Dr. Amy Baker: ‘No Question’ PAS Meets Legal Standard of Admissibility

Dr. Amy Baker says that “there is no question that parental alienation meets” the legal standard in many states.  Read her article here (Psychology Today, 7/22/11).

Those who oppose the admissibility of PAS or the testimony of experts on PAS sound increasingly desperate in their attacks on it.  As I pointed out not long ago, another article in Psychology Today made blatantly false claims about PAS (it’s only used by fathers against mothers) and cited long-out-of-date data in support of their claims.  Another tactic is to smear the originator of the term, Dr. Richard Gardner, who is now dead and can’t defend himself or his research.

The knee-jerk reaction to PAS has little or nothing to do with science and much to do with a desire to deny fathers custody of and access to children.  Anyone who reads even a little bit about PAS well knows that both mothers and fathers are guilty of alienating their children.  So the claim that PAS is nothing more than an attack by fathers on mothers’ parental rights is flat untrue.

What is true is that mothers have 84% of primary custody in this country.  Therefore, it is statistically more probable that it will be a mother who’s alienating a child from a father than the converse.  So those opposed to fathers having access to children decry the growing awareness and acceptance of PAS as a blow to mothers’ hegemony in family court. 

But theirs is a losing battle and Dr. Baker’s writing will give them little comfort.

Her piece in Psychology Todayis less scientific than legal.  She points out that, generally speaking, there are two standards for the admissibility of expert scientific testimony.  Different states adhere to different standards.  The federal system and some states apply the Daubert standard, so named for a U.S. Supreme Court case almost 20 years ago.  The other is the Frye standard, named for a federal case in the 1920s, and used by certain states.

The Daubert standard is stricter than the Frye standard because it was aimed at keeping “junk science” out of courtrooms.  Frye requires only that the particular scientific theory, technique, discipline, etc. be generally accepted as reliable within the relevant scientific community. 

Baker says that parental alienation and its subset, PAS, unquestionably meets the Frye standard.

In light of the hundreds of articles (not all empirical) that have been published in this country and around the world, there is no question that parental alienation meets that standard. This is so despite the fact that there is some controversy regarding it. The reason is that much of the controversy is about various facets of the theory but not with the theory per se. For example, many of the critics object to PAS being included in the DSM or worry that PAS can be misused by the courts, or complain that too little is known about treatment.

Each of these arguments starts with the assumption that parental alienation exists, that is, that some children can be manipulated by one to reject the other parent.

That’s a hugely important point.  The anti-dad crowd is fond of calling PAS “discredited.”  That’s their way of saying it hasn’t yet been approved as a discrete syndrome or disorder for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 

A small handful of critics do disagree with the theory in toto but they are not social scientists nor do they offer compelling criticisms because they grossly misrepresent the theory and the background of Dr. Gardner, the person who coined the name for the phenomenon.

So yes there’s a debate in the psychological community about whether PAS should be included in the DSM.  But there is no debate about the existence of parental alienation or its harmful effects on children.  That’s why you see courts taking those things for granted when confronted with evidence of alienation.

Baker goes on to sketch the Daubert requirements.

Other states rely on the Daubert standards for admissibility of expert testimony. Daubert presents criteria for deciding whether scientific testimony should be allowed; (1) validity, (2) reliability, (3) error rate, (4) falsifiability, and (5) peer review. According to my careful review of over 15 empirical scholarly studies, the twin concepts of parental alienation strategies and parental alienation syndrome do in fact meet the Daubert standards.  To date every case in which I am hired, my testimony is allowed because of the obvious face validity of the concept of parental alienation.

Interestingly, she concludes by saying

I have yet to be submitted to a Daubert hearing but I welcome the opportunity to submit the evidence to the courts regarding the scientific merit of the theory of parental alienation.

Well, it turns out that’s no longer true.  Dr. Baker emailed Fathers and Families with some good news.  Recently she was called as an expert witness in a custody case in Massachusetts and the court, applying the more stringent standards of Daubert, approved her as an expert witness and accepted her testimony on parental alienation.

In short, applying the strictest standard in the country for admissibility of scientific evidence, PAS, well, passed.

As I said, it’s cold comfort to the anti-dad crowd, but the science of parental alienation is there, it’s growing and courts tasked with ascertaining the best interests of children aren’t ignoring it.

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