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Parental Alienation Syndrome – You are not alone

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a burgeoning psychological issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in Family Law issues involving children.

What is it?

The term Parental Alienation Syndrome was originally coined in the 1980s to describe a situation where a child, on an ongoing basis, belittles and insults one parent without justification, due to a combination of factors, including indoctrination or programming by the other parent, and then the child’s subsequent attempts to denigrate the target parent.

While PAS is not recognised as an official disorder by the psychological or legal communities, its ideology has continued to gain momentum over the years and the symptoms that form the concept of parental alienation, in particular the estrangement of a child from a parent, is an incredibly important consideration in many family law proceedings.

As a parent what should I be looking out for?

If you are in the middle of a separation or family law proceedings, and there are children involved, it is important for both parents to maintain as healthy a relationship with their children as possible. It is an equally important responsibility of both parents to ensure that the emotional strain of separation, divorce and legal proceedings is shielded from children as much as possible. It is important to ensure that feelings of anger, betrayal, and bitterness are not used to influence how children feel and respond to parents.

There are a number of elements of PAS you should be aware of. Should you come across any of these elements it is important to communicate with your children, your former partner, other members of the family and legal professionals to ensure that the right course of action is taken.

Key identifiers include when your child:

• outwardly denigrates you

• will try and justify their hostility

• may show a lack of ambivalence in their feelings

• may claim these feelings are totally their own

• may support the denigrating parent without justification or consideration

• may show an absence of guilt

• may repeat thoughts and sentiments of the denigrating parent

• exhibits hostile behaviours towards extended family and friends

Parental Alienation in our Courts

Parental Alienation is becoming an increasingly important consideration in Family Court proceedings with a number of proceedings in recent years sighting alienation as a factor for consideration in the decisions.

CASE STUDY:
Sawyer & Reid [2009] FMCAfam 228 (6 March 2009)

In this case, the custody of two boys, aged 10 and 8, came into question when the Court examined the influence and manipulation of the children by their father.

The children indicated in this case that they wished to live with their father, and while the Court determined that they had a close attachment to their father, the children’s antagonistic attitude towards their mother was in many ways manipulated by the father.

Perhaps the most disturbing evidence of this is the fact that one of the boys alleged that he had been assaulted by his mother. Upon investigation it was determined that the child had actually assaulted the mother, essentially acting out a scenario he had seen between his mother and father when he was younger.

This is clearly indicative of PAS, as the child was merely repeating the antagonistic, and violent, behaviour he had witnessed from his father.

Where to now?

If you are in the midst of a separation or family law proceedings and consider that elements of PAS are occurring it is important to communicate this to your family, legal professionals, psychologists, family therapists and counsellors. Most of all it is important to communicate with your children. To open an honest and positive channel of communication is the first step towards improvement and ensuring that PAS does not have a negative impact on the time you spend with your children.

For further information, contact the Family Law Team

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