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Coping With the Ugly Truth about Parental Alienation Syndrome Ė PAS

Few issues gather as much heated debate than the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Briefly stated, PAS refers to the child of separated parents who comes to reject a parent and/or that parentís family and/or anything or anyone associated with that parent on the basis of undermining behavior by the other parent.

Although not a true diagnostic label in the context of the American Psychiatric Associationís Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is an issue hotly contested in the most fractious of child custody/access battles. Unresolved, the child outright rejects a relationship with one parent in favor of continuing an exclusive relationship with the other parent. Whereas the rejected parent will advise the outcome is the result of the manipulations by the favored parent, the child in time comes to present the preference as their own choice.

Courts have struggled with this matter for years as have mental health professionals who seek to reverse the disastrous effects of a maligning parent to restore reasonable relationships all around.

The pain and anguish felt by the rejected parent is tremendous to say the least for they are experiencing the loss of a child who otherwise appears available. To boot, in the process, this parent is typically vilified, made out to be a monster as the alienation process unfolds. To say this is crazy making is an understatement.

While Courts do wade in to try and right these wrongs, they are challenged to not next ruin the relationship with the preferred parent over that of the rejected parent although at times courts will make orders requiring; reversal of residence; supervised access to no access; and mandatory attendance at treatment.

To understand these intrusive interventions, one has to consider PAS as the family equivalent of an aggressive cancer.

Imagine a cancer so aggressive so as to threaten life and limb. The treatment regime may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. These treatments are all known to be devastating in and of themselves, but if to survive, they become a necessity. So it is with PAS and intrusive family interventions.

The ugly truth though remains. Not all cancers can be successfully treated and patients die. So too of PAS. Not all relationships are restored and indeed some lives are given way to anger, depression and suicide.

Like any form of aggressive cancer, be it physical or social, early intervention is key. Also key is the role of legal counsel. It is unfortunately too easy to ratchet up parental conflict through zealous litigation in these cases.

Better outcomes may prevail if legal counsel would recognize the deleterious effects of litigation in favor of seeking clinical and conciliatory approaches. Unfortunately however, it is all too common that those parents bent on destroying their childís relationship with the other parent somehow or other find very litigious lawyers who buy into their one-sided accounts of the other parentís shortcomings to fight tooth and nail on behalf of the maligning parent.

Despite all our great efforts, then, at times there is no way out of these situations. As in medicine, not all diseases are treatable.

When all seems but lost, the challenge becomes one of coping in the face of great adversity. To have any sense of hope that a future relationship may transpire, one has to survive to that future. Resist alcohol; resist drugs; resist self defeating behavior. Engage in a healthy lifestyle; form friendships; seek entertainment; take care of your health.

The only thing known for sure in the heat of battle and terrible discontent is that it is awful and hurts terribly. The future though, remains uncertain.

The best one can do is be prepared to greet it, however it presents itself. Therein while tragedy may strike, we strive to overcome. We seek to remain resilient and if a relationship at one stage of life is lost, we hope to be there to pick up at another stage of life. Learning to live with patience in the midst of adversity is key. Ask any cancer patient.

By the way, you will be co-parenting no matter what. The only question is the degree to which you do so successfully and in the end, peace between the parents provides for the better outcome for children regardless of what you agree to.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.



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27 Sina Street, Georgina, ON, Canada L4P 3E9 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com