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What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

If you are going through a contentious child custody battle, you may have heard the terms parental alienation and parental alienation syndrome. It is important to understand the difference between these two phrases, because courts in New York will entertain discussion of parental alienation, but will not accept arguments based on assertions that a child displays symptoms of parental alienation syndrome.

To the first point, parental alienation occurs when one parent, usually the custodial parent, tries to alienate the child’s affections from the other parent. This can be conscious or unconscious on the part of the alienating parent, and is accomplished by sending subtle or overt signals that reward the child for rejecting the target parent or punish the child for exhibiting affection or approval. Alienating behavior from the custodial parent casts a pall over the other parent’s visitation and can interfere with parenting time, especially when the child attempts to opt out of scheduled visits and the custodial parent responds to that behavior with positive reinforcement.

Courts operate under a rebuttable presumption that frequent, meaningful contact with the noncustodial parent is in the best interest of the child. When the court has tangible evidence that the custodial parent is attempting to alienate the child’s affections from the other parent, the court can take steps to end the alienating behavior, which may include restructuring the custody arrangement to prevent interference with the parent-child relationship. Parents who are concerned about parental alienation should keep a written record of verbal clues from the child, as well as actions taken by the alienating parent, that might indicate intentional interference with parenting time.

On the other hand, parental alienation syndrome (PAS) refers to symptoms a child allegedly exhibits when one parent’s campaign of denigration against the other creates psychological and emotional confusion in the child. Child psychologist Richard A. Gardner coined the term in the early 1980s, but no professional association has recognized PAS as a medical syndrome or mental disorder, and the American Psychiatric Association has not included PAS in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Therefore, attempting to convince a court that a child should be removed from a custodial parent’s home for exhibiting symptoms of PAS will not work in the courts of New York.

At Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, our family law attorneys understand how important your children are to you. We vigorously assert your right to maintain a healthy, loving relationship with them. Contact us for reliable guidance on custody issues.

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