The case for recognizing parental alienation becomes stronger by the day. When I say “recognizing” it, I mean both legally and for its psychological effects on children. As to the former, I can say that admitting evidence of parental alienation of children in child custody cases should happen without question. As to whether Parental Alienation Syndrome or Parental Alienation Disorder should be a discrete category of psychological malady recognized by the APA, I’m not qualified to say. But the issue in family court is whether a parent is attempting to turn a child away from the other parent, i.e. interfering with the child’s relationship with that other parent.
That’s a far cry from whether those attempts are or aren’t successful at doing the type of psychological damage to the child that would be necessary for him/her to manifest the symptoms that constitute a psychological syndrome or disorder. If one parent is engaged in a campaign of parental alienation, irrespective of its emotional effects on the child, the parent’s behavior is clearly relevant to deciding whether that parent is fit to have custody. As a legal matter, that’s clear and non-controversial. That’s what opponents of PAS or PAD don’t get and don’t want others to get. They want all evidence of parental behavior that tends to alienate children from their other parent kept from judges who decide custody issues. It’s a patently absurd notion that they pretend has something to do with the fact that, as yet, the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t included PAS or PAD in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Because it hasn’t yet decided to do that, the anti-PAS folks have taken to calling PAS “discredited.” It is in no way “discredited.” The accurate statement would be that it has not yet been “accredited,” i.e. officially recognized by the APA. But now they have another problem in their lonely fight to keep important information from judicial decision makers. As this article shows, Brazil has now passed a law defining and punishing parental alienation of children (The Family Law Directory, 9/7/10). The translation from the Portuguese is admittedly a bit hard to follow, but here are the salient features of the new law governing the country’s 200 million people:
Section 2 is considered an act of parental alienation interference with psychological training of the child or adolescent promoted or induced by a parent, grandparent or by having the child or adolescent under his authority, custody or supervision so dismissive parent or adversely affecting the establishment or maintenance of ties with it. Sole Paragraph. Exemplary are forms of parental alienation, and acts as declared by the judge or discovered by expertise, or charged directly with the aid of third parties: I – opening campaign of disqualification of the parent’s conduct in the exercise of parenthood; II – hinder the exercise of parental authority; III – hinder contact with child or teen parent; IV – to hamper the right of regulated family life; V – the parent deliberately omit relevant personal information about the child or adolescent, including educational, medical and changes of address; VI – to present false complaint against parent, family against this or against grandparents, to obstruct or hinder their coping with the child or adolescent; VII – change the address to the remote site, without justification, in order to hamper the coexistence of the child or adolescent with the other parent, with this family or grandparents.
Article 3 The performance of an act of parental alienation hurts fundamental right of the child or adolescent family life healthier, prevent the implementation of affection in relationships with parent and the family group, is moral abuse against the child or adolescent and noncompliance with duties attached to parental authority or from guardianship or custody.
The new law goes on to declare that allegations of parental alienation are to be considered priorities by courts and accorded expedited procedures to deal with. The judge will appoint mental health expert(s) to evaluate the allegations, and, if parental alienation is found to exist, may assess either criminal or civil penalties, including changing custody and terminating the parental rights of the alienating parent. Judges are further instructed that preference in custody is to be given to the parent that facilitates the child’s relationship with the other parent. That last is what so terrifies the anti-PAS crowd. The more courts take cognizance of parental alienation, the more they require not only that parents refrain from alienation, but that they also facilitate the relationship of the child with the other parent. That means, as a practical matter, that custodial parents, 84% of whom are mothers, will be required at a minimum to honor the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent, i.e. fathers. But more than that, recognition of parental alienation by courts will result in the requirement that the custodial parent promote the non-custodial parent’s relationship with his/her child. In short, the anti-PAS crowd sees PAS as a proxy for both enforcement of visitation and greater parental rights for fathers. They’re right on both counts and they don’t like it a bit. That Brazil has passed a law making parental alienation both a civil and a criminal offense shows better than anything to date, just how much on the wrong side of history anti-PAS folks are. Thanks to Gordon for the heads-up.