“We Know What You Don’t Know”
Family Law and Family Violence: Outdated, Misled
Family Law and family violence commentary in Australia relies on outdated and misleading concepts. Considering parental alienation as a form of coercive-controlling family violence and child psychological maltreatment requiring specific assessment and remediation and as a public health issue lags in Australia due to such misinformation. Misleading or incorrect ideas about parental alienation are disinformation that adversely impacts its credibility despite evidence supporting it. It leads to poor judicial outcomes that continue harming children despite claims that such decisions are in their best interests.
Examining family assessments and therapeutic reports reveals that in many cases, family consultants and therapists with whom Family Law orders parents to engage rely on incorrect interpretations of parental alienation theory. In many cases, they ignore it altogether. Analysis of such assessments and reports also identifies confirmation bias in Family Law cases due to adopting family violence theories that refuse to accept parental alienation as a valid theory and science.
This article provides a means to check how well Family Law practitioners understand what they are assessing and remediating.
Adverse Implications of Relying on Misleading Parental Alienation Information
Relying only on misleading information criticising parental alienation may lead family consultants and counsellors to misguide judicial processes by “cherry-picking” evidence to support an assessment biased toward their ideological views against parental alienation.
Family consultants assess family situations from the perspective of what is in the child’s best interest. Analysing their assessments shows what assessment methods they use and whether they differentiate between parental alienation behaviours and other forms of family violence and child abuse.
Please refer to the FAQ for a practical guide on choosing Family Court-ordered practitioners.
Definitions of Parental Alienation.
Most legal counsel, family consultants and family therapists generally agree on a reasonably accurate definition, typically :
“Psychological manipulation of a child into unwarranted and unjustified fear, disrespect, contempt or hostility toward a parent or caregiver, which may involve resistance to spending time with that parent or outright rejection. Such resistance or rejection is without cause and disproportionate to the child’s historical relationship”.
It is hard to get this definition wrong. Research and publishing about parental alienation started in the 1980s. The references to parental alienation are too numerous to mention. Contemporary definitions paraphrase Dr Richard Gardner’s1 original meaning and have primarily maintained their roots with it:
“a disorder which arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from a combination of a programming (brainwashing) parents’ indoctrination and the child’s own contribution to the vilification of the target parent.”
The main divergence from Gardner’s actual definition is a shift away from his original contention that parental alienation is a disorder:
Misleading Information and Disinformation
Misleading information derails the correct understanding of parental alienation in Family Law. Associating parental alienation with men’s rights organisations for their fathers’ rights agenda is an example of disinformation that attempts to degrade the credibility of the presentation. Additionally, some family violence groups refuse to accept the validity of parental alienation, claiming it is a belief system, not a science.
Such claims not only have no basis, but they are also disinformation that undermines the credibility of parental alienation and adversely impacts outcomes for children whom psychological maltreatment by alienation harms. Parental alienation is no more or less contentious than family violence. The theory and science of parental alienation are as well-grounded in social science as family violence and child abuse and are no more or less contentious.
Fake News: Family Violence and Child Sexual Abuse Claims
Some family violence groups claim parental alienation is a means of deflecting or defending against claims of family violence and child sex abuse, implying that all such claims are universally valid, especially when women and children make them. This claim is false. Many family violence and child sexual abuse claims are fabricated and deliberately misleading .
False allegations are parental alienation behaviour. Exposing children to sexual abuse concepts and inducing them into making false sexual abuse claims against a parent is arguably a sexual grooming behaviour. Family violence groups risk supporting sexual grooming behaviours by relying on the presumption that all claims are valid.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s Call for Input: Custody Cases, Violence against Women and Children exemplifies how reliance on incorrect information and disinformation about parental alienation results in a biased and disingenuous investigation.
Family Law Relies on Outdated Parental Alienation Theories
Family Law’s understanding of parental alienation appears to rely on outdated formulations that current theory and research supersedes. One obsolete theory is the “alienated child” reformulation of parental alienation. It depends on Gardner’s original definitions but incorrectly attributes pathological alienation to multiple family relational and environmental factors, suggesting that children may alienate themselves. Research linking parental alienation presentations and behaviours long supersedes this idea.
Conflating Parental Alienation and High Conflict
Family law practitioners, counsellors and therapists often conflate children’s resistance and refusal with high conflict. High conflict and parental alienation are not the same. Parental alienation behaviours result in a high conflict as a presenting feature, usually because the alienated parent takes action to recover their children. They act as a lightning rod for Family Law, counsellors and therapists to focus on.
The linkage between parental alienation behaviours and alienation presentations debunks the claim that high conflict alienates children. Children do not form unrealistic views that, for example, one of their parents is a sexual predator because their parents are engaged in chronic conflict. This misrepresentation may lead to parental alienation cases, failing because of inappropriate remediations and therapies, worsening the situation. Such interventions attempt to remediate a situation that does not exist, using presumptions that not only do not apply but further exacerbate the problem.
Misattributing Attachment Theory to Parental Alienation
Family consultants, counsellors, and therapists are well-educated about attachment theory. Attachment theory, first defined by Ainsworth and Bowlby, explores the nature of family relationships, especially parent-child relationships, in the context that people have an innate need for social connections and that these relationships influence how they develop and engage with others and the world around them.
All practitioners should understand and assess for corrupted attachment styles involving parentification, adultification and infantilisation. These attachment types influence children to inappropriately depend on a parent or caregiver and serve their emotional needs rather than theirs. Alienated children demonstrate corrupted attachment that inhibits their identity development and diffuses boundaries between them and their favoured parent to the extent that they cannot separate their thoughts and emotions from their parents.
Practitioners who lack knowledge about corrupted attachment styles may misinterpret attachment theory to support their view that the child is appropriately bonded with their favoured parent and will suffer if removed from them.
Conflating Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome
Opponents of parental alienation object to labelling parental alienation as such but do not and cannot object to parental alienation behaviours. Such an objection positions these groups to accept violent and abusive behaviour. These groups want to subsume the concept of parental alienation behaviours into their ideological frame. Using a different label, such as domestic violence by proxy or simply controlling-coercive behaviour to incorporate parental alienation into other presentations, risks concealing the factors that differentiate parental alienation from other issues.
It is correct to say there is no parental alienation syndrome, just as there is no family violence syndrome. The term parental alienation is generally used to describe the entirety of children’s alienating presentations and parental alienation behaviours. There is no diagnostic category specifically for parental alienation. Nonetheless, the DSM-5 type “Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress (CAPRD)” is relevant to parental alienation presentations in children. Parental alienation may be recognised in DSM-5TR as a relational problem that may be a focus of clinical attention.
Conclusion: A Family Law and Family Violence Checklist
Inadequate professional development and outdated and misleading information about parental alienation can frustrate alienated parents’ attempts to recover their children through Family Law action. Such misleading information may lead legal counsel and ICLs to formulate their case incorrectly, resulting in a sub-optimal outcome. Family consultants or court-ordered counsellors or therapists are responsible to the Family Court for discharging their duties, including relying on validated information to support their assessments and therapy. Professional development in parental alienation practice and theory is available in Australia.
A cross-exanimation strategy informed by the latest parental alienation theory and research can adversely impact the credibility of or reinterpret a family assessment or therapeutic report. Alienated parents and their legal counsel forearmed with the FAQ checklist may make better choices and turn an otherwise adverse assessment or report to their advantage. The FAQ checklist may be used to interview family consultants and practitioners to gauge their suitability and examine their assessments and reports for aspects that discount it or may be used to support the case for the children.
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 Ainsworth-Salter, M. D. (1989). Attachments Beyond Infancy (Vol. 44). https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.44.4.709
 Bowlby, J. (2008). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. Basic books.
 Garber, B. D. (2011). Parental Alienation and the Dynamics of the Enmeshed Parent-Child Dyad: Adultification,Parentification, and Infantilisation. Family Court Review, 49(2), 322. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-1617.2011.01374.x
 Bernet, W., Wamboldt, M. Z., & Narrow, W. E. (2016). Child Affected by Parental Relationship Distress. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 55(7), 571-579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.04.018
 Bernet, W., & Baker, A. J. L. (2022). Proposal for Parental Alienation Relational Problem To Be Included in “Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention” in DSM-5-TR. https://parp-dsm.info
 Baker, A. J. L., & Eichler, A. (2016). The Linkage Between Parental Alienation Behaviors and Child Alienation. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 57(7), 475-484. https://doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2016.1220285
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 Lorandos, D. (2020). Parental Alienation, Traditional Therapy and Family Bridges: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why: Part I of II.
Lorandos, D. (2020). Parental Alienation, Traditional Therapy, and Family Bridges: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why: Part II of II. American Journal of Family Law, 34(1), 9-17. https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/parental-alienation-traditional-therapy-family/docview/2371358180/se-2?accountid=28745
 Eddy, B. (2009). New Ways for Families Collaborative Parent Workbook. High Conflict Inst.
 Doughty, J., & Rathus, Z. (2022). The international expansion of the parental alienation belief system through the UK and Australian experiences. In Challenging Parental Alienation: New Directions for Professionals and Parents (pp. 40-62). Routledge.
 Yaakov, A., Bernet, W., Cedervall, B., Harman, J. J., Mendoza-Amaro, A., & Sherry, A. (2023). A Comprehensive Review of Misinformation and Other Inaccuracies in Challenging Parental Alienation: New Directions for Professionals and Parents. (PASG and GARIPA).
 MacKay, T. (2014). False allegations of child abuse in contested family law cases: The implications for psychological practice. Educational and Child Psychology, 31(3), 85-96.
Webb, N., Moloney, L. J., Smyth, B. M., & Murphy, R. L. (2021). Allegations of child sexual abuse: An empirical analysis of published judgements from the Family Court of Australia 2012–2019. The Australian journal of social issues, 56(3), 322-343. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajs4.171
 Kelly, J. B., & Johnson, J. R. (2001). The Alienated Child: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), 249-266.
 Gardner, R. A. (1985). Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigations. Academy Forum, 29(2), 3-7.
 Gardner, R. A. (2002). Denial of the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) Also Harms Women. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 30(3), 191-202. https://doi.org/10.1080/019261802753577520
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