Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist at Columbia University, coined the term “parental alienation syndrome” in a 1985 paper. He defined it as what happens when one parent (alienating parent) emotionally manipulates the children into showing unjustifiable hostility, disrespect, or fear toward the other parent (targeted parent) during a family law legal dispute.
Many people harshly criticize PAS due to its supposed lack of scientific support and the way it is used. Most professional organizations do not recognize PAS as a psychological disorder, but they do not condemn it as pseudoscience either. Many family advocates also point out that men who are accused of abuse often successfully use PAS as a defense (e.g. “she tricked the children into lying about me”). Here in Illinois, there is more support for PAS than there is in some other jurisdictions, and many judges are willing to consider it in child custody cases.
Evidence of PAS in Illinois
Conflict is common in most relationships, and it is even more common among divorced parents. So, conflict itself is not evidence of parental alienation syndrome. However, a pattern of behavior often causes irreparable damage to the relationship between the children and the targeted parent. Therefore, be on the alert for things like:
- Sudden Schedule Changes: If Father repeatedly changes pickup or dropoff times or locations with little or no notice to Mother who is therefore often late, younger children often get the idea that they are not a priority for Mother.
- Overlapping Activities: One way to drive an emotional wedge between two people is to reduce the amount of time they spend together. So, Mother might allow Daughter to attend an Illinois Girl Scout camp which falls on Father’s weekend. Essentially, Father must choose between directly alienating Daughter by denying permission to attend the camp, or indirectly alienating her by not spending time with her.
- Emotional Statements: Words sometimes cause more damage than actions, especially if a parent repeatedly says things like “Your Dad likes spending time with his new family more than spending time with you.”
- Preferential Treatment: Many parents give their children greater freedom or more responsibilities during their parenting time periods, often interjecting something like “I bet Mom doesn’t let you stay up this late” as they do so.
PAS is a constant dripping. Taken individually, these incidents are rather meaningless. Over time, they can change a relationship just like a tiny stream of water can shape rock.
Further complicating matters, parental alienation syndrome is often entirely unintentional. In that last example, Father may not realize that by trying to curry favor with his children he is also cutting them off emotionally from their mother.
What to do About PAS in Illinois
Chicago co-parents should always keep parenting journals that highlight things like broken promises, late exchanges, and odd statements. Such a journal either provides peace of mind that these incidents are sporadic or effective evidence in a custody modification proceeding.
Judges almost always order social services investigations in these matters, which is good in PAS-related modifications. Family therapists can recognize the signs of parental alienation syndrome and they know how bad it can be. So, they usually at least mention it prominently in their recommendations.
Even if the Illinois judge does not adjust the parenting time because of the PAS, the judge often warns the alienating parent that “the jig is up” and that his or her behavior must change.
Team Up with Experienced Lawyers
PAS is a legitimate threat that requires swift and decisive actions. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Kevin Gent)