Araji [Internet Archive link], Retired Professor Emerita, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado, Denver. It was uploaded to Vimeo in 2010.

  15. I asked Deborah to review this video before we publicised it here. She gave me this feedback about it:

    It is very good and is consistent with everything I have read and seen on this before. Lundy is in it as well. It shows the barriers women face when trying to protect their children in securing custody and keeping the children safe from the abusers.

    It talks about the damage it does to the kids to be with their abusers. It has interviews with lawyers, judges, law enforcement, protective mothers and court advocates.

    Very informative and helpful information for protective mothers. It goes over strategies lawyers of batters use to tie protective parent’s hands and help abusers win the cases. It goes over PAS and how it is used against women, as a strategy. It talks about the need for lawyers and judges/court personnel to get consistent training on DV.

    1. I cannot get the sound to work. I am trying to watch it on a Mac. Could that be it? Any tips would be appreciated.

      1. Hi Ruth,
        I just checked the video with my ipad and I have sound. I will check with Barb and see if she has had any problems with sound as she also has a Mac. Maybe check to see if the settings aren’t on mute by mistake or down low.

  16. Gardner should be entirely eliminated from any parental alienation materials and studies. That he is so disturbingly pedophillic does not in itself mean that Parental alienation does not exist though. That is a logical fallacy.
    In my own tragic parental alienation case, I see daily how courts make wrong conclusions, give the worse parent custody, …

    [Eds, some of this comment removed because it would have hurt and triggered some of our readers.]

    1. I agree with you. PAS does exist and while it can be from either parent, I have personally seen it from 3 mothers towards the dad. Now these 3 mothers were the abuser in the marriage and the man the victim. The abusive person in the marriage with children is very likely to try and poison the kids against the other parent. It’s just that the abusive one “looks good” and may be the pretend victim in court, thus recruiting the court (unknowingly) to their false portrayal.

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