Divorce And PAS

Hossein Berenji, Jan 03, 2017

According to one prominent observer, the child custody fight brewing in the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie divorce indicates the beginnings of parental alienation syndrome.

By most accounts, Ms. Jolie filed her divorce petition with little warning. Mr. Pitt may have been taken aback by the filing, because several weeks elapsed before he filed a formal response. The swift nature of the proceeding is not in and of itself a “red flag,” because of sudden marital trauma, such as abuse or infidelity, occasions many divorces in California.

However, some events in the wake of the filing tell a different story. Ms. Jolie immediately asked a judge to basically cut off contact between Mr. Pitt and the couple’s children, a rather extreme measure even given the abuse allegations. Furthermore, those abuse accusations may not be compelling after all, as according to one source, the child who initially made the outcry had trouble recalling some of the details in a subsequent DCFS interview, leading social workers to speculate that the child may have been coached.

Finally, over the recent Christmas holiday, Ms. Jolie was reportedly “furious” that the judge allowed her estranged husband to spend time with the children, although it is unclear whether she was angry at Mr. Pitt, the judge, or both.

After separate investigations, both the FBI and the DCFS concluded that Mr. Pitt did not physically assault anyone.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Family therapists first identified what was then called “maternal brainwashing” in the 1980s. This sexist label, along with the controversial nature of the disorder, meant that many people in the general scientific community refused to recognize PAS, and this prejudice against the diagnosis continues to this day, at least to some extent. Because of the lack of general consensus, there is no one definition for what constitutes PAS. Most people define it as a concerted effort by an alienating parent to emotionally separate a targeted parent from the couple’s children, sometimes to establish themselves as the dominant parent and sometimes to use the children to fill the emotional void created by the loss of a spouse in a divorce.

Signs of PAS

The symptoms of this disorder vary significantly depending on the circumstances of each family as well as the intentions of the alienating parent. Some items, such as disparaging the other parent within the presence and/or hearing of the children, are covered in the temporary orders. However, there are many other “red flags.”

  • Many alienating parents purposefully scheduling extracurricular events that conflict with the targeted parent’s period of possession. Such a dilemma puts the targeted parents in an impossible position, because they can either tell the children they cannot attend a friend’s sleepover or accept the alienating parents’ vague promises of “makeup visitation” that will probably never materialize.
  • To ingratiate themselves to the children, many alienating parents grant special privileges, like a later curfew or a private room, that the targeted parent either cannot or will not provide.Although the alienating parents may not intend any ill will toward the targeted parents, the emotional effect is to drive the children away from the targeted parents.
  • If the children are older, subtle manipulations may not be as effective, and alienating parents may attempt more drastic measures, such as concealing the children from the targeted parent or refusing to relinquish possession to the targeted parents.

British spy novelist Ian Fleming once wrote that “once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.” In the PAS context, one or two isolated red flags may not be a cause for concern, but if there is any pattern of misconduct, immediate action is usually in order.

Handling PAS

Once the alienating parent creates an emotional divide between the children and the targeted parents, this damages is normally irreversible. To salvage the relationship, a motion to modify, and possibly a petition for habeas corpus, are usually in order.

When parents file contested motions to modify custody or visitation, most family law judges in Southern California order DCFS evaluations, like the one described in the above story. Because of their specific training and experience in divorce child custody cases, social workers both recognize PAS and fully appreciate its dangers, and such finding are often evident in their reports. Even if the findings are not strong enough to warrant a custody or visitation change, judges may enter corrective orders, like mandatory makeup visitation, or set additional ground rules, like setting a uniform bedtime in both households.

Parenting is hard enough, and parenting as a targeted parent is almost impossible. For a case evaluation with an experienced family law attorney in Los Angeles, contact Berenji & Associates. We routinely handle cases in Los Angeles County and nearby jurisdictions.