Home > Professionals > Parental Alienation and the Judiciary

Parental Alienation and the Judiciary


Medico-Legal Journal (1999) Vol.67 Part 3, 121-123

Parental Alienation and the Judiciary

Dr L F Lowenstein, MA, Dip Psych, PhD

Increasing numbers of cases are coming before the Courts where one parent feels displaced in relation to the children in the family. The syndrome, parental alienation (PAS),’ as it is now called, is not a new one, but its importance is being highlighted in the United States as well as in the UK. Judges are often uncertain as to how to treat the situation where one parent seeks to make contact with the children following an estrangement, separation, or an unusually unpleasant and vicious divorce.


There is some pressure on the Judiciary to keep the child or children with the person who has major control, usually the mother. Parental alienation however, also affects some mothers denied contact with their children who are resident with the father. On the whole, it is the male member of the partnership who suffers from the alienation situation.


In recent cases in which I have personally been involved, I had the opportunity of talking about PAS and its problems with two judges, on different occasions. The dilemma is how to deal with the case where the resident partner i.e. the alienating partner, fails to co-operate with the courts in providing adequate access for the other partner. I will recreate the general conversation, on an informal basis and hence no names can be mentioned. Interestingly, similar conversations were repeated with both judges, one male and one female, demonstrating how similar problems are often faced by the Judiciary in parental alienation cases.


Psych.: Your Honour, this is a case typical of parental alienation and I feel it is only right that the alienated parent should have contact with the child in question.

Judge: But the mother says that the child does not want any contact with the boy.

Psych.: This is because there has been a considerable amount of programming, I have discovered through my assessment, to make the child respond in this manner.

Judge: This may well be so but how do I deal with this situation when mother stubbornly refuses to allow contact of the child with the father?

Psych.: It is a difficult situation, your Honour, but the question remains: should justice be done or should it be ignored?

Judge: it is not as easy as that. I have spent time with mothers, even sitting in a cell, to try to get them to see reason to allow their former husbands to have access to a child. Sometimes this has worked while at other times, there has been a refusal. This puts me he a very awkward position since I must consider carefully, first and foremost, the children concerned and they are, after all, in the care of their mother who, if they are deprived of her, due to her being sentenced for failing to follow instructions, will lose a mother vital to their welfare.

Psych.: Again it comes down, your Honour, to considering the question of failure to comply with the Court ruling. If an ordinary criminal fails to obey instructions of the Court, some punitive action is taken. Should not some punitive action also follow when a mother, or father for that matter, refuses to accede to the ruling of the judge and the Court?

Judge: Well, I will see what I can do on this particular matter and the case before me but I still feel that it is a difficult one to settle, when one of the partners is totally opposed to contact with the child and the child in question has decided openly and before me, to refuse to have any contact with the other parent. Are you suggesting that I fine the mother in question or place her in a prison for failing to adhere to my instructions and that of the Court?

Psych.: I personally see no other alternative. It may well be that if such a threat is made, the alienating parent may, in due course, accept what has been recommended by the Court and there will be no need to take the action which you and I both feel is undesirable and may even be counter-productive.


Both judges agreed the case before them was typical of parental alienation and the difficulties they faced are only too obvious. Their first concern, and also that of myself, was the children. If the children have been “brain-washed” and “programmed” in a particular direction, this made the judge’s decision all the more difficult.


It is my view that no exception can be made for failing to adhere to the ruling of a court and that justice must be done however painful this may be. It may well be that the alienated parent should eventually gain access following a period of therapy between the psychologist and the child or children in question, to make them aware of what is happening. If older they themselves may well be able to put pressure on the alienating parent to see sense.


From the conversation, it can be seen that many judges are undoubtedly unsure how best to deal with alienating parents – this usually being the mother. Judges are often saved by the fact that fathers cease to pursue their role of wishing to play a part in their childrens’ lives. This is due to the resistance they meet from the former spouse, who has often formed a new relationship and wishes the new partner to take over the role of father. I have even known cases where the mother insisted the child call the new husband “dad” and the natural father by his first name.


Fathers who pursue both their right and their sense of responsibility through the courts are relatively few. Many opt out due to the resistance they meet from their ex-partners, the programmed child and the reluctance of judges to give them justice. This is undoubtedly due to the following:


  1. Judges are reluctant to punish and most especially incarcerate obdurate mothers who refuse to comply with a judge’s decision that they must allow access with an estranged father.

  2. Judges often are reluctant to ignore the view expressed by children that they do not wish to meet their fathers, despite the fact that such children have been “intensively programmed” to respond in this way by mothers and the mother’s relations.

  3. Judges are reluctant to advise that therapy should take place, despite the fact that when such alienation occurs, children are damaged. Such therapy is often recommended by expert witnesses such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Such recommended periods of therapy for the child and mother are viewed by judges (with the aid of the mother’s Counsel!) as likely to damage further the children who are involved in this conflict and hostility between the parents.


Despite such reservations, judges have a moral duty to provide justice for the alienated party, this usually being the father. The threat of punishment for the alienator must be supported by punishment, including removing the child from mother’s care to a neutral place or to the alienated parent, and to use incarceration when necessary. Failure to carry out this distasteful, but necessary, action against the obdurate party would constitute a mockery of the judicial system. It is my experience as an expert witness to the Courts as a forensic, clinical psychologist, that most alienating parents, whether mothers or fathers, will obey a court order if punishment is threatened for failure to adhere to the ruling. Hence the carrying out of the various possible measures is rarely necessary.


In connection with PAS many judges have, without always being aware, adopted a double standard. They see mothers who are alienators as “victims” to be protected even when they have committed what can only be described as a form of “emotional abuse”. They have abused their powerful position by influencing the young children and turning them against the other parent. They have usurped the role of the other parent or given it to yet another partner with whom they have become associated. In this way, they have, by destroying the right of the other parent taken away that parent’s opportunity to contribute to the child’s welfare. This is at a time when we are seeking to promote the equality of the sexes. Partners should have equal power and responsibility toward their children.


PAS, when it has been proven, is a vicious form of gender opportunism or gender apartheid, which those seeking through justice can no longer ignore. Judges must stop worrying about public outcries if they remove a child from the care of a vicious programming parent who is showing their hostility toward the former partner.


I therefore suggest that the alienated parents, be they fathers or mothers, be protected. In so doing we are also protecting the children of such a relationship from a gross and calculated mis-use of power or position, that of the resident care giver.


Judges in cases of proven PAS should act as decisively as they would if judging a case of proven crime such as rape or murder. They must remove the child from the emotional damage being heaped upon it, to a safe place, where the non-alienating parent, with the help of therapy for the child, can have his influences felt by the child. At the same time, it is necessary to help the parent who has alienated the child in the first place. He or she has undoubtedly suffered from a considerable amount of pathological hostility towards the former partner.


By removing the child, or children, from the influence of the “brain-washing” alienator, the child has the opportunity of experiencing the dedication of the previously alienated parent and to develop a less biased view of that parent. Also the child can develop a positive view of both parents despite them being at war with each other.


This will do much to ensure for that child that both parents, although hostile towards one another, care and are devoted to him/her. This provides the child with a reasonable start in life, which he or she would not have had, had the influence of the alienator been allowed to continue along with a failure to have any contact with the alienated parent at the same time.


Dr L F Lowenstein
Allington Manor, Allington Lane
Fair Oak, Eastleigh
Hampshire, SO50 7DE
(01703) 692621




1. Parent Alienation Syndrome: What the legal profession should know, MLJ Vol 66 ( 1998) pt 4, 151.


Categories: Professionals
  1. Kay
    April 28, 2012 at 2:46 AM

    Dr. Lowenstein discusses the Courts’ responses to Parent Alienation in England. In the US we have both family court and criminal court. I have used both to fight for my rights to have a relationship with my son and was amazed at how completely different the two courts viewed and addressed the problem.

    In family court, I was treated more like the alienator than the rejected parent. Even though my-exhusband had interfered with my placement for over 700 days. I was litterly scoulded by the GAL, the Court Commissioner, and the Judge. The GAL reported that there was no parental alienation, and was proven wrong a year later. The Family Court Commissioner kept referring, even in writing, to my motion for a change in custody as a motion to enforce placement. When I corrected her, she raised her voice and said, “Well, you started this whole thing.” The Family Court Judge waved his arms in the air and very sarcastically mocked the expert witness’s diagnosis of PAS. I became very anxious about Family Court and left most hearings feeling beaten back and hopeless. All the while, my alienating, interfering, and extremely uncooperative ex-husband NEVER complied with the custody order and was NEVER held accountable.

    With the help of a very concerned and considerate Deputy Sheriff and a very compassionate secretary in the District Attorney’s Office, the complaint referring to the continued interference of my placement managed to make its way to the top of the DA’s pile each day. Along side cases of homicide, rape, and drug dealing, my cries of help were heard by the District Attorney. He called me for more details and kept the case himself. I was treated with respect and kindness. The hearings were swift and short. My ex was a repeat offender. He had committed the felony of interference and was in contempt of court. Within 4 months, he pleaded no contest to two counts of contempt carrying consecutive sentences totalling 2 years in jail, a $10,000.00 fine, and community service. He won’t have to serve the full jail sentence, but he’s serving long enough that I have a chance to reconnect and rebuild a relationship with my son. Without jail time, I would never have gotten the opportunity.

    Maybe we are focusing our efforts in the wrong court. Alienating children from a loving parent is a crime and can be resolved by treating it like one.

  2. April 28, 2012 at 4:39 AM

    Kay: jail time certainly appears to be an option. I have come across defiance of court order countless times, “All the while, my alienating, interfering, and extremely uncooperative ex-husband NEVER complied with the custody order and was NEVER held accountable.” It is time that parental alienation is viewed as child abuse and time for alienating parents to be punished.

    I am not surprised to read you comment, “The Family Court Judge waved his arms in the air and very sarcastically mocked the expert witness’s diagnosis of PAS.” Too many still claim PAS is “Gardner’s theory.” Also, the term “high-conflict” has turned into an exchangeable term for parental alienation. This is unfortunate. While high-conflict cases are a reality, parental alienation differs as it originates from one parent (the alienating parent). Consequently, the alienating parent’s defiance and mockery of the law, forces the target parent to respond.

    Your statement,” Well, you started this whole thing” indicates their lack of understanding. If they grasped the dynamics of parental alienation, the response may have been, ” I see you are enforcing, out of necessity, as your ex-husband NEVER complied with the custody order and was NEVER held accountable. The other option, for rejected (target parents) is to become passive and not to fight for their children. Unfortunately, many parents deplete all financial resources and cannot enforce orders that should be upheld at the onset. Passivity would keep family court dockets low, but it would undoubtedly not be in the best interest for children. Best of luck to you.

  3. Renee
    April 30, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    Dr. Lowenstein’s arguments are right on point. Here in the US is it a costly process to try to prove PAS, PA or HAP and even costlier to get the courts to listen. Even when the alienator is found guilty of multiple counts of contempt, the court doesn’t do anything about it. If the child is older, as in our case, the courts just expect the parents to work it out and usually don’t not step in. After 15 years of being in the court system, I feel they have failed in their responsibility to do “what is in the best interest of the child”.

    4 years ago the GAL didn’t think a change was necessary. 2 years ago the same GAL didn’t want to hear the same facts & more that kept her from making a change last time. All’s she was interested in is what the child wanted, to move in with her mother. So the GAL allowed the move. 18 months later, this child who was 2nd in her class, has missed 130 days of school, moved twice, is on anti depressants, migraine medication, sleeping pills and who knows what else. Where is the GAL now? She is a magistrate and cannot get involved. What does the attorney suggest? Nothing as the child will be 18 in a couple months, even though she will not graduate for another year when she is 19.

    The way I see it….the child & mother manipulated the GAL & court for a change in custody.
    Since the change the child has gone downhill pretty significantly. The courts don’t want to hear it. The child will be of age and can do what she wants even though hubby is financially & scholastically responsible.

    And everyone wonders why the alienated parent throws in the towel.

    • May 23, 2012 at 5:40 AM

      NEW ZEALANDPerfect idea! We definitely need to start gentitg organised in New Zealand. There is no support, public awareness or debate around parental alienation that I have come across. I would love to build up a network of parents and professionals to tackle this issue and raise awareness. At the very least, rejected parents and families need to support each other and have access to appropriate resources (i.e. *Divorce Poison* and *Welcome Back, Pluto* for a start).

      • December 3, 2012 at 5:48 PM

        I’m supportive of your efforts Marti and agree that resources and standing your ground and having others that are supportive of your efforts are going to be key to ending what I consider one of our modern day worst civil rights violations of many generations that has gone hidden under the radar by using the name of our children and fooling so many that this was in protection of the children, when it turns out that the courts have been enabling this by allowing a parent to use the children as a weapon. We have the tools now to see it and stop it. And as Dr. Lowenstein put it we need the judges to enforce their orders regardless of how emotionally difficult it is for them. In the long run, it is the right thing to do and our children will be better off for it. We can no longer condone this child abuse and our system can be smarter and do the right thing if the parents insisted on it. Let’s go parents, let’s set the courts right and have a system that truly protects both rights of both parents, and protects their rights from attack by another parent.

    • May 25, 2012 at 2:55 AM

      I am a single mom and found it eaesir to date a man without kids. Although they do not have the parenting skills, they can learn. Being a single parent and dating a single parent is hard! It’s like double the stress!!! Although they may be understanding regarding the whole situation with, ex’s, court, parenting plans they are better off as friends.

  4. TB
    July 3, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Ditto Rene, the courts are clueless, particularly the one in Hillsborough County FL, the judge there was removed from several family law cases, absolutely no clue.

  5. July 8, 2012 at 1:20 AM

    We are just starting our treacherous journey through the legal system and pursuing PA/PAS with my husband’s ex-wife, over his 11 and 9 y/o daughters. Unfortunately, in our current economy, my husband has been unemployed for 7 months and has had to go back to college for a career change. I’ve been shouldering the finances the last 7 months and just discovered my job will end in a month.

    We can’t afford the legal fees and are attempting to do this on our own. The girls seem to meet the criteria, unofficially, for a severe case of PAS and there has been little we can do.

    They’ve been given the choice, by their mother, to forfeit any visits or contact with their father, despite current decrees, stating specific visitation. Their mother has included the children in all of the legal correspondence that has occurred and are now actively alienating extended family as well.

    In an attempt to “gag” the mother from discussing the “adult” information as well as legal, we filed a protection order for emotional abuse. Knowing it would be denied, we were hoping that the other two requests would be addressed. We requested a GAL and counseling for the children and both were rejected with a need for separate filings for those requests.

    I’m so worried that this woman, who has an established running tally of 7 contempt of court motions for denying the children, but still have not been heard, will walk away with everything she wants. Playing victim and claims that she has not influenced the children.

    Will we survive this?

    • December 3, 2012 at 5:42 PM

      Hello Amber, I know you are not writing this to me as I am not the author of this article, however, I have personal experience with this. You are correct in feeling that the court needs to act on this and act quickly. You and your husband can survive as long as you are compassionate towards each other and keep a healthy understanding of the pain and suffering that the two of you will experience and help each other through it as best you can. The children’s relationships with the two of you on the other hand may not survive it. Keep pushing the court to act on the contempt charges and require them to hear those charges before they hear any other temporary orders for the custody of the children. It is imperative that the court be told by you and your attorneys that they are expected to enforce their orders and not allow a parent to render the orders useless. Those orders are there to protect the children’s relationship to both parents not for one parent to have power over the other parent or to abuse the children by brainwashing them to gain the authority to destroy the other parent’s rights to their child. I am not an attorney and am not trying to give you legal advice, just sharing my experience with you. If I had not been persistent even in the face of losses and lots of time that had been lost, I would not have my younger two children today. It takes great strength and courage to stand up for your rights. Do your best to re-frame the issue in the court to see this as protecting your spouse’s rights from the attack of another parent. The court should be protecting both parents from attacks on their rights. This is the way that they protect the children to having equal opportunity for relationships with both parents. You are on the right track. I wouldn’t give up even when you don’t win a hearing and even when you are denied what you are asking. You are right and should stand your ground. And one thing I had to remind myself is not to listen to those that say you are hurting your children by fighting the court. You are hurting your children by giving up on them. Oh and be aware, they will use the children to tell you you are hurting them. There are lots of alienation experts now that support continued fight for the protection of your rights and your children’s rights to a relationship with both parents. Good luck and stay strong and never, never, never give up as Churchill would say.

  6. December 3, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Dr. Lowenstein, you nailed it. I have been through this and if the judge had not been willing to force compliance of the orders I wouldn’t have my children in my life today. I lost my two older children that became adults during this ordeal because the prior judges were slow and unwilling to take swift and severe action. Alienated parents are reliant upon the judges to do their job and that is to protect a parent from the violation of their rights to their child and the child’s right to be with the other parent. Never, ever, ever should a judge involve a child of alienation or reward a parent for brainwashing the child. If the judges looked at this properly, they would not see removing a child from a brainwashing alienator as harm to the child, they would see this as protecting the child from the mental abuse and harm. Thank you for reminding judges what their job is and that is to uphold the orders and the laws.

  7. Kris
    November 12, 2016 at 6:10 PM

    So what is your advice for someone in Texas facing this? My ex husband and I share custody. His relationship with the person he left the marriage for has stabilized after several years. I used that intervening time to come to work on coming to terms with our divorce and provide a stable environment and I feel okay with their relationship.

    Several times he asked for custody changes to accommodate his schedule and their relationship status. I’ve tried to put our daughters needs and be flexible so that they can maintain a relationship while he worked how he wanted/need his life structured.

    This last year, he demanded to have Thursday nights with our daughter, as per the order after 7 years of never having custody on that day. This demand occurred on a Sunday with a demand to start next Thursday. I agreed to change with the request of discussing these changes and keeping to the 30 day notification of changes agreement also in our orders.

    Since then, he has had several conversations with my daughter blaming me for the divorce. Telling her he wishes current partner was her bio mother. Telling her I am selfish and that I don’t love her. That its his duty as her father to show her these things about me. He presents her with choice like…”is my relationship with my partner wrong? No, then I’m correct about X.”

    She comes home very upset, feeling rejected and hurt. She is 12 and while she understands this isn’t ‘right’ she is not equiped or emotionally developed enough to handle these discussions.

    Currently I’m trying to not be reactive with her when these conversations come up or I hear about them from her friends parents. I ask her how it makes her feel. Tell her I love her and always will. I tell her that I don’t see the world with the same way her father does and that there is room for both of our view.

    Any sort of conversation with him regarding the appropriateness of any thing, always is met with screaming at me and telling her she’s terrible or doesn’t love him for saying anything to me.

    I am trying to hang onto my belief that she deserves to have a relationship with myself and her father.

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