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Divorced Dads Tips: The Difference Between Parental Alienation Syndrome & Mommy Manipulation!

Feb 29, 2008
DISCLAIMER: The following is NOT legal advice, nor is it a substitute for legal advice. If you are in Family Court you will need legal advice, so please see a lawyer.

We've seen a number of cases over the years of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) over the years. To be clear: It is not a recognized medical syndrome. And, it is often overused and inappropriately by divorced dads, it can torpedo their case fast simply because it is a simplistic overstatement of the true facts.

It's a phrase now that is embedded into the legal speak that goes on in Family Courtrooms everywhere when access/visitation denial by anything from a mildly angry to an extremely malicious mother. And therein lies the problem. By not characterizing the seriousness of the problems appropriately and accurately, a divorced dad loses credibility when he doesn't distinguish between:

(a) Manipulation and/or alienation;

(b) Moderate, severe, extreme, fanatical forms of manipulation;

(c) Moderate, severe, extreme, fanatical forms of alienation.

Accurately portraying through evidence which pigeonhole your child's symptoms seem to suggest tends to demonstrate reasonableness on the fathers part, which naturally confers credibility on that evidence because it does not come across as a distortion or exaggeration of the facts.

When a malicious mother ramps up her campaign of hatred to the point that the children are seized with an OVERWHELMING irrational fear of the father following separation and/or divorce PAS becomes a distinct possibility, but it is unlikely beforehand.

So what is overwhelming fear?

It does not include any fear that is superficial. The typical kind displayed by many children who either can and/or can't explain their fear, but don't act in a manner consistent with those fears.

Here's an example of consistency that borders on fanatical: A child who is cowering in the corner, even when fully protected in a supervised access center with social workers, still refuses to try and have a relationship with their dad.

Usually children such as these have been so poisoned by a mother ingratiating the child into their world view through parentification: The process where a child is made a confident of a mother and where sharing of how dangerous daddy is takes place in a sophisticated and subtle way that is far beyond a child's abilities to understand, appreciate and fend off.

At the simplest level, manipulation that is not constantly sustained lacks depth, because it lacks consistent reinforcement at every opportunity possible. I would characterize this as the typical tactic of an overwrought mother not necessarily wanting revenge, but who is venting inappropriately through involving their child in their tirades and rants.

Malicious Mommy Manipulation Syndrome begins here and ends when a mother is including hatred and anger with sufficient force to influence a child towards PAS.

I've used the above framework to discern for myself what level of manipulation and/or actual alienation is taking place. Alienation always relies upon some form of HUGE lie told to frighten the child such as: your Dad will kidnap you and you will never ever see me again. Then when Dad is tired of you, he will abandon you God knows where. Then some stranger will find you and kill you.

That would terrify any child. And that is where real PAS begins from my perspective.

I remember a conference we had for the National Shared Parenting Association about 10 years ago where there was a young woman, she was about 21 years old, came to speak with us after we did our opening remarks. She was in absolute tears. Her mother had told her that her father was a monster.

This lady was in her mid 20s and for most of her childhood into early teenage and early adulthood, she was told her dad is a monster. I guess when she went out on her own she mustered up enough courage to try and find him and she did. Here was the real shocker. He is a wonderful man, which basically means she was betrayed by her mother. We told her: "You know you are very brave and good for you that you mustered up the courage to go and find your dad and you are reconnecting with him."

The biggest challenge she is going to face now is learning how to forgive her mother, if that is even still possible. She might not be able to. This is the cost of what happens in divorce. Sometimes children are forced to make a choice between their parents. No child should ever have to do that.

It is not appropriate to wage war over your kids but it is appropriate to wage peace. The best advice that we can give you is to choose happiness over perfection. You and your kids will have a better time for it and likely a better person as a result.

When you face a really difficult situation that seems as if your kids are manipulated or alienated remember this formula when describing it to the Family Court Judge:

Is what you are seeing exhibited in your child:

(a) Manipulation and/or alienation;

(b) Moderate, severe, extreme, fanatical forms of manipulation;

(c) Moderate, severe, extreme, fanatical forms of alienation.

And match your evidence closely to what you describe.

Remember all manipulation and alienation is wrong, but the key to resolving it in Family Court is vigorously exposing it accurately. That's the beginning of any Family Court Game Plan where these are the main issues facing your children.

Finally, be patient. This form of abuse is difficult to detect, and to prove. It takes time. However having a management system for the diagnosis of the problem will often lead to its solution.
About the Author
Danny Guspie - Executive Director of Fathers Resources International can help you learn the successful strategies of fathers who have won in Family Court. Join us on our weekly calls at

where we will share with you what works for successful divorced dads.
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