Warshak: Five Shoddy Arguments Against Parental Alienation

April 27, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Professor Richard Warshak has a new and thoughtful post on his Facebook page in celebration of Parental Alienation Awareness Day. He does what so many have found the need to do – address the false claims of those who seek to convince others that parental alienation either doesn’t exist or is a sinister ruse by abusive fathers to deny to “protective” mothers the custody of their children.

Warshak lists the five most common claims of PA deniers.

1. Deflect attention from the reality of divorce poison and its destructive impact with debates about whether parental alienation constitutes a bona fide syndrome.

According to this claim, the fact that the DSM-V has no explicit diagnosis called “Parental Alienation,” means, well, something. Amusingly, they never get around to saying just what we’re supposed to conclude from the fact that the DSM-V has several entries that describe parental alienation and/or its effects on children, but never uses the words “parental alienation.” As Warshak points out, “You also will not find “reckless driving syndrome” in the DSM-5. But you would be wise to avoid getting in a car with a driver who has this problem.” Indeed, there are countless examples of bad, destructive behavior that aren’t listed in the DSM-V, but that fact fails to render them any less bad and destructive. These of course are simple and obvious points that PA deniers fail to account for. They don’t because they can’t. That they raise them at all merely highlights the weakness of their arguments.

2. Claim that it is only a speculation, hypothesis, or theory that children can become alienated from one parent when exposed to the other parent’s negative influence.

And yet, just look at yesterday’s post about the two New Jersey lawyers who sought to instruct others of their profession about PA and what lawyers should do to identify and deal with it. They were quite frank about the fact that family lawyers and judges see PA frequently. There’s nothing theoretical about it.

3. Attribute unsupportable, fake positions to parental alienation studies, and then refute the fake positions—a tactic known as “attacking a straw man.” For instance, a recently published study claimed that “the alienation hypothesis” (see denial strategy #2 above) maintains that parental denigration is only unilateral, not reciprocal, and that all children exposed to parental denigration become alienated from the target of denigration. When the study found that a group of volunteer college students reported that both parents denigrated each other, and the children did not reject either parent, the authors of the study concluded that “the alienation hypothesis” was not supported and that parental denigration does not cause children to reject the parent who is denigrated.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that no scholar has claimed that parental denigration necessarily leads to a child rejecting the denigrated parent. Of course many children whose parents badmouth each other maintain relationships with both parents. Rejecting a parent is an extreme consequence, not a common one. Furthermore, anyone who has worked with irrationally alienated children knows that these children are reluctant to admit that their favored parent maligned their other parent— in fact, these children are reluctant to admit anything negative about the parent whom they favor.

Again I say, if PA deniers had real arguments to make, why would they resort to shoddy claims like the straw-man argument Warshak describes? It fairly shouts “We have nothing with which to attack PA.”

4. Ignore studies that fail to support one’s pet theories. For example, while promoting skepticism about the notion that children can be manipulated by a parent to hate the other parent, the authors of the study mentioned above failed to cite the largest study, published by the American Bar Association, that explicitly attributed children’s problems to being brainwashed by one parent against the other. They also failed to cite the volume of scientific evidence about various mechanisms by which children’s attitudes can be influenced and by which negative stereotypes about a parent can be promulgated.

There’s little that can’t be proved as long as one simply ignores countervailing facts. The difference between mythology and science is their different treatment of facts. Mythology ignores disagreeable facts in order to maintain the myth, the story, the narrative. No one believes that Icarus and Daedalus fashioned wings and flew, but, as Coleridge pointed out, the essence of fiction, poetry and myth is the suspension of our disbelief, i.e. the willingness to ignore facts. Science, by contrast constructs its conclusions around facts. Facts that contradict hypotheses demand they be reformulated to fit the facts. Therefore, it’s fair to say that PA deniers are attempting to establish a form of mythology or some other fictional narrative in place of the hard science on PA. Part of that mythology is the “protective mother” movement, but I won’t get into that now.

5. Promulgate, or accept without investigation or critical scrutiny, dramatic and exaggerated claims that the evaluator, therapist, child representative, and judge in a case mistook a child’s justified rejection of a parent for unjustified alienation, or that children removed from toxic alienating environments have been abused by the family court system. Such claims are repeated without considering all the evidence weighed by the court in reaching its decision.

Again, as with all mythology, the facts (e.g. the ones before the court) must take a backseat to the overarching claim that family courts are mostly concerned with doing wrong to mothers.

There is a “bottom line” to all this special pleading, and Warshak nails it.

The fact that some children are able to resist does not obscure the reality that such abuse exists. Professionals who feed denial and skepticism play into the hands of those who want us to look away.

Because deniers and skeptics contribute to a backlash against protecting psychologically abused children from efforts to alienate them from a parent…

Parental alienation is child abuse. Those who seek to deny its existence, confuse others about its reality, excuse alienators, etc. contribute to that abuse.




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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#parentalalienation, #RichardWarshak

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