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Legal Cases involving PAS Allegations & Related Issues

Note: the following references are provided for educational and informational purposes only. The views expressed in a specific article are those of the author or authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Leadership Council.

 

Court cases examining the admissibility of PAS

People v. Fortin, 184 Misc.2d 10, 706 N.Y. S.2d 611 (N.Y. Co. Ct. 2000).

The County Court of Nassau County, New York conducted a Frye hearing as to the admissibility of PAS. Gardner, testified at the hearing. After hearing the all the evidence, the judge held that the defendant in that case had not established general acceptance of Parental Alienation Syndrome within the professional community which would provide a foundation for its admission at trial. The opinion discusses Gardners failure to have PAS subject to legitimate peer review, and also noted frequent inconsistent statements in Gardner 's writings.

Cases discussing PAS admissibility in dicta

In the Interest of T.M.W., 553 So. 2d 260, 262 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1989).

In T.M.W. , a birth father opposed the adoption of his daughter by her stepfather. He attempted to justify his conceded lack of contact or communication with the child for several years by contending the presence of PAS. The court granted an order requiring a psychological evaluation of the child with a view to determining whether PAS was present. The Florida District Court of Appeals overturned the order requiring the examination because it failed to meet Florida 's technical requirements. The court specifically declined to make a finding regarding the general acceptance of PAS, however, it permitted a new order to be issued provided the new order met the requirements of the statute. In a footnote, the reviewing court noted that no determination was made as to the general professional acceptance of PAS as a diagnostic tool and went on further to recite the cautionary words of other commentators:

"When considering the theory of expert testimony discussed in this subsection, it is vitally important to avoid confusion engendered by reference to syndromes.... [A]t the present time experts have not achieved consensus on the existence of a psychological syndrome that can detect a child's sexual abuse. Use of the word syndrome leads only to confusion and to unwarranted and unworkable comparisons to battered child syndrome. The best course is to avoid any mention of syndromes." citing Myers, Expert Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Litigation , 68 Neb. L. Rev. 69 (1989).

Wiederholt v. Fischer, 169 Wis.2d 524, 485 N.W.2d 442 (Ct.App.1992 ).

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals addressed PAS in the context of reviewing a lower courts refusal to transfer custody to the father in order to cure his children of PAS. The court did not address the admissibility of PAS, however, they upheld the lower court ruling noting that this "treatment" is "controversial, there is limited research data, and there are uncertain risks."

People v. Loomis, 172 Misc.2d 265, 658 N.Y.S.2d 787 (Cty. Ct. Suff. Cty. 1997)

"Children are not chargeable with the misconduct of their parents and should not be uprooted from their home in order to discipline a recalcitrant parent." See also Webb v. Knudson, 133 NH 665, 673 (1990)

In the Matter of JF v. LF, [694 NYS2d 592, 1999 N.Y. Slip Op. 99408]

The Family Court became the first New York court to discuss PAS at length in a custody decision. It pointed out that the theory is controversial, and noted that according to one of the expert witnesses who testified, the syndrome is not approved as a term by the American Psychiatric Society, and it is not in DSM-IV as a psychiatric diagnosis.

C.J.L. v. M.W.B., 2003 Ala. Civ. App. LEXIS 100 ( Ala. Civ. App., February 28, 2003)

After the trial court modified custody, awarding the father sole physical custody of the parties' three children. The mother appealed arguing that the trial court erred by admitting and relying on the testimony of Dr. Kirkland who based his recommendation on his diagnosis of parental alienation syndrome ("PAS"). Although the Alabama Court of Appeals ended up affirming the lower court's ruling, they stated: "Although we might, if faced squarely with the question whether evidence concerning an actual diagnosis of PAS was admissible under Frye's "general acceptance" test, be inclined to agree with the mother and find that PAS had not been generally accepted in the scientific community, we do not need to make that decision in this case."

Decisions involving Gardner 's other diagnostic theories and instruments

Tungate v. Kentucky, 901 S.W.2d 41 (Ky. 1995), at 42-43.

The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected Gardner 's testimony in which he planned to testify that a man could not be a pedophile because he did not fit Gardner 's 24 indicators for pedophilia. The court noted numerous discrepancies and illogic in Gardners proposed testimony, and found Gardners indicators to be complex, sometimes contradictory." They ruled that the proffered testimony and conclusions lacked sufficient scientific basis for the opinions offered."

Page v. Zordan, 564 So.2d 500, 502 (Dist. Ct. of App. Fla. 1990).

The "Sex Abuse Legitimacy Scale" (SALS) was rejected because there was no "reasonable degree of recognition and acceptability among the spectrum of scientific or medical experts."  (It should be noted that Gardner developed the SALs in conjection with PAS, an a large portion of his first book on PAS was devoted to the SALs. In addition, the scale included criteria on PAS suggesting that if signs of alienation were present than a sex abuse allegation was less likely to be true. At the same time if the allegation was found not to be true via the SALs than PAS was considered likely to be present. Gardner ultimately withdrew the scale after it was disallowed by the courts and severely criticized in several peer-reviewed articles.

Legal Commentary and Analysis of PAS

Bruch, Carol S. Parental (2001).Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting It Wrong in Child Custody Cases. Family Law Quarterly, 35, 527 Available on-line at http://www.abanet.org/family/familylaw/fam353_06_bruch_527_552.pdf

According to Bruch, the deficiencies in PAS theory are multiple. In addition to its lack of scientific support, Bruch notes the following problems:

First, Gardner confounds a child's developmentally related reaction to divorce and high parental conflict (including violence) with psychosis. In doing so, he fails to recognize parents' and children's angry, often inappropriate, and totally predictable behavior following separation.

Second, possibly as a consequence of these errors and his tail-of-the-elephant view, Gardner vastly overstates the frequency of cases in which children and custodial parents manufacture false allegations or collude to destroy the parent-child relationship.

Third, in this fashion, PAS shifts attention away from the perhaps dangerous behavior of the parent seeking custody to that of the custodial parent. This person, who may be attempting to protect the child, is instead presumed to be lying and poisoning the child. Indeed, for Gardner , the concerned custodial parent's steps to obtain professional assistance in diagnosing, treating, and protecting the child constitute evidence of false allegations.

Fourth, Gardner believes that, particularly in serious cases, the relationship of an alienated child with the rejected parent will be irreparably damaged, probably ending for all time,

Fifth, as these sources suggest, Gardner 's proposed remedy for extreme cases is unsupported and endangers children

Dallam, S. J. (1999). Parental Alienation Syndrome: Is it scientific? In E. St. Charles & L. Crook (Eds.), Expose: The failure of family courts to protect children from abuse in custody disputes. Los Gatos, CA: Our Children Our Children Charitable Foundation.

This article examines the scientific support for PAS along with its underlying assumptions and logic. This theory's relevance to child abuse allegations that arise during child custody disputes is also explored.

Faller, K. C. (1998). The parental alienation syndrome: What is it and what data support it? Child Maltreatment, 3(2), 100-115.

This article describes proposed characteristics and dynamics of PAS, and the methods used to document its presence. Research data related to various tenets of the syndrome are then reviewed. Dr. Faller notes that

"The parental alienation syndrome is a nondiagnostic syndrome. It is only useful for mental health professionals in explaining the symptom presentation if they know from other information that an abuse allegation is a deliberately made, false accusation. The syndrome cannot be used to decide whether the child has been sexually abused. As a consequence, it is of little probative value to courts in making decisions about the presence or absence of sexual abuse .... An additional problem with the parental alienation syndrome is that virtually every symptom described by Gardner as evidence of its presence, and consequent false charges against the accused parent, is open to opposing interpretations" (p. 111).

After reviewing the relevant research Faller concludes:

"No data are provided by Gardner to support the existence of the syndrome and its proposed dynamics. In fact, the research and clinical writing of other professionals leads to a conclusion that some of its tenets are wrong and that other tenets represent a minority view" (p. 112).

Jennifer Hoult. (Spring 2006). The Evidentiary Admissibility of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Science, Law, and Policy, Children's Legal Rights Journal, 26(1) pp. 1-61. (download PDF)

Abstract: Since 1985, in jurisdictions all over the United States, fathers have been awarded sole custody of their children based on claims that mothers alienated these children due to a pathological medical syndrome called Parental Alienation Syndrome ("PAS").  Given that some such cases have involved stark outcomes, including murder and suicide, PAS' admissibility in U.S. courts deserves scrutiny.

This article presents the first comprehensive analysis of the science, law, and policy issues involved in PAS' evidentiary admissibility.  As a novel scientific theory, PAS' admissibility is governed by a variety of evidentiary gatekeeping standards that seek to protect legal fora from the influence of pseudo-science.  This article analyzes every precedent-bearing decision and law review article referencing PAS in the past twenty years, finding that precedent holds PAS inadmissible and the majority of legal scholarship views it negatively.  The article further analyzes PAS' admissibility under the standards defined in Frye v. United States, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Kumho Tire Company v. Carmichael, and Rules 702 and 704(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, including analysis of PAS' scientific validity and reliability; concluding that PAS remains an ipse dixit and inadmissible under these standards. 

Justice for Children, Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Attorneys or Pro Se Litigants, available at the Justice for Children website at www.justiceforchildren.org

This manual was created to educate attorneys and litigants about the lack of scientific validity or reliability of PAS

Justice for Children. (2001). Amicus Curiae Brief of Justice For Children in Linville v. Linville (PDF) .

Brief filed by Justice for Children in a custody case heard by Maryland Court of Special Appeals. The brief provides a Frye-analysis asking whether evidence of PAS is reliable and relevant in child custody cases. discusses the lack of scientific support for PAS rendering it inadmissible under Frye.

Justice for Children. (2004). Amicus Curiae Brief of Justice For Children in Shockome v. Shockome (PDF) (Supreme Court of the State of New York)

Justice for Children urges rejection of PAS and reverse lower courts ruling

McDonald, M. (1998). The myth of epidemic false allegations of sexual abuse in divorce cases. Court Review, 12-19.
http//www.omsys.com/mmcd/courtrev.htm

It is commonly believed that false allegations of sexual abuse in the context of divorce are epidemic, that most allegations made in the context of divorce are made by vindictive mothers and that these allegations are almost always false. These beliefs are not supported by scientific evidence.

Myers, John E. B. (1997). A Mother's Nightmare - Incest: A Practical Legal Guide for Parents and Professionals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

EXCERPT: "In my opinion, much of Gardner 's writing, including his discussion of his parental alienation syndrome, is biased against women. This gender bias infects the syndrome and makes it a powerful tool to undermine the credibility of women who allege child sexual abuse." (p. 137)

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (2006). Navigating Custody & Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide (2nd edition). Reno, NV: NCJFCJ.

EXCERPT from page 24: "The theory positing the existence of "PAS" has been discredited by the scientific community.[53] In Kumho Tire v. Carmichael , 526 U.S. 137 (1999), the Supreme Court ruled that even expert testimony based in the "soft sciences" must meet the standard set in the Daubert [54] case. Daubert, in which the Court re-examined the standard it had earlier articulated in the Frye [55] case, requires application of a multi-factor test, including peer review, publication, testability, rate of error, and general acceptance. "Parental Alienation Syndrome" does not pass this test. Any testimony that a party to a custody case suffers from the syndrome or "parental alienation" should therefore be ruled inadmissible and/or stricken from the evaluation report under both the standard established in Daubert and the earlier Frye standard.[56]." Read whole excerpt and see footnotes

Poliacoff, J. H., Greene, C. L., & Smith, L. (1999). Parental Alienation Syndrome: Frye v. Gardner in the family courts. Family Law Commentator (Florida Bar), 25(4), 19-20, 30-33.
http://www.gate.net/%7Eliz/liz/poliacoff.htm

This article explores the shortcomings of PAS under Frye and Daubert and reviews relevant case law pertaining to the admissibility of PAS in court. Ethical dilemmas that mental health professionals face when serving as experts in these cases are explored and alternative areas for inquiry into the source of impaired parent child relationships occurring in the context of child custody  litigation are offered.

Ragland, E. R. & Fields, H. (2004). Parental Alienation Syndrome: What Professionals Need to Know. NCPCA Update, 16(6-7). Alexandria , VA: American Prosecutors Research Institute.
Part one: NCPCA Update Newsletter Volume 16, Number 6, 2003
Part two: NCPCA Update Newsletter Volume 16, Number 7, 2003

The purpose of this article is to briefly discuss the major premises upon which PAS is based, and to identify key weaknesses. Part 2 of this Update considers case law and strategies for meeting PAS defenses.

Smith, R., & Coukos, P. (1997, Fall). Fairness and Accuracy in Evaluations of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Custody Determinations. The Judges Journal, 1997, 38-56.

EXCERPT ". . .Although both common sense and the prevailing legal standard dictate careful consideration of evidence in domestic or family violence when determining custody, allegations of domestic violence and/or child sexual abuse made during a divorce or custody proceeding are not always taken seriously. These allegations often are wrongly perceived as false because they are asserted in a contentious environment and because of the widespread myth that parents fabricate domestic violence and child abuse allegations in order to gain an advantage in court. When combined with the misuse of psychological syndrome evidence, the perception that a parent has fabricated the allegations often results in unfair retribution against the reporting protective parent. (p. 39)

Thoennes, N. (1988, Summer). Child Sexual Abuse: Whom Should a Judge Believe? What Should a Judge Believe? The Judges' Journal, 27, 14-.

This article provides an overview of the results of a 2-year study completed by the Denver-based Research Unit of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts which explored the incidence and validity of sexual abuse allegations in custody cases.  Though nation-wide reports of sexual abuse made to child protective service agencies have increased dramatically, those in custody disputes have not. Contrary to the popular myth that sexual allegations in custody cases are relatively common, between 1985 and 1987 the study found that only 2 to 6% of custody cases in the 12 states participating in the study involved allegations of sexual abuse.

The categorization that these allegations are typically false was also challenged by the present study. Half of the allegations were believed by the investigators to be true, and in another 17% determination of the validity could not be made with any degree of certainty. The remaining third of the cases were not believed to involve abuse. However, in most of the cases which were not substantiated, the allegations were believed to have been made in good faith and based on genuine suspicions.  This study refutes the notion that sexual abuse allegations in the context of custody and visitation cases are now epidemic, as well as the idea that these cases are commonly motivated by a reporting parent who is vindictive or seriously impaired. There is no evidence from the present research to suggest that a significant number of parents are using fabricated reports to win custody battles.

Walker, L. E., Brantley, K. L., & Rigsbee, J. A. (2005). A Critical Analysis of Parental Alienation Syndrome and Its Admissibility in the Family Court. Journal of Child Custody, 1(2), 47-74. [download from Haworth $]

ABSTRACT: Over the past three decades, a syndrome, titled Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), has been proposed to explain behaviors by a child who refuses to spend time with a parent and actually denigrates that parent within the context of a child custody dispute. The association of certain negative behaviors by one parent (called the 'alienator') towards the other parent (called the 'target parent') are said to be the cause of the child's (called 'alienated child') behavior. Although some mental health professionals and child custody evaluators, attorneys, and judges have been quick to accept and admit PAS as evidence in these disputes, especially in those that have cross-complaints alleging family violence, there has been no consistent empirical or clinical evidence that PAS exists or that the alienator's behavior is the actual cause of the alienated child's behavior towards the target parent. It is argued here that the PAS construct itself is flawed and its use by custody evaluators to justify placement with the rejected parent may result in more serious damage to the child who is taken away from the parent to whom the child has bonded. These authors suggest that the PAS argument has been accepted by some courts that seem almost eager to punish the so-called alienating parent without regard for the immediate or long-term impact on the child. PAS has had difficulty meeting Daubert or Frye admissibility standards in criminal courts but few family courts have held hearings to determine its scientific integrity. This article attempts to help those working with custody issues understand how the PAS construct fails to meet scientific standards and should not be admissible in courts.

Williams, R.J. (2001). Should judges close the gate on PAS and PA? Family Court Review, 39(3), 267-282.

Wood, C. L. (1994). The parental alienation syndrome: A dangerous aura of reliability. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 27, 1367-1415.
http://fact.on.ca/Info/pas/wood94.htm

Attorney Cheri Wood (1994) suggests that although Gardner 's self-published theories do not have any empirical grounding, they have been given a "dangerous and undeserved aura of reliability and trustworthiness" in the courtroom. Wood concludes that PAS should not be admissible in court for the following reasons: (1) because it has not gained acceptance among experts in the field, (2) because of difficulties in determining causation, and (3) because it endangers children.

Zirogiannis, L. (2001). Evidentiary issues with parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), 334-343.

 

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