We need to have a serious conversation about the insidious and dangerous term “parental alienation.”

If you’re going through a divorce with a toxic spouse, you might have heard this phrase thrown around in court. On the surface, it sounds legitimate and intimidating. 

But here’s the thing… 

It’s a load of crap.

“Parental alienation” is a claim used by abusers to manipulate the court system and maintain power over an ex-spouse. It’s a form of post-separation abuse that weaponizes the court (and children) against the victim.

I’ve heard abusers threaten victims in this way far too many times — and every time, it infuriates and crushes me.

I’m Kate Anthony, a divorce coach and domestic violence victim’s advocate who empowers women like you through one of the toughest chapters of your life. And I’m here to expose the truth about this claim — so you, as the truly protective parent you are, can shield yourself and your child from its harmful effects.

So let’s set the record straight…

What is parental alienation, and how did the term originate?

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was coined by disgraced psychologist Richard Gardner. Gardner’s ludicrous theory states: if a child expresses aversion towards a non-custodial parent, it’s the result of brainwashing by the custodial parent. 

According to him, this so-called “brainwashing” is more harmful to children than actual abuse. And the only viable solution is to completely sever all ties between the custodial parent and the child. Who’s alienating who?

Gardner’s unfounded theory not only lacks any credible evidence, but it also puts vulnerable children at great risk of harm by an abusive parent.

None of his work has been peer-reviewed. It’s not included in the DSM — yet he somehow managed to convince people that “parental alienation syndrome” was a real thing.

But let’s be clear: it’s not. 

It’s a sham theory created by a biased, unethical man who saw nothing wrong with adults preying on innocent children. Gardner even went so far as to suggest that sexual encounters between adults and children aren’t necessarily “bad.” You read that right. Gardner excused pedophilia, and claimed that a parent who was attempting to protect a child from a sexual abuser was engaging in “parental alienation.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Despite all of this, Gardner’s theory of Parental Alienation Syndrome continues on. Even many divorce professionals are using this bogus term (dropping the word “syndrome”) for marketing purposes. But the term should NEVER be used by professionals.

Despite being rejected by the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges and the Presidential Task Force of the American Psychological Association, this claim is still used by abusive, high-conflict individuals to gain custody of their children and control their ex-spouses and is upheld by courts.

And I want to be clear…

There are times when a parent actually does turn a child against their other parent. But in those cases, we should call it what it is: domestic abuse by proxy. We should never use a term that has its roots and ties to Gardner.

The danger of parental alienation

Abusers use the term “parental alienation” to try to discredit women who are speaking up about abuse. Essentially, they use the court system to perpetuate and protect the abuse they’ve inflicted on their ex-spouse and children.

But here’s the thing… Kids don’t randomly reject a parent for no reason. There’s usually a damn good reason. Often, it’s because of the rejected parent’s negative behavior and relationship with that child. And parents who are genuinely trying to protect their children from abuse are accused of “alienating” the abusing parent. 

This is not only infuriating, but it’s also dangerous. And the danger of this myth goes beyond the manipulation of the court system. 

In extreme situations, children are removed from their safe parent and forced into reunification camps. But these camps are the abuser’s way of continuing to harm the protective parent and to gaslight the child into believing that their safe parent is the one who is harming them. Instead of being protected, the child is forced into a relationship with an abuser in a so-called therapeutic setting, often being forcibly removed from their homes in the middle of the night by a tactical team.

It’s heartbreaking…

News organizations and investigative reporters continue to expose the true nature of these camps. Yet they remain operational today. And worse… court-mandated.

Parental alienation and the Father’s Rights Movement

Despite being overwhelmingly debunked, we still see attorneys and other professionals in the family court system co-opting the parental alienation theory. They use claims of “alienation” to deflect allegations of abuse. 

They strategically undermine the credibility of the safe parent and turn the abuser into a victim. Classic D.A.R.V.O., and gaslighting at its finest.

So. Fucked. Up. 

But because of the growing momentum of the Father’s Rights Movement, this actually works in the court system. Courts are pressured to award fathers custody or more parenting time, even in cases where there’s evidence of abuse or neglect. It has enabled abusive fathers to maintain control over their victims.

And — in some tragic cases — it’s enabled them to murder their children.

Sadly, this is exactly what happened to seven-year-old Kayden Mancuso. According to the California Protective Parent’s website, Kayden’s “protective parent, Kathy Sherlock, fought to protect her from her abusive father with a documented history of violence and mental instability. The courts refused to protect Kayden with full protective orders. On an unsupervised visit with her father, Kayden, only seven years old, was violently murdered by him on August 5, 2018.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of money to be made from this movement. 

Attorneys unethically push alienation claims knowing it has no scientific basis or credibility. There are reports of therapists and other family court professionals — especially judges — who are financially incentivized to label children as “alienated.”

When this happens, women and their children suffer enormously at the hands of misogyny.

Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University Law School, was determined to get to the root of this suffering.

Meier and a team of researchers studied 4,388 custody cases from 2005 to 2014 to see how often courts ignored abuse claims and took away custody from the parent reporting the abuse. They also looked at how gender and accusations of “parental alienation” affected these decisions.

And the numbers don’t lie…

Clearly, we have a lot of work to do… So instead of getting disheartened by these numbers, let’s use them to drive us into action for change.

How can you protect yourself and your kids?

It’s time for women to rise up against the parental alienation claim. This isn’t just about individual cases. This is about how women and kids are treated in our justice system as a whole. We can’t let this kind of manipulation continue. 

Here’s how to fight parental alienation:

  • We need to demand that our court professionals start using evidence-based practices. 
  • We need to pass the various bills that come up in each state designed to protect abused children from an unsafe parent, based on the model of Kayden’s Law.
  • We need to hold those who perpetuate this myth accountable for the harm they’re causing. 
  • Most importantly, we need to stand up for ourselves and our kids.

Speaking out is never easy. But when we come together as a collective, we’re a force to be reckoned with. 

When you have support, you can be stronger. With the right guidance, you can navigate gut-wrenching court experiences like this with clarity.

If you’re looking for THAT kind of support, guidance, and clarity, you’ll find tons of it and more in my program, Grit & Grace. The program is designed to help women like you find the support you need. Whether you’re contemplating, navigating, or recovering from divorce, you’ll find the confidence and strength you need to reclaim your life.

You don’t need to go through this alone. I’ve got a seat with your name on it, love.