invention of Parental Alienation Syndrome
Author Katie Allison
Granju described her total shock when her soon to be ex-husband
announced he was vying for custody of their children in her New
York Times essay, "Losing Custody of My Hope" (8
May 05). Granju, the author of a guidebook on attachment parenting,
had been the parent to step back from the workforce and serve as
the children's primary caregiver. She wrote that her former spouse
cited possible "parental alienation syndrome" as a bolstering
factor in his bid for custody.
Gardner coined the term in the late 1980s: "One outgrowth of
this warfare (over custody) was the development in children of what
I refer to as the Parental Alienation Syndrome. Typically, the child
viciously vilifies one of the parents and idealizes the other. This
is not caused simply by parental brainwashing of the child. Rather
the children themselves contribute their own scenarios in support
of the favored parent. My experience has been that in about 80 to
90 percent of cases the mother is the favored parent and the father
the vilified one."
Syndrome" seems to have entered the courts based on Dr. Gardener's
anecdotal observations. Fathers' rights advocates and bloodthirsty
lawyers seized upon the idea and pushed it further, although it
remains relatively undocumented and hasn't received much formal
study. The internet quickly reveals many resources (particularly
for men) for those disheartened by their own divorce negotiations.
It takes little effort to stumble upon descriptions of PAS; for
example, Dr. Reena Sommer defines PAS on her Web site as "the
deliberate attempt by one parent (and/or guardian/significant other)
to distance his/her children from the other parent" and describes
PAS as "a form of child abuse." Among the attributes that
signal PAS during high conflict divorces, according to Sommer, are
conflict between the divorcing spouses and change of geographical
location on the part of one spouse. She neglects to point out either
of these situations could occur without the desire to poison the
children against the other parent during such a split. Sommer's
advice -- "No one knows your children and what is best for
them better than YOU" -- comes with a price tag. Scrolling
down her page are multiple opportunities to buy her book, Children's
Adjustment to Divorce: Educating Yourself, Your Attorney & The
Court (available on sale at $37 to download for immediate consumption).
While some courts have
begun to take PAS into consideration as a factor in custody deliberations,
the term has not been accepted by the American Psychiatric Society
nor entered into the DSM-IV, which is considered the bible of psychiatric
diagnoses. Despite this, various paid "expert" witnesses
in child custody cases across the country assess PAS as a presenting
over child support
Introduction of PAS is
just one of many strategies that fathers' rights advocates are employing
to bolster men's quests for shared or sole custody. Ginetta Candelario,
an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Smith College, found her
divorce negotiations suddenly turned contentious a few years ago.
"The divorce was almost finalized, we had a date, parenting
plan, mediation results entered into the court record, everything,"
recalls Candelario. "Then, I got a Fulbright [scholarship],
which would take me and the children away for six months. He [her
ex-husband, Juan Romero] was upset about that. He also didn't want
to pay a lot of money."
Candelario explains further
that Stephanie, her ex-husband's girlfriend, has a daughter by an
ex-boyfriend. "The boyfriend is an engineer who made about
eighty thousand dollars a year to her customer service position
pay of about thirty thousand. Although the ex-boyfriend hadn't been
terribly interested in the daughter, he obtained joint custody.
Juan said, 'He's so lucky not to pay child support.' Before she
moved in with Juan, Stephanie had to live at friends' houses with
her daughter for six months while her ex-boyfriend kept the beautiful
Romero had a child in
New Jersey from his first marriage. With this daughter, he had visitation
rights but not custody. Candelario never envisioned he'd seek joint
custody for their son and daughter. Because the Fulbright would
mean a change in the kids' visitation schedule short-term, Romero
was in a position to contest existing agreements. For months, Candelario
wondered why Romero was suddenly engaged in such bitter battle.
"Was it money or feeling he'd lost control of his child after
the dissolution of his first marriage or did he believe me to be
a bad mother?" she wondered at the time. "Eventually,
I dreamt, 'Google him.'"
She did. Upon reading
a testimonial posted on the internet by Romero, Candelario better
understood why he was fighting her so hard. Part of Romero's testimonial
reads, "In my case, I have a lawyer; however, who can afford
to call a lawyer with every little question during this emotional
rollercoaster time in our lives. After leaving a brief email at
Brotherhood Of Fathers Rights describing my circumstances, I
received a phone call from Dennis Gac. I was very impressed with
Mr. Gac's legal knowledge and personal experiences. On May 2002,
I became a member to the National Brotherhood Of Fathers Rights.
The amount of information that I have received, thus far, is more
than worth the membership price of $675.00; and I have unlimited
consultation for this price for one year!"
On his web site, Gac
describes his own history with divorce in an open letter to fathers.
"I have formal legal training from the University of Michigan,
and William Howard Taft Law School in Southern California. But 15
years ago, despite all my legal training, I was not prepared for
the prejudice that I faced when I went through my divorce. I quickly
got up to speed and fought my way to fairness against an extremely
disagreeable 'X' wife. Shared custody, no child support and a fair
property settlement resulted after I learned the correct approach
and legal techniques. And I did it all using the same 'Legal-Kung-Fu'
methods you're about to learn. Because the family court system is
becoming more and more 'skewed' against us as fathers, more men
are falling behind in their child support payments and receiving
less time with their kids. You can actually help by pursuing your
own case with vigor before it's too late."
This is followed by a
pitch to subscribe to his newsletter (free online but described
as being a $147 value). Gac offers advice such as, "You can
snatch the momentum of the case from the opposition -- increasing
your odds of success by 80%. After working with nearly 10,000 fathers,
I've learned that you must remain on offense. Filing first gives
you a psychological edge. It sets the tone for the entire case;
making her respond to you rather than the other way around. Not
only will that boost your chances of getting more time with your
kids, the chances of paying less child support are also more likely.
In fact, the court actually appreciates this approach!" Anger
and equity rate a mentioned in Gac's introduction; but there's not
one word about the well being of the children. Searching for information
about Gac on the internet, he not only promotes his services for
divorcing fathers, he also advertises his ability to help snare
Candelario says her ex-husband
was able to negotiate considerably less financial responsibility
than their original agreement as a by-product of the drawn out proceedings.
She also describes how the process was affected when the Guardian
Ad Litem turned out to be a friend of Romero's lawyer. Candelario
says, "After missing our appointment three times, she spent
forty minutes with me, and refused to meet my partner or any family
friends. Because I saw the bill, I know that she spent over two
hours at Juan's house with him, his girlfriend and the neighbors.
I handed her six pages of references to call and she called none
of them. In court, she testified that although Juan hadn't assumed
much responsibility for the children when we were married he should
be given a chance now, basically because he was a nice guy. My lawyer
was able to discredit her on the stand because she'd checked none
of the references."
"After all that
fuss about how my going to the Dominican Republic for the Fulbright
would be too long a separation from the kids, he never once visited
them. He didn't have to pay child support during the months I was
away. And then he decided to drop most of his visitation. These
were days I'd scheduled to commute and teach an extra class at another
university to help pay for the twenty-six thousand dollar legal
bill I'd acquired re-negotiating the divorce agreement. I had to
scramble. He wasn't responsible to help pay for any childcare on
those days that were 'his' because the judge ruled that 'visitation
is a right, not an obligation.' He sees the kids from Friday afternoon
to Sunday afternoon twice a month."
Having an economic upper
hand and using that muscle in a very aggressive manner doesn't always
work. In 2000, a Massachusetts judge ordered Peter Basel to pay
$100,000 of his ex-wife's legal fees, because her bills were "a
direct result of the husband's manipulative, nefarious conduct as
it relates to his fraudulent portrayal of his wife as an unfit parent."
Historically, probate court judges have been reluctant about assessing
hefty fees, because their awards are often reversed on appeal.