In closing then, it is my belief that
the PAS is primarily a product of the utilization of the adversary system for
adjudicating child-custody disputes. A parent’s primary reason for
indoctrinating a PAS into a child is to gain leverage in a court of law. In
countries in which people cannot afford to take such disputes to court, there
is no PAS. Somehow, some way, they resolve these disputes without the
utilization of the courtroom proceedings. PAS is a widespread phenomenon in
western Europe and, until recently, it was not seen in eastern Europe.
Although there were many reasons for this difference, the primary one relates
to the fact that people in eastern Europe just did not (and still do not)
have enough money to hire lawyers and take such disputes to court. It is
reasonable to predict that with economic improvement, eastern European
countries will see more PAS. I know this is now happening in the Czech
Republic. I believe that if courtrooms were not available for the
adjudication of child-custody disputes, some children would certainly suffer,
but more would be better off. Years of exposure to and embroilment in
courtroom litigation scar most children. To recommend that the courtroom
doors be closed to such parents at this point is not realistic. However, I am
convinced that such blockage, such unavailability, would protect more children
than it would harm. The number of children who would suffer untoward
consequences from not having a court of law available to protect them would
be small compared to the benefits enjoyed by those who would not have that
forum available to them. In short, the system as it exists today is doing PAS
families much more harm than good and is not serving the best interests of
the children. It has been the purpose of this article to focus on the
judiciary’s role in the perpetuation of this tragic situation.
Gardner RA: Recent trends in divorce
and custody litigation. Academy Forum 29:3-7, 1985
RA: Child custody, in Basic Handbook of Child Psychiatry, Vol. V. Edited
by Noshpitz JD. New York: Basic Books, 1987, pp. 637-646
RA: The recent gender shift in PAS indoctrinators. News for Women in
Psychiatry 19:11-13, 2001
RA: Judges interviewing children in custody/visitation litigation. New
Jersey Family Lawyer 7:153ff, 1987
RA: The empowerment of children in the development of the parental
alienation syndrome. The American Journal of Forensic Psychology 20 (in
RA: Therapeutic Interventions for Children with Parental Alienation
Syndrome. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 2001
RA: The Parental Alienation Syndrome: Second Edition. Cresskill, New
Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1998
RA: Differentiating between PAS and bona fide abuse/neglect. The
American Journal of Family Therapy 27:195-212, 1999
RA: Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited. Cresskill, New
Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1991
RA: The embedment in the brain circuitry phenomenon (ebcp). Jnl American
Academy of Psychoanalysis 25:151-176, 1997
RA: Should courts order PAS children to visit/reside with the alienated
parent? A follow-up study. The American Journal of Forensic Psychology
RA: Articles in Peer-Review Journals and Published Books on the Parental
Alienation Syndrome (PAS). www.rgardner.com/refs
RA: Testimony Concerning the Parental Alienation Syndrome Has Been
Admitted in Courts of Law in Many States and Countries.
RA: Parental alienation syndrome vs. parental alienation: which
diagnosis should evaluators use in child-custody litigation? The Amer
Jnl of Family Therapy 30:101-123, 2002
RA: Child Custody Litigation: A Guide for Parents and Mental Health
Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1985
RA: Family Evaluation in Child Custody Mediation, Arbitration, and
Litigation. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1989
RA: The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Mental
Health Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics,
RA: Testifying in Court: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.
Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1996
Dr. Gardner is Clinical Professor of
Child Psychiatry at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons,
New York, NY. Address correspondence to: Richard A. Gardner, MD, 155 County
Rd., Cresskill, NJ 07626
©2002 Richard A. Gardner, M.D.
Ira Daniel Turket, PhD
With the increasing commonality of divorce involving children, a
pattern of abnormal behavior has emerged that has received little
attention. The present paper defines the Divorce Related Malicious
Mother Syndrome. Specific nosologic criteria are provided with
abundant clinical examples. Given the lack of scientific data
available on the disorder, issues of classification, etiology,
treatment, and prevention appear ripe for investigation.
A divorced man gains custody of his children and his ex-wife burns
down his home. A woman in a custody battle buys a cat for her
offspring because her divorcing husband is highly allergic to cats. A
mother forces her children to sleep in a car to "prove" their
has bankrupted them. The actions illustrate a pattern of abnormal
behavior that has emerged as the divorce rate involving children has
Today, half of all marriages will end in divorce (Beal and Hochman,
1991). The number of children involved in divorce has grown
dramatically (e.g., Hetherington and Arastah, 1988) as well.
the majority of such cases are "settled" from a legal perspective,
outside the courtroom the battle continues.
The media have spent considerable effort raising public awareness
about the problem posed by divorced fathers who do not provide
court-ordered child support payments. Hodges (1991) has noted that
less than 20 percent of divorced fathers provide child support
payments three years after their divorce. Research on the decline of
women's economic status following (e.g., Hernandez, 1988; Laosa, 1988) has
contributed to recent legislation to address the "Deadbeat Dad" problem.
While the media correctly portray the difficulties imposed upon women
and children by the "Deadbeat Dad" phenomenon [but see www.ivorcatt.com/2909.htm], the
cameras have yet to capture the warfare waged by a select group of mothers
support paying, law-abiding fathers. Everyday, attorneys and
therapists are exposed to horror stories in which vicious behaviors
are lodged against innocent fathers and children. Unfortunately,
there are no scientific data on the subject. Similarly, the clinical
literature has relatively ignored the problem..
A noted exception can be found in the clinical writings of Gardner
(1987, 1989) who has provided excellent descriptions of the Parental
Alienation Syndrome. Here, a custodial parent successfully engages in
a variety of maneuvers to alienate the child from the non-residential
parent. Once successfully manipulated, the child becomes
".preoccupied with deprecation and criticism of a parent-denigration
that is unjustified and/or exaggerated" (Gardner, 1989 p. 226). In
the typical case of Parental Alienation Syndrome, both mother and
child engage in an array of abnormal actions against the father.
Gardner views "brainwashing" as a concept "too narrow"
(Gardner, 1989) to capture the psychological manipulation involved in turning
a child against his/her non-residential parent.
While Gardner's pioneering descriptions of the Parental Alienation
Syndrome provide an important contribution to our understanding of
divorce-related child-involved hostilities, the present paper is
concerned with a more global abnormality. As noted in the examples
provided in the beginning of this manuscript, serious attacks on
divorcing husbands take place which are beyond merely manipulating the children.
Further, these actions include a willingness by some
mothers to violate societal law. Finally, there are mothers who
persistently engage in malicious behaviors designed to alienate their
offspring from the father, despite being unable to successfully cause
alienation. In sum, these cases do not meet the criteria for
Parental Alienation Syndrome. Nevertheless, they portray a serious
The purpose of the present paper is to define and illustrate this more
global abnormality with the hope of generating increased scientific
and clinical investigation of this problem.
The present section provides a beginning definition of the
Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, which has been derived from clinical
and legal cases. As in all initial proposals, it is
anticipated that future research will lead to greater refinement in
the taxonomic criteria.
The proposed definition encompasses four major criteria, as follows:
1. A mother who unjustifiably punishes her divorcing or divorced
a. Attempting to alienate their mutual children from
b. Involving others in malicious actions against the
c. Engaging in excessive litigation
2. The mother specifically attempts to deny her child(ren)
a. Regular uninterrupted visitation with the father
b. Uninhibited telephone access to the father
c. Paternal participation in the child(ren)'s school
3. The pattern is pervasive and includes malicious acts towards the
a. Lying to the children
b. Lying to others
c. Violations of law
4. The disorder is not specifically due to another mental disorder,
although a separate mental disorder may co-exist.
In this section, I will provide clinical illustrations for each
criterion using the reference numbers provided above. As criteria 1-3
are behavior specific to the Malicious Mother Syndrome, I will provide
a series of clinical examples. The fourth criterion which addresses
the relationship of the proposed syndrome to other mental disorders,
will be discussed more generally.
Criterion 1A: Alienating the Children
The range of actions taken by a mother to attempt to alienate her
children from their father is impressive. For example:
One mother lied to her children that she could no longer buy food
because their father had spent all of their money on women in topless
A doctor's wife forced her 10-year-old son to apply for federally
funded free school lunches to delude the boy that his "daddy has made
A woman who for years was very close to the children in a custody
battle, was asked by their mother to give up neutrality and join her
campaign against the father to "dance on his grave." When the
refused to give up her neutrality, the mother falsely informed her
children that their father was having an affair with this woman.
These behaviors, if successful, could lead a child to not only hate
the father, but perhaps go years without seeing him. As Cartwright
(1993) has noted: "The goal of the alienator is crystalline: to
deprive the lost parent, not only of the child's time, but of the time
of childhood." (p.210).
Criterion 1B: Involving Others in Malicious Actions
The second component of the first major criterion where the mother
attempts to punish the husband, involves manipulating other
individuals to engage in malicious acts against the father. Examples
of this kind are as follows:
During a custody battle, a mother lied to a therapist about the
father's behavior. The therapist, having never spoken with the
father, appeared as an "expert" witness to inform the Judge that
mother should be the primary residential parent and that the father
needed to be in therapy.
One angry mother manipulated teenagers to leave anonymous threatening notes
at the ex- husband's home.
A mother who had lost legal custody of her children, manipulated a
secretary at the child's school to assist in kidnapping the child.
In the above examples, it is important to note that the person
manipulated by the angry mother has, in a way, been "alienated"
against the divorcing husband. Typically, the individual
takes on a righteous indignation, contributing to a rewarding climate
for the mother initiating malicious actions.
Criterion 1C: Excessive Litigation
There is little question that either party in a divorce or custody
proceeding is entitled to appropriate legal representation and action.
Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, however,
attempt to punish the divorcing husband by engaging in excessive litigation.
A belligerent and unreasonable mother verbally attacked her ex-husband
whenever she saw him. Over time, his response was to ignore her.
then took him to court, asking the judge to require the ex-husband to
talk with her.
One mother told a judge that her daughter was not really her divorcing
One woman refused to stop attacking her ex-husband through the courts, despite
numerous attorneys being fired or voluntarily leaving the
case. Over a three-year period, seven different attorneys were utilized.
Data exist which can help in determining the range of excessive
litigation. For example, Koel et al. (1988) report on the
of post-divorce litigation in a sample of 700 families. Their data
indicate that only 12.7% of families file one post-divorce petition to
the court, whereas less than 5 percent file two or more petitions
(Koel et al. 1988); less than one percent file four or more petitions.
Criterion 2A: Denying Regular Visitation
Experts are in relative agreement that regular and uninterrupted
visitation with the non-residential parent is desirable and beneficial
for children, except in extreme circumstances (Hodges, 1991). In
fact, some states, such as Florida, have laws written to reflect this
view (Keane, 1990). Unfortunately, even when the father and children
have legal rights to visitation, individuals with Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome continue to interfere with it.
A mother who previously attacked her ex-husband physically during
visitation transfers of the children, refused to provide the children
when the ex-husband had the police attend to monitor exchanges.
When one divorced father arrived to pick up his children for
visitation, the mother arranged for her and the children to be
elsewhere so that the father could not visit with the children.
One mother had her physically intimidating boyfriend assault her
ex-husband when he came to pick up his children for visitation.
The President of the Council for Children's Rights (Washington, D.C.)
notes that such alienation is considered a form of child abuse (Levy,
1992). Unfortunately, the police typically avoid involving themselves
in such situations. Furthermore, unless a victimized father is
financially capable of returning to court on an ongoing basis, there
is little that can be done to prevent such mothers' behavior.
Finally, even when such cases are brought to trial, the courts are
often inadequate in supporting fathers' visitation rights. (Commission
on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992).
Given the physical absence of one parent, the telephone plays an
important role in maintaining the bond between child and
non-residential parent. Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome engage in an array of actions designed to
circumvent telephone access. [English judges have a habit of interfering in
telephone contact between father and child, thus either aiding and abetting
the mentally sick mothers here described, or demonstrating that the judge
suffers from this syndrome. – Ivor Catt.]
A father called to speak to his children and was told that they were
not at home when, in fact, he could hear their voices in the
When one father called to speak with his children, the mother put him
on "hold," informed no one, and then left him on hold.
Knowing that the children's father was away on vacation, one mother
encouraged them to leave several messages on his answering machine to call
back immediately only if he would like some additional visitation
time with his children.
Some fathers find the alienation attempts so painful and fruitless
that they eventually are extinguished from calling their children;
they simply "give up." Placed in a no-win scenario, the
"abandonment" (Hodges, 1991) unfortunately achieves the precise result
aimed for by the individual suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother
Criterion 2C: Denying Participation in Extra-Curricular
An integral part of the process of maintaining one's bond with one's
child is to participate in activities that one did before the parents
separated. School plays, team sports, and religious events are just
osme of the type of activities of importance. Malicious Mothers
frequently engage in maneuvers designed to prevent participation in
One father was deliberately given the wrong date and time for an
important event for the child. The child was asked by the mother,
wonder why your father didn't want to come to see you today"?
One mother refused to provide the father with any information about
any extra-curricular activities in which the children were engaged.
Prior to a child's soccer game, one mother told many of the team
parents disparaging falsehoods about the visiting father. When he
came to watch his son's soccer game, many of these parents looked at
him with angry eyes, refused to talk with him, and walked away when he
moved toward them.
Malicious Mothers who engage in such behaviors rarely have to face
penalties for such actions. Judges, attorneys, and policemen cannot
involve themselves in every instance of blocked paternal access.
Furthermore, most fathers cannot afford the financial requirements
involved. As such, the cycle of access interference perpetuates
Criterion 3A: Malicious Lying to the Children
Given their developmental status, children in a disputed divorce
situation are quite vulnerable. When one parent decides to attack the
other by lying to the children, examples of this type of malicious
behavior may include some of the following:
One divorcing mother told her very young daughter that father was "not
really" her father, even though he was.
An eight-year-old girl was forced by her mother to hand unpaid bills
to her father when he visited because the mother had falsely told the
daughter that the father had not provided any economic means of
support to the family.
One mother falsely told her children that their father had repeatedly
beat her up in the past.
These examples of malicious lying can be contrasted with the more
subtle maneuvers typically seen in Parental Alienation Syndrome, such
as "virtual allegations" (Cartwright, 1993). Here, the mother
up a Parental Alienation Syndrome may hint that abuse may have
occurred, whereas the individual suffering from Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome falsely claims that abuse has actually
Criterion 3B: Malicious Lying to Others
Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome may
engage a wide range of other individuals in their attacks upon the ex-husband.
However, with this particular criterion, the individual with Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome specifically lies to other individuals in the
belligerency against the father. Some examples include the following:
One furious mother called the president of the (1500 employee)
workplace of her divorcing husband, claiming falsely that he was using
business property for person gain and was abusing their mutual
children at his work locale.
One woman falsely told state officials that her ex-husband was
sexually abusing their daughter. The child was immediately taken away
from him and his access to her was denied.
During the course of a custody dispute, one mother falsely informed
the guardian, who was investigating the parenting skills of each
parent, that the father had physically abused her.
Snyder (1986) has reported on the difficulty imposed upon legal
authorities when confronted with someone who is an excellent liar.
Consistent with research on the inability of "specialists" to
lying (Ekman and O'Sullivan, 1991), a skilled fabricator can be a
compelling witness in the courtroom (Snyder, 1986). While sometimes
seen in borderline personalities, Snyder (1986) notes that
pathological lying (Pseudologia Fantastica) is not restricted to that
particular character disorder.
Criterion 3C: Violating Law to Attack the Husband
Individuals suffering from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, have
few, if any boundaries in their campaign against the divorcing husband.
Violations of law are common in many cases, although the laws broken may be
relatively minor. However, in some cases, the violations of law may be
One woman deliberately drove her automobile into the house of the
ex-husband where their mutual children resided.
In the midst of a custody battle, one woman broke into the residence
of her divorcing husband and stole important business papers.
An angry divorcing mother called a Christian evangelical television
station and pledged $1,000, giving the name, address and phone number of her
divorcing Jewish husband as the pledgee.
The above descriptions may remind the reader of certain personality
disorders (e.g., antisocial, borderline, sadistic) but these behaviors
may be demonstrated by individuals with Divorce-Related Malicious
Mother Syndrome who do not appear to meet official diagnostic criteria
for an Axis II disorder. Further, in each of the four examples
provided above, none of the Malicious Mothers involved was sentenced for such
behavior by a Judge.
Criterion 4: Not Due to Another Disorder
In assessing the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome, it is
important to note that many of the above clinical examples seem to
have occurred in individuals who had no prior mental disorder
diagnosis or treatment. In fact, one mother who engaged in extreme
maliciousness toward her divorcing husband had several mental health
professionals testify that she was not suffering from any type of
In the author's experience, for each mental disorder that might come
to mind to account for some of this behavior, an exceptional case
presents. For example, in some cases, an Adjustment Disorder might
seem an appropriate diagnosis, yet one woman still denied her
ex-husband visitation 10 years after the divorce. Other cases might
suggest a possibility of a personality disorder diagnosis, yet one
woman who repeatedly violated the law in attacking her ex-husband,
received no personality disorder diagnosis despite being evaluated by
masters level and doctoral level examiners. In some instances,
Intermittent Explosive Disorder might be considered, yet the anger for
many of the mothers does not appear to be intermittent.
Finally, the reader should appreciate that while diagnostic accuracy
for certain psychiatric difficulties is not as good as one would like
(e.g., the personality disorders, see Turkat, 1990), the problem is
compounded in family law where incompetent mental health examiners
sometimes become involved in the judicial process (Turk, 1993).
Clearly, the relationship between Divorce-Related Malicious Mother
Syndrome and other mental disorders is a complex one which requires
The above description of the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome raises
a variety of important clinical, legal and scientific issues.
From a clinical perspective, families that involve a Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome are subject to serious episodes of stress
and distress. Yet, there is no scientific evidence on how to treat
this phenomenon. It is particularly compromised by the fact that many
of these cases that appear to meet the proposed diagnostic criteria
deny that there is anything wrong with them.
An additional difficulty is that many therapists are unaware of this
pattern of malicious behavior (Heinz and Heinz, 1993). As such, there
are malicious therapists who are "fooled" by such cases and, as
earlier, will come to court testifying that there is nothing wrong
with the mother involved.
From a legal perspective, there are some attorneys who may
unintentionally encourage this type of behavior (Gardner, 1989). On
the other hand, there are some attorneys who deliberately encourage
such behavior as the financial rewards for them are time dependent.
In other words, the more involved the litigation process, the greater
the profits for the attorney. (Grotman and Thomas, 1990).
even for the subset of attorneys for whom this may be true, there is a
point of diminishing returns. Furthermore, independent of economic
considerations, many who become involved with family law courtrooms
find that these types of cases are not handled well (Greif, 1985;
The woman who is not disturbed "enough" to lose custody of her
children in the courtroom will not have money denied to her because
she engages in this behavior; nor will she go to jail. Thus, many
clients report significant frustration when they and their children
are exposed to this type of behavior, and the courts seem to do
In a review of pertinent law literature on bias against men in family
law proceedings, Tillitski (1992) concluded that there is widespread
discrimination. This is well illustrated by one family law Judge's
statement that, "I ain't never seen the calves follow the bulls, they
always follow the cow; therefore, I always give custody to the mamas."
(Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992, p. 741).
Similarly, it is noted that visitation rights of fathers are not
enforced as rigidly as are child support orders (Commission on Gender
Bias in the Judicial System, 1992.) Such bias against men in family
law proceedings results in a unique group of fathers who
unintentionally become relatively helpless victims of the system
(Tillitski, 1992). This situation would seem to reinforce much of the
vicious behavior displayed by women suffering from Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome.
The issue of sex distribution of the disorder certainly needs to be
addressed. The overwhelming majority of custodial parents are female
(Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, 1992). Gardner
(1989) has noted that Parental Alienation Syndrome appears most
commonly in females, although it is possible for a male who has
custody of the children to engage in the same type of alienating
behaviors. The author's experience with Divorce-Related Malicious
Mother Syndrome is similar to Gardner's. However, the present writer
has yet to see a case of a father engaging in all of the criteria
listed. This does not mean that it is not possible for there to be a
"Malicious Father" Syndrome. In fact, Shephard (1992) reports
there is significant abuse of some custodial mothers by
non-residential fathers. On the other hand, it should be noted that
there are females who are required to pay child support, but we have
yet to hear about "Deadbeat Moms." Given at the present time
case in which the father met all of the criteria for Divorce-Related
Malicious Mother Syndrome has yet to be documented, it appears
advisable to await scientific evidence to guide issues of nosologic
How prevalent is the Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome? The answer
is unknown. Gardner (1989) reports that approximately 90
percent of all custody battles involve some aspects of parental
alienation. Further, Kressel (1985) reviewed data indicating that
to 40 percent of maternal custodians denied visitation to the
ex-husband in order to punish him. Relatedly, Arditti (1992)
reported that 50 percent of a sample of divorce fathers (N=125)
indicated that visitation was interfered with by the mother. While
aspects of parental alienation may be common, it is highly unlikely
that such a percentage of maternal custodians would meet all of the
criteria for Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.
In regard to incidence, it would appear through the title of this
syndrome that the malicious behavior is precipitated by the divorce
process. However, this is clearly an empirical question. While
malicious actions may first be noted during a divorce process, it is
possible that maliciousness may have been present earlier but
undetected. Research on pre-divorce parental conflict (Enos and
Handal, 986) supports this speculation. Relatedly, it may also be
that there are some cases of pre-existing mental disorder that have
not been discovered until the stress of the divorce itself unfolds.
Finally, it should be noted that research on the nature of
post-divorce family functioning is beginning to emerge. Some data
exist on the role of parental conflict in children's post divorce
functioning (e.g. Frost and Pakiz, 1990; Furstenberg et al., 1987;
Healy, Malley and Steward, 1990; Kudek, 1988), but studies have yet to
appear on the more extreme cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome and
Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome.
The Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome represents an important societal
phenomenon. The disorder affects children, parents,
attorneys, judges, guardians, mental health professionals and others.
Until this phenomenon is explored more thoroughly in the scientific
and clinical literature, the problems imposed by individuals suffering
from Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome will continue to plague us.
Hopefully, the present manuscript will stimulate research so that clinical
and legal management guidelines can be developed.
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