In the 1980s, a psychiatrist named Richard Gardner put out a theory (and numerous articles and books) about something called “parental alienation syndrome.”
Essentially, it described the actions of a parent — usually the mother, in Gardner’s scenarios — who purposefully turned a child against the other parent — usually the father. The child was usually coached to believe that the father was abusive, especially in a sexual manner. The goal of the mother was generally to take revenge on the father for their divorce or other perceived wrongs and to obtain full custody.
The theory took off — even though it has never been recognized as valid by the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Medical Association. It is, however, recognized widely in court by judges and individual psychiatrists who make their living testifying in such cases.
As a result, women who have legitimate fears that their children are being sexually abused by the other parent have to think long and hard before they bring up the allegations in court. If they do, their risk of losing custody to the child’s father doubles.
The word of the child counts for almost nothing. Only one out of 51 children who testify that they were abused by the father ends up being believed in court. The child is generally thought to have been manipulated and given “false memories” or told what to say by the so-called vindictive mother.
The newest research on this issue overturns the notion that mothers — not fathers — have the easiest time getting custody. As it turns out, there may be significant judicial bias against any mother who alleges child abuse by the father.
This is concerning on a number of levels. If the new information is accurate, the idea that parental alienation syndrome is common should be put on the shelf beside “the Satanic Panic,” that other product of the 1980s that created judicial nightmares for parents and caregivers alike.
If you’re in a custody battle for your child and there’s abuse involved, seek out early legal advice, so you better understand what strategy to take.