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A survey study was conducted of adults who self reported being targets of parental alienation. Three research questions were addressed: (1) What alienating strategies were identified by the targeted parents and to what extent were these behaviors consistent with those identified by adult children of PAS? (2) Was gender of the targeted parent associated with number and/or type of strategy identified? And (3) What child and parent characteristics were associated with level of PAS (mild, moderate, severe) as described by the targeted parents? Ninety-seven individuals completed a written survey. One section of the survey asked participants to list every type of behavior that they believed the alienating parent used to effectuate the alienation. From prior research and review of the responses, a list of possible strategies was developed. The 1,300 actions described by the 97 participants were independently coded. Results revealed 66 types of strategies, 11 mentioned by at least 20% of the sample. There was considerable but not complete overlap in the strategies identified by the targeted parents with those described by adult children (from another study). There were no statistical differences in the number or type of strategy mentioned based on the gender of the targeted parent or the gender of the target child. Level of severity of PAS (mild, moderate, severe) as perceived by the targeted parent was associated with age and gender of the target child, with girls and older children being more likely to be reported as more severely alienated. These results provide a systematic examination of the different types of alienation strategies known to targeted parents and as such they offer several avenues for clinical interventions and future research.
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Behaviors and Strategies
Employed in Parental Alienation:
A Survey of Parental Experiences
Amy J. L. Baker
Douglas Darnall
ABSTRACT. A survey study was conducted of adults who self reported
being targets of parental alienation. Three research questions were ad-
dressed: (1) What alienating strategies were identified by the targeted
parents and to what extent were these behaviors consistent with those
identified by adult children of PAS? (2) Was gender of the targeted par-
ent associated with number and/or type of strategy identified? And
(3) What child and parent characteristics were associated with level of
PAS (mild, moderate, severe) as described by the targeted parents?
Ninety-seven individuals completed a written survey. One section of the
survey asked participants to list every type of behavior that they believed
the alienating parent used to effectuate the alienation. From prior research
and review of the responses, a list of possible strategies was developed.
The 1,300 actions described by the 97 participants were independently
coded. Results revealed 66 types of strategies, 11 mentioned by at least
20% of the sample. There was considerable but not complete overlap in
the strategies identified by the targeted parents with those described by
adult children (from another study). There were no statistical differences
in the number or type of strategy mentioned based on the gender of the tar-
Amy J. L. Baker, PhD, conducts research at the New York Foundling Hospital (E-mail:
amyb@nefoundling.org). Douglas Darnall, PhD, is a psychologist in private practice.
Address correspondence to: Amy J. L. Baker, 1165 West Laurelton Parkway,
Teaneck, NJ 07666, or Douglas Darnall at: 2980 Belmont Avenue, Youngstown, OH
44505.
Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol. 45(1/2) 2006
Available online at http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JDR
© 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J087v45n01_06 97
geted parent or the gender of the target child. Level of severity of PAS
(mild, moderate, severe) as perceived by the targeted parent was associ-
ated with age and gender of the target child, with girls and older children
being more likely to be reported as more severely alienated. These results
provide a systematic examination of the different types of alienation strat-
egies known to targeted parents and as such they offer several avenues for
clinical interventions and future research. [Article copies available for a fee
from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail
address: <docdelivery@haworthpress.com> Website: <http://www.Haworth-
Press.com> © 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]
KEYWORDS: Divorce, children and divorce, parents and divorce,
parental alienation, divorce conflicts
Forensic psychiatrist Richard Gardner (1985) defined the parental alien-
ation syndrome as a “disorder that arises primarily in the context
of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s cam-
paign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It
results from a combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s in-
doctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the tar-
geted parent.” Darnall (1998) differentiates a parent’s alienating behavior
towards the child for the purpose of harming the relationship with the tar-
geted parent (PA) from the resulting alienation the child experiences from
the targeted parent (PAS). He defines parental alienation as “any constella-
tion of behaviors, whether conscious or unconscious that could evoke a dis-
turbance in the relationship between the child and the other parent.” Thus,
Gardner’s definition of parental alienation syndrome focuses on the chil-
dren’s behavior after they have been successfully alienated from the tar-
geted parent while Darnall focuses on the parent’s behavior.
Currently, there is both widespread acceptance as well as heated
debate regarding the validity of this conceptualization (see for example
Johnston & Kelly, 2001). One contributing factor to the debate is the
lack of sufficient empirical data. As Turkat (2002) has noted, the current
literature is only about 20 years old and, thus, relatively still in its
infancy. The majority of books and articles on the parental alienation
syndrome and parental alienation are theoretical, descriptive, or pro-
scriptive. The works of Darnall (1998), Rand (1997), Waldron and
Joanis (1996), Walsh and Bone (1997), and Warshak (2001) are exam-
ples of such theoretical efforts in the field to define or describe alienat-
98 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
ing behavior. To date, there is no reliable and valid measure of either
PAS or the behaviors that alienating parents engage in order to turn their
children against the other parent.
The current study was undertaken to begin to “unpack” this concept
of alienation by examining in detail the types of behaviors or strategies
that alienating parents are thought to exhibit. Gardner (1998) outlined
four general aspects of parental alienation syndrome: brainwashing,
subtle programming, factors arising within the child, and situational
factors, only the first two of which are attributable to the behaviors and
actions of the alienating parent. The first was defined as “conscious acts
of programming the child against the other parent” including but not
limited to denigrating the other parent in front of the child, making
statements that the other parent abandoned the children when in fact the
purpose of the divorce was to separate from the adult, and exaggerating
minor flaws in the targeted parent. The second, a subtle and uncon-
scious process of programming was defined by Gardner as attributing
negative aspects of the targeted parent without actually saying them and
sabotaging visitation through guilt inducement and passive discourage-
ment. These two factors, although a useful first step, have not yet been
empirically validated nor have they have been explicated in sufficient
detail. Although a helpful description, this list is both too broad and not
sufficiently inclusive to be clinically useful. In order to move the field
forward, a more detailed and comprehensive listing of the strategies
alienating parents utilize to effectuate the alienation is necessary. Such
information could form the basis of checklists for therapists, child cus-
tody evaluators, and targeted parents in order to heighten their aware-
ness of the types of behaviors likely to result in alienation.
Baker (in press) undertook an initial step in developing a list of paren-
tal alienation strategies by interviewing adults who had experienced pa-
rental alienation syndrome as a child. From these rich and descriptive
interviews 32 strategies were identified, 12 of which were mentioned by
at least 20% of the sample: (1) general bad mouthing of the other parent,
(2) limiting actual contact, (3) withdrawing love/getting angry if child
showed positive regard for targeted parent, (4) bad mouthing targeted
parent by saying s/he doesn’t love the child, (5) forcing the child to
choose between his/her parents, (6) bad mouthing targeted parent by say-
ing s/he is dangerous, (7) confiding in child about marital relationship (8)
limiting mention and photographs of the targeted parent, (9) forcing child
to reject the targeted parent (10) limiting contact with/ belittling extended
family of targeted parent, (11) belittling targeted parent in front of child,
and (12) inducing conflict between child and targeted parent.
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 99
These behaviors are likely to represent common alienating strategies
but even the full list of 32 strategies may not be an exhaustive catalog
because it is quite possible that the alienating parents were able to com-
mit alienating behaviors outside the awareness of their children. For
that reason the study participants may not have known about the full
extent of the alienating behaviors they had been subjected to. Thus, in
order to develop a definitive list, parents who are targets of alienation
need to serve as a source of information because they may be aware of
behaviors used by the alienating parent that are outside of the child’s
awareness. Until now the targeted parents have not been the focus of
any systematic study of parental alienation. In fact, Vassiliou and Cart-
wright (2001) conducted the only study to date, but with a relatively
small sample (n = 6). In addition, identification of alienation strategies
per se was not the stated purpose of their study. Nonetheless, several
important themes were brought to light in this work, including the sense
of powerlessness and frustration targeted parents feel.
The current study was designed to build on these earlier efforts to
address the gap in the knowledge base and increase the rigor of the sci-
entific inquiry in the field. It was with this goal in mind that the current
investigation was undertaken. Three sets of questions were explored:
(1) What strategies are targeted parents aware of and are these the same
strategies described by adult children of PAS? (2) Is the gender of the
parent or child associated with number and type of strategies described?
And (3) Is gender of targeted parent or child, age of child, or number of
strategies associated with the severity of PAS of the targeted child–as
described by the targeted parent?
METHODS
A survey study was conducted in January-February of 2005. Subjects
were recruited from postings on the Internet, through three avenues:
(1) The second author posted an invitation on his website which directed
interested people to the first author’s e-mail address for additional infor-
mation. (2) The first author sent a personal invitation to approximately 35
people who had earlier indicated an interest in the issue of PAS. And
(3) The first author joined several dozen internet groups for divorced par-
ents and posted an invitation on their message boards. In all three cases,
parents believing that the other parent attempted to alienate their children
against them were invited to participate. Interested parents were in-
structed to contact the first author via e-mail. In response to these queries
100 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
the first author sent a copy of the survey. Informed consent was obtained
through completion of the survey. The first section of the survey stated
the purpose of the survey (to obtain a comprehensive listing of parent
alienation strategies) and described the voluntary nature of the study and
the ways in which the confidentiality of the data would be preserved.
Only those people who agreed to these terms proceeded to complete the
survey. In all, 127 parents responded to the posting within the specified
time frame and received a copy of the survey. These responses were re-
ceived between January 26, 2005 and February 15, 2005. Of the 127 sur-
veys sent out, 6 e-mails were not valid, reducing the total to 121; Of these
97 were completed. Thus, the response rate was 80%.
Sample
Table 1 provides basic demographic information on the survey res-
pondents.
Participants were between 22 and 63 years of age (M = 42.4, SD =
7.8); 60 were male and 37 were female. The majority (83.5%) of the sur-
vey respondents had been married to the alienating parent. Forty percent
were currently non-custodial parents, 23.7% had joint custody, 6.2%
were custodial parents, and the remaining respondents described their
custody arrangements as “other.” About half of the respondents had two
children with the alienating parent and the target child was on average
12.6 (SD = 5.4) at the time of the survey. The vast majority of the re-
spondents (n = 88, 90.7%) reported that the alienating parent was a level
3 alienator (see below for description of how these judgments were
made). The level of the target child’s alienation according to the survey
respondents was as follows: 24.2% were described as mild, 31.5% were
described as moderate, and 44.2% were described as severely alienated
(see below for a description of how these judgments were made.)
The Survey
The survey comprised 14 questions and fit on one side of one page.
The first set of questions asked for demographic information including
age and gender of the respondent; how the person heard about the study,
the number of children shared with the alienating parent; the age and
gender of the child most affected by the alienation (called the target
child throughout the remainder of the survey); the current custody status
for the target child (1 = primary custodial parent, 2 = non custodial par-
ent with visitation or parenting time, 3 = split custody, 4 = non custodial
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 101
102 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
TABLE 1. Background Characteristics of the Survey Sample
N%
Age of Respondent
22-30 05 05.2
31-40 37 38.1
41-50 41 42.3
51-63 14 14.4
Gender of Respondent
Male 60 61.9
Female 37 38.1
Number of children
1 26 26.8
2 50 51.5
3+ 21 21.6
Age of target child
0-5 06 06.5
6-10 28 30.1
11-15 38 40.1
16-20 15 16.1
21+ 06 06.5
Missing = 4
Gender of target child
Male 48 51.6
Female 45 48.4
Missing = 4
Custody status
Custodial parent 06 06.2
Non custodial parent 40 41.2
Joint custody 23 23.7
Other 28 28.8
Marital status
Divorced/separated 81 83.5
Never married 11 11.3
Other 05 05.2
Type of alienation
Active 09 09.3
Obsessed 88 89.7
Level of PAS
Mild 23 24.2
Moderate 30 31.6
Severe 42 44.2
Missing = 2
with supervised visits, 5 = other); and marital status with the alienating
parent (1 = married and now divorced, 2 = married and now separated,
3 = never married, not living together, 4 = Other).
The next section of the survey focused on the alienation and included
the following questions: (1) the date the alienation began, (2) how old
the target child was at that time, and (3) the date the child first seemed
affected by the alienation.1The respondents were also asked to rate the
alienating parent’s attitude toward the targeted parent’s relationship
with the child, selecting one of three choices (derived from Darnall,
1998). (Option 1 = S/he means well and recognizes the importance of
you being an active participant in your child’s life and encourages the
relationship. Communication between the two of you is generally good.
On occasion s/he says or does something negative about you that creates
bad feelings between the target child and you. Option 2 = S/he means
well and recognizes the value of your active participation in your child’s
life but is sometimes overcome with bitterness, hurt, or frustration with
you that is expressed in a way that causes bad feelings between the tar-
get child and you. Option 3 = S/he has a mission to destroy the relation-
ship between the target child and you). These three options correspond
to the naïve, active, and obsessed alienators described by Darnall
(1998). The final question in this section of the survey asked the respon-
dent to describe the degree to which the target child was affected by the
alienation. The following three choices were provided (derived from
Gardner, 1998): 1 = Your child has some negative feelings towards you
that seem to be induced by the other parent but, in general, your relation-
ship is positive and intact; 2 = Your child has considerable negative
feelings towards you that seem to be induced by the other parent. There
is resistance to spending time with you but there is visitation; and
3=Your child professes to want nothing to do with you. Visitation is
minimal, if at all. These three choices reflect the mild, moderate, and se-
vere levels of PAS described by Gardner (1998). It is important to note
that neither the type of alienator (naïve, active, or obsessed) nor the
level of PAS (mild, moderate, or severe) was independently verified in
this study. In all cases, these descriptors represent the beliefs of the sur-
vey respondents and not independent diagnoses or assessments.
The last section of the survey asked the respondents to list in their own
words the specific strategies used by the other parent. The following di-
rections were provided: (1) Please list below in your own words every
TYPE of activity that the other parent has ever done that you believe is in-
tended to damage your relationship with the target child. (2) Please do not
tell stories or give detailed examples but be as specific as possible in your
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 103
list. For example, instead of listing “badmouthing” as one item on your
list you may want to specify different types of badmouthing such as “tell-
ing my children I do not love them,” “telling my children I am dangerous”
and “telling my children I am a bad person.” (3) Please do not list all of
the faults of the other parent such as “is selfish” “is a bad parent.” (4)
Only list behaviors that the other parent engages in that you believe are
designed to turn the target child against you.
Coding of the Strategies
A coding system was developed by the first author based on the list of
strategies identified in Baker (in press) and an initial examination of the
data. The coding system entailed 8 general categories (badmouthing,
interfering/limiting visitation, interfering/limiting phone and mail con-
tact, interfering/limiting symbolic contact, interfering with information,
emotional manipulation, unhealthy alliance, and miscellaneous). Within
each of these broad categories there were between 4 and 11 specific be-
haviors. For example, within the badmouthing category, one specific be-
havior was saying that the targeted parent was a bad person and another
specific behavior was saying that the targeted parent was dangerous and
sick. The first and second author independently coded all of the items for
the first 50 survey participants (613 items) and attained an inter-rater reli-
ability of .78 for specific behaviors and .88 for general category. The first
author completed the coding of the last half of the items. Although the re-
spondents were asked not to duplicate responses, a few did. In prepara-
tion for data entry it was decided that only one of any specific behavior
would be used per respondent. That is, if a respondent listed “says bad
things about me to the child” which was coded as general badmouthing as
well as “tells the child I am a bad person” also coded as general bad-
mouthing, only one of these two items would be entered into the database.
In that way, the sum of the responses for each item would represent the
proportion of the respondents listing each strategy.
RESULTS
The first research question pertained to the proportion of participants
who mentioned each of the strategies. These data are presented in
Table 2 anddescribed below with examples of specific items toprovide
richness and specificity to the numbers.
104 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 105
TABLE 2. Frequency Distribution of Each Strategy
N%
Badmouthing
Badmouthing General 71 74.0
Creating impression targeted parent is dangerous or sick 60 62.5
Saying targeted parent doesn’t love child 43 44.8
Confiding in child about marriage 28 29.2
Confiding in child about court case and child support issues 44 45.8
Telling child someone else is his/her parent 09 09.4
Referring to targeted parent in front of child by first name 06 06.3
Badmouthing targeted parent’s new family/extended family 26 27.1
Belittling targeted parent in front of child 16 16.7
Belittling targeted parent’s hobbies and values 04 04.2
Other badmouthing 14 14.6
At least 1 of above 91 94.8
Limiting/interfering with visitation/parenting time/contact
Moving away/hiding child 14 14.6
Limiting visitation 28 29.2
Arranging fun activities on parenting time 17 17.7
Letting child choose whether to visit 11 11.5
Asking school to limit contact 01 01.0
Not letting child see targeted parent at targeted parent’s extended family’s home 01 01.0
Calling or visiting during parenting time 10 10.4
Early pick-ups and drop-offs 03 03.1
Not letting child alone with targeted parent 01 01.0
Limiting child’s contact with targeted parent’s extended family 08 08.3
Other 22 22.9
At least 1 of above 61 63.5
Limiting/interfering with mail and phone contact
Blocking number, turning off phone 09 09.4
Intercepting calls and messages 22 22.9
Monitoring calls and e-mails 05 05.2
Throwing out letters 03 03.1
Other 07 07.3
At least 1 of above 36 37.5
Limiting/interfering with symbolic contact
Limiting mention and photographs of targeted parent 07 07.3
Having alienating parent’s family limit mention of targeted parent 01 01.0
Not allowing child to bring items from targeted parent’s home to alienating
parent’s home
02 02.1
Throwing out gifts for child from targeted parent 11 11.5
Having child call someone else “Dad” or “Mom” 09 09.4
106 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
TABLE 2 (continued)
N%
Changing child’s name 10 10.4
Rewriting past to minimize/distort child’s relationship with targeted parent 11 11.5
Other 06 06.3
At least 1 of above 36 37.5
Interfering with information
Not providing targeted parent with school, medical, activity information 18 18.8
Not providing targeted parent’s contact information to others 05 05.2
Refusing to communicate 06 06.3
Using child as messenger 03 03.1
Other 08 08.3
At least 1 of above 33 33.3
Emotional manipulation
Withdrawing love if child positive about targeted parent 08 08.3
Making child feel guilty about relationship with targeted parent 14 14.6
Interrogating child after visit with targeted parent 05 05.2
Forcing child to choose/express loyalty 09 09.4
Forcing child to reject targeted parent 26 27.1
Rewarding child for rejecting targeted parent 08 08.3
Other 19 19.8
At least 1 of above 51 53.1
Unhealthy alliance
Cultivating child’s dependence 04 04.2
Having child spy on targeted parent 12 12.5
Having secret signals with child 04 04.2
Having child keep secrets from targeted parent 11 11.5
Other 01 01.0
At least 1 of above 28 29.2
Miscellaneous
Beating targeted parent in front of child 04 04.2
Telling targeted parent child doesn’t love him/her 01 01.0
Making it appear as if targeted parent were rejecting child 14 14.6
Creating conflict between child and targeted parent 10 10.4
Badmouthing targeted parent to friends, teachers, doctors 19 19.8
Badmouthing targeted parent to authorities 30 31.3
Having step parent refer to self as “mom” or “dad” to teachers, doctors, friends 02 02.1
Undermining targeted parent’s authority 26 27.1
Interfering with child’s counseling 08 08.3
Not allowing child to bring to targeted parent’s home items from Alienating
parent’s home
11 11.5
Preventing targeted parent from parenting functions 03 03.1
Other 17 17.7
At least 1 of above 74 77.1
Badmouthing
Almost all of the parents reported that the alienating parent engaged
in some form of badmouthing behaviors (94.8%). General badmouth-
ing, telling the child that the targeted parent was a bad person was the
most frequently mentioned form of badmouthing (74%). Almost as fre-
quent was badmouthing designed to create the impression that the tar-
geted parent was a dangerous and/or sick person (62.5%). Statements
included, “Tells the children I am mentally ill,” “Says I am dangerous
and will kill them,” “Tells the children I plan to kidnap them.” Bad-
mouthing that entailed confiding in the child about court cases and or
child support conflicts was described by 45.8% of the sample. Exam-
ples included, “Daddy doesn’t give us any money so we can’t buy cat
food. The cat might die because daddy is so selfish” and “Constantly
telling my child that all financial and related problems were taking place
because of me and that I did not pay support although this was not true.”
About the same proportion of the targeted parents mentioned bad-
mouthing in which the child was told that the targeted parent did not
love him/her. Examples shared by the targeted parent included, “Telling
my children that I must not love them because once they shared a
seatbelt in my truck,” “My son is told that I don’t love him because he is
fat. He is a little on the heavy side but I would never say that about my
child,” “I travel a lot for work so I send my children all the free give-
aways I get at conventions and conferences and my ex told the children
that this shows how little I care for them, that they are only worth free
stuff that I can get,” and “Telling the kids that if I loved them I would
work harder at getting a house so they could each have their own room.”
About one-third of the sample reported badmouthing that involved
confiding in the child about the marital relationship. Examples included
statements such as “She told my children the divorce is all my fault and
it is what I wanted. It is not her fault, she did nothing wrong and it is not
what she wanted. I broke up the family and she wanted us to be to-
gether.” and “She told the children I had an affair. She told them this
when they were 9 and 6 years old and continues to remind them about it
and how they can’t trust me because of it.” Equally as common was bad-
mouthing the targeted parent’s extended family and/or new family, a
strategy described by 27.1% of the survey respondents. Examples of
statements included, “Told my child that my mother was crazy and neu-
rotic,” “Told my child not to get close to her half-brother, my son,” and
“Told my kids that my family threatened to kill him.” Another example,
seemingly petty was, “When shown by my wife how to use dental floss,
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 107
she told them they could not use it until she showed them the right way
to use it.”
Another form of badmouthing was belittling the targeted parent in
front of the child. Here, the negative statements were directed to the
targeted parent in the child’s presence as opposed to the other bad-
mouthing strategies which entailed the negative statements being made
about the targeted parent to the child (whether or not in presence of the
targeted parent). This strategy was cited by 16% of the survey respon-
dents. Examples included, “Telling my children in front of me that I am
not even a custodian and her boyfriend is more of a father than I will
ever be.” “Reminds me of my shortcomings as a father in front of
them.” and “Took pleasure in telling me that my son did not want me
cheering for him at his soccer game, in my son’s presence.”
Telling the child someone else is his/her mother/father was mentioned
by 9% of the targeted parents. One such statement was “She told my son
that I was not his biological father, showed him a false blood test, and in-
troduced him to the man she claims is his natural father.” The alienating
parent referring to the targeted parent by first name in front of the child is
another form of badmouthing, reported by 6% of the survey respondents
(as it implies that the targeted parent is unworthy of the endearment
“Mom” or “Dad”). A few (4.2%) also described the other parent as belit-
tling their hobbies, values, and interests. Forms of badmouthing that were
coded in the “other” category were reported by almost 15% of the survey
respondents, including letting children overhear the alienating parent
denigrate the targeted parent, encouraging the extended family of the
alienating parent to put down the targeted parent, and yelling at and/or
challenging the targeted parent in front of the children.
Interfering with Parenting Time/Visitation and Contact
Almost two-thirds of the sample reported some form of interference
with parenting time and contact. Disturbingly, 14.6% of the survey re-
spondents reported that the alienating parent moved away or hid the
child from them. The most commonly cited form of parenting time
interference was general statement about not following through on
planned visits (29.2%). “My child was not allowed to spend the night
(against court order),” “Denies visitation,” and “Is not there when I go
to pick them up for a visit.”
Almost 18% of the targeted parents described the alienating parent as
arranging fun activities during planned visits to entice the children away
from the targeted parent. This strategy forces the child to choose be-
108 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
tween spending parenting time with the targeted parent and rejecting the
alienating parent’s fun activity. Examples of parent’s statements about
how the alienating parent schedules competing activities include, “Con-
veniently makes plans when I was supposed to visit,” “Would schedule
events (trips, overnight or weekend get-togethers, parties, etc.) on my
parenting weekends, tells the children that she doubted whether I would
let then go because I was mean and didn’t really love them and then
when I didn’t want to lose what little parenting time I did have with
them, they hated me.” “ALWAYS plans fun activities–birthday parties,
friends, spending the night, going to grandma’s house, buying a pool
(bigger than dad’s!) etc., etc., etc.” “Makes major plans for the girls on
my weekends with them and does not tell me until the day before I pick
them up and if I voice any issue with this she tells the girls that if I really
loved them I would not interfere with their plans.”
A variation of this strategy was letting the child decide whether or not
to visit (contrary to court orders), a strategy mentioned by 11.5% of the
survey respondents. Frequent contact with the child during the targeted
parent’s visitation/parenting time was mentioned by 10.4% of the re-
spondents. Examples of such statements included, “Badgers her with
phone calls when she is with me.” “Calls five times per day when they
visit to see if they are ok.” “Acts concerned and calls frequently when
my child is with me.”
Telling the school to limit the child’s contact with the targeted parent,
not allowing the child to see the targeted parent even while visiting that
parent’s own extended family, and late drop-offs and early pick-ups
were strategies described by a few survey respondents. Twenty-two
percent of the survey respondents also listed some “other” form of inter-
ference with contact and parenting time. These included, instructing
grandparents to forbid contact between child and targeted parent, at-
tempting to have targeted parent arrested for attending school functions,
informing targeted parent at the last minute about visitation, and “No
flexibility in visitation schedules, except when in his own favor. When I
ask for extra days he says no yet he will keep them from me and send
them when it’s more convenient for him.”
Limiting/Interfering with Mail and Phone Contact
One-third of the targeted parents reported interference with mail and
phone contact. Doing so by intercepting calls, e-mails, and phone mes-
sages was reported to be a problem by 22.9% of the targeted parents.
“During the last phone conversation I had with my son, the phone was
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 109
snatched from him,” “Has repeatedly instructed my son not to speak
with me on the telephone while he is at her house. Repeatedly hastens
my child off the phone, or makes excuses why he cannot speak with
me.” “My ex refuses to allow me to speak to my boys when I call them–
demanding that I ‘respect her time.’ ” “He says I am harassing him if I
use his e-mail address.”
Eliminating phone and mail contact altogether (not providing ad-
dress, turning off the phone, blocking calls) was described by 9.4% of
the parents. “Changing the phone number so I can’t call.” “Won’t let me
call the house–I am only allowed to call her personal cell phone and
leave a message. Changes home phone number if she thinks I may have
it,” and 5.2% described a variation of the above, which was monitoring
calls, letters, and other forms of contact. “Refuses to let the children
speak to me on the other phone without him on the other line.” “Refuses
to allow the children to have a private phone conversation with me.”
And “monitors our telephone conversations or has his parents do it.”
Throwing out letters was mentioned by 3.1% of the targeted parents.
“Cards, letters, and gifts NEVER arrive.” “Tears up things I send to
my son.”
Seven percent of the survey respondents reported some “other” form
of interference with mail and phone contact. These included, “Refuses
to permit me to write to my child at their home or post office box and re-
fuses to permit me to call my child at home. All communication has to
go through the court-appointed advocate or our family therapist.” “Tells
the girls they do not have to talk to me on the phone.” “Gave as a reason
for not allowing us to e-mail that he did not think it was good that my
son have access to the internet; but in the same e-mail said it was ok as
long as I paid for the internet service and bought our son a new com-
puter.” “Gave my child a cell phone but did not give me the cell phone
number.”
Limiting/Interfering with Symbolic Contact
Eight varieties of limiting/interfering with symbolic contact were de-
scribed. At least one was described by one-third of the sample, includ-
ing throwing out gifts from the targeted parent to the child (11.5%).
“Sends back my Christmas and birthday presents.” “Returns to the store
gifts I sent to the children.” “Every gift I have given him seems to disap-
pear. He is constantly told I am trying to buy his love,” and “When I
give gifts to the children they either go missing, get broken or they’re
conveniently misplaced.”
110 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
The same proportion of parents described the alienating parent as re-
writing the past to distort and/or minimize the targeted parent’s role in
the child’s life. Typical examples are, “Telling her lies about when she
was a baby–i.e.,your first word was‘daddy.’ ” “Created false memories
in her mind including memories of abusive behavior in the remote
past.” “Tells my kids I wasn’t at their birth.” Ten percent of the sample
reported that the alienating parent changed the child’s name (to exclude
the targeted parent). “Encourages child to use boyfriend’s last name.”
“Changing child’s surname at school.” Another form of symbolic con-
tact interference was having the child refer to someone else as mom or
dad. This behavior was reported by 9.4% of the targeted parents. “Tell-
ing my son that I am no longer his mommy, that his new wife is his mom
now.” “Told her to call his girlfriend, ‘Mom’.” “Having her boyfriend
move in 2 days after I left and in 3 weeks they were calling him ‘Papa’.”
Several targeted parents (7.3%) also reported that the alienating parent
limited any mention and photographs of them. “I am not talked about.”
“My children have no photos of me.” “I was removed from the family
tree assignment at school.” Forms of interference with symbolic contact
cited by just a few targeted parents included the extended family of the
alienating parent, limiting mention of the targeted parent and not allow-
ing the child to bring items associated with the targeted parent into the
alienating parent’s home.
Interfering with Information
One-third of the targeted parents reported interference with infor-
mation. Not providing the targeted parent with information from the
school, doctors, and social activities was the most common (18.8%).
Examples of statements coded in this category include “Will not allow
me to or keep me updated on our daughter’s school work, medical con-
ditions, dental, etc.” “Denied me access to school records. Upon obtain-
ing the school records, through subpoena, I discovered that she had
placed orders that information was not to be released to any person
without her permission.” “Refusal to communicate issues related to ac-
cess and schooling activities.” “Not allowing me access to children’s
medical information (me having to contact College of Physicians and
Surgeons with my court order.)” Targeted parents also described three
variations of this theme including not providing access to school and
doctor information (5.2%), refusing to communicate (6.3%), and using
the child as a messenger (3.1%). In addition, 8.3% of the sample re-
ported some “other” form of interference with information. “Tells the
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 111
doctors that they are not to give me information; he is a juvenile diabetic
and I need information; the court order does not prevent me from ob-
taining medical information, but the doctors don’t cooperate.” “My ex
does not keep me informed about our son’s health. He admitted our son
to a psychiatric institute and did not tell me. He also informed the center
I was to have no contact with our son.”
Emotional Manipulation
A little over half the sample reported that the alienating parent
was emotionally manipulating the target child as a way to effectuate
the alienation. The most common was forcing the child to reject the
targeted parent (27.1%). “Told my child to refer to me as ‘Old bag’.”
“Tells them to accuse me of having sex with them.” “Made my children
write me an e-mail saying, ‘We don’t want to see you.’ ” “Told my son
to hang up on me when I called him at the house.” “Forced my child to
testify in court against me at a divorce trial.” “My son is forbidden to ac-
knowledge me when we see each other because ‘We don’t yell.’ We live
directly across the street from each other and see each other every day.”
“Convinced my child to write a letter to the judge telling the judge I am
an alcoholic and unfit parent with no basis in fact.” “My children are not
allowed to approach me, make eye contact, or wave.”
A related form of emotional manipulation reported by 14.6% entailed
making the child feel guilty about the relationship with the targeted par-
ent. “Uses guilt on my daughter if she has fun with me . . . tells her he
misses her and will show her a better time when she returns.” “Making
child feel guilty for visiting me because dad was lonely.” “Guilted my
son into spending Christmas Eve with her (which was my holiday ac-
cess time) by telling him ‘Your father is making you spend Christmas
Eve with his new wife’s family, who isn’t even your true family. You
can’t even spend Christmas Eve with your own mother?’ Even though
they would be spending Christmas day with her.” “She makes my chil-
dren feel guilty if they want to see me more by reminding them that then
they would be seeing her less and that would make her sad.” “Telling
my daughter that he needed her and loved her more than I did and that’s
why she should live with him instead of me.” “She has made them feel
guilty for having fun when they are with me (parenting time and vaca-
tions) by making comments such as ‘Don’t you miss me when you are
there? I hate it when you’re over there. Mommy misses you so much.
Don’t you miss Mommy? I wish you didn’t have to go there.’ ” Forcing
the child to choose or express loyalty was also reported by the targeted
112 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
parents (9.4%). “Puts the child under constant pressure to choose be-
tween her parents without the option to enjoy both.” “Tells the children
it is not ok to love me.” “Tells the children they can’t love me and her
both. At least that is what the youngest understands her to be saying.”
About the same proportion reported withdrawal of love/getting angry
if child visits or is positive towards targeted parent (8.3%). “Gets angry
when the children speak with me.” “Has told the children he won’t love
them if they don’t live with him.” “Berating the children for having a
good time with their father and step family.” “When the kids tell them
about something fun they did with me and/or my fiancé, he becomes
sullen and the kids pick up on it right away and lose their enthusiasm in
the conversation.” “My older daughter was punished and told to pack
her bags right away after having a birthday party with Dad.” An equal
proportion of targeted parents mentioned the alienating parent reward-
ing the child for rejecting the targeted parent. Examples included, “She
has told the children she has gifts that will make them not want to come
back and see me.” “Spoiling the boys with materialistic toys and equip-
ment at their home–enticing them to stay at home.” “Told my son that
when he gets to live there it will be a whole lot more fun.” “Rewarding
the children with trips to Hawaii and cars if they have no contact with
me.” A few targeted parents also described the alienating parent as in-
terrogating the child after parenting time. “Asks my son every time he
left our house whether he was hurt by us.”
Twenty percent of the survey respondents also described behaviors
that fell into the “other” category of emotional manipulation. Examples
included, “My child is rescued emotionally when no threat is present.”
“Tells them if they get sick at my house they can’t visit anymore.”
“Tells the children if I win my case to stop her from moving away . . .
that I will take them away from her and she won’t ever see them again.”
“Tells the girls if I loved them I wouldn’t make them spend weekends
with me.”
Unhealthy Alliance
Twenty-nine percent of the targeted parents reported some form of an
unhealthy alliance between the targeted child and the alienating parent,
including having the child spy on the targeted parent (12.5%). “Had him
act as a spy and report everything that goes on in my house.” “Had my
child spy on me and my family while staying over on my parenting
weekend and interrogate me in our e-mails and instant messenger be-
fore the hearing in order to obtain information the lawyer could (and
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 113
did) use against me.” “My daughter has been told to monitor me and my
husband when she visits and to call her dad every day if need be.” About
the same proportion reported secret phone calls and messages between
the alienating parent and the target child. “He taught the children a code
to use over the telephone when my son was in my care to answer ques-
tions without having me know what they were talking about.” A few tar-
geted parents also mentioned that the alienating parent cultivated the
child’s dependency (a strategy that was implied in several additional
statements coded in other categories) and having secrets means of com-
municating with the child, was cited by four parents. “Says, ‘I’m going
to buy you a cell phone (for an 8 year old) so that you can hide it under
your pillow and you can call me if you have nightmares when you’re at
daddy’s house.’ ”
Miscellaneous
Eleven additional alienation strategies were described which did not
readily fall into one of the major categories, 6 of which were reported by
at least 10% of the sample. These included: making it appear as if the
targeted parent rejected the child (14.6%), creating conflict between the
child and the targeted parent (10.4%), badmouthing targeted parent
to friends, teachers,and doctors (19.8%), badmouthing targeted parents
to the authorities (30.2%), undermining targeted parent’s authority
(27.1%), and not allowing the child to bring items from alienating
parent’s home when having parenting time with the targeted parent
(11.5%).
Seventeen parents also described behaviors that could not readily be
classified. These included, “Puts our fights on speaker phone and has
child listen.” “Had our son break up with his girlfriend after being seen
talking to me.” “Sends empty boxes at Christmas time as gifts from the
kids.” “Cuts ties with anyone they know will show support for me.”
“She claims to have sole custody to the school, the medical providers,
and anyone who will listen.” “We went to the mediator and ex and I
agree to 2-4 extended visits half in one state and half in the other. We
agreed to take our children to breakfast and apologize to them for the
last 8 months. At breakfast I apologize and my ex says nothing.” “Tells
younger children, ‘Daddies don’t go to school and can’t see home-
work.’ ” “Refuses to take the children to an agreed upon neutral meeting
place, forcing me to come and fetch them in front of hostile witnesses.”
Thus, 8 general categories and over 60 specific forms of alienating
behaviors were described. Frequencies ranged from 1 to 74 percent, and
114 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
11 strategies were reported by at least 20% of the sample: general bad-
mouthing (n = 74.0%), badmouthing by saying targeted parent is dan-
gerous/sick (62.5%), badmouthing by saying targeted parent doesn’t
love child (44.8%), confiding in child about marriage (29.2%), confid-
ing in child about court case/child support (45.8%), badmouthing tar-
geted parent’s new/extended family (27.1%), limiting visits (29.2%),
intercepting calls (22.9%), forcing child to reject targeted parent
(27.1%), undermining targeted parent’s authority (27.1%), and bad-
mouthing targeted parent to authorities (30.2%).
Because parents could describe more than one strategy (and most
did) it was also of interest to examine the frequency of strategies de-
scribed by the survey respondents. These data are presented in Table 3.
As can be seen, the range was 1 to 21 with a mean of over 8 strategies.
Thus, the vast majority of survey respondents described the alienating
parent as using a number of strategies in their campaign of parental ali-
enation.
It was also the aim of this study to determine whether targeted parents
identified the same strategies that were identified by adult children of
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 115
TABLE 3. Frequency Distribution of Total Number of Strategies per Parent
Number N %
1 01 01.0
2 04 04.2
3 04 04.2
4 06 06.3
5 06 06.3
6 09 09.4
7 10 10.4
8 08 08.3
9 13 13.5
10 07 07.3
11 05 05.2
12 05 05.2
13 08 08.3
14 03 03.1
17 02 02.1
20 03 03.1
21 02 02.1
Mean = 8.82, SD = 4.4
parental alienation (Baker, 2005). In that study, adult children were in-
terviewed about the strategies that their alienating parents had utilized
when the interviewees were younger. This resulted in a list of 32 strate-
gies. A comparison of the strategies mentioned by the adult children and
those identified by the targeted parents in this study revealed consider-
able overlap but also a few areas of difference. Specifically, all of the
strategies mentioned by the adult children were also described by the
targeted parents except for four: (1) accusing the child of being too close
to the targeted parent, (2) telling siblings they have to stick together
meaning if one child didn’t want to visit, none could, (3) threatening to
take the child away from the targeted parent, and (4) not letting child
spend time alone with the targeted parent (insisting on being with
them). Thus, for the most part the targeted parents were aware of the
strategies that adult children were aware of. However, the reverse was
not true. The targeted parents described several strategies that the adult
children did not, including (1) badmouthing extended family, (2) letting
child choose when to visit, (3) asking school to limit contact, (4) not let-
ting the child see the targeted parent at targeted parent’s extended fam-
ily’s home, (5) calling or visiting during parenting time, (6) early pick
ups and drop offs, (7) blocking number/turning off phone, (8) intercept-
ing calls, (9) throwing out gifts and letters from targeted parent, (10) not
providing targeted parent with information, (11) not providing others
with information about the targeted parent, (12) refusing to communi-
cate, (13) using child as messenger, (14) rewarding children for reject-
ing targeted parent, (15) badmouthing targeted parent to others,
(16) badmouthing targeted parent to authorities, (17) having step par-
ents call themselves mom or dad to others, (18) rewriting past to distort
or minimize relationship between targeted parent and child, (19) not al-
lowing child to bring to targeted parent’s home items from alienating
parent’s home, (20) preventing targeted parent from attending parenting
functions, (21) undermining targeted parent’s values and hobbies. Four
of the twenty-one strategies were actually described by the adult chil-
dren but not by the alienating parent: badmouthing extended family,
asking school to limit contact, blocking phone, and throwing out gifts
and letters. Thus, there were 17 strategies described by the targeted
parents not mentioned by a separate sample of adult children.
The second research question addressed in this study was whether
gender of the targeted parent or gender of the target child was associated
with the number and type of strategies. Gender differences in the
targeted parent might reflect differences in practice between alienating
mothers and alienating fathers or differences between targeted mother’s
116 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
and targeted father’s awareness of alienating strategies. To address this
issue, we began with three multivariate analyses of variance. In the first,
effects of gender were examined on all 66 specific variables (66 cate-
gorical variables), the variables of interest were the number of strategies
within each of the categories (number of badmouthing strategies, num-
ber of interfering with visitation strategies and so forth, thus there were
8 continuous variables), and in the final the variables of interest were
the presence/absence of each category (8 categorical variables). In each
case, the effects of gender were not statistically significant. [F(1,64) =
1.52, p < .11; F (1,8) = 1.31, p < .25, and F(1,8) = 1.11, p < .36 ]. The
same three analyses were repeated with gender of the target child.
Again, none of the analyses were statistically significant [F (1,64) =
0.61, p < .94, F(1,8) = .74, p < .66, and F (1,8) = 1.11, p < .38]. And,
finally two independent t-tests were conducted examining gender dif-
ferences in total number of strategies. In the first, targeted mothers and
fathers were compared on total number of strategies described. Tar-
geted mothers mentioned on average 8 different strategies (M = 8.2, SD
= 3.9), while targeted fathers mentioned on average 9 (M = 9.2, SD =
4.6), a difference that was not statistically significant [t(94) = 1.04, p <
.31]. In the second t-test, the number of strategies was compared by gen-
der of the target child. Targeted parents of girls mentioned on average 8
strategies (M = 8.5, SD = 4.2) while targeted parents of boys mentioned
on average 9 strategies (M = 9.2, SD = 4.7), a difference that was not
statistically significant [t(90) = .66, p < .51].
The final set of analyses in this study was conducted to explore which
of five possible variables were associated with level of PAS of the target
child (mild, moderate, severe), as described by the targeted parent.
Examined were gender of targeted parent, gender of target child, age of
target child, number of strategies, and type of alienator (active or ob-
sessed). Results revealed that gender of targeted parent was not related
to level of PAS but gender of the target child was, with girls being more
likely to be perceived as severely alienated (55.6%) than boys (32.6%),
chi-square (2, 91) = 6.15, p < .046. Age of target child was also statisti-
cally associated with level of PAS. A post-hoc analysis revealed that
target children who were perceived to be severely alienated were older
(M = 14.43) than the target children who were perceived to be mildly
alienated (M = 10.39), F (2.90) = 4.63, p < .012. There were no differ-
ences in levels of PAS by number of strategies, but there was a trend for
obsessed alienators to have severely as opposed to mild or moderately
alienated children (as perceived by the targeted parent). Specifically,
47% of the parents who rated the alienating parent as obsessed rated
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 117
their target child as severely alienated while only 11.7% of the targeted
parents who rated the other parent as an active alienator rated the target
child as severely alienated. Interestingly, of the 88 obsessed parents, 19
of the target children were coded as mildly alienated, 26 were coded as
moderately alienated, and 41 were coded as severely alienated (2 youth
were missing level of alienation ratings).
DISCUSSION
This study was undertaken to identify the range of strategies utilized
by alienating parents, from the perspective of the targeted parents. The
data were collected from 97 parents who experienced themselves as be-
ing alienated from their children due in large measure to the behaviors
of the other parent. The first notable finding is that that 40% of the
survey respondents were mothers who reported being alienated from
their children by the fathers. Initially, PAS was identified as primarily
the purview of mothers fearing the loss of custody when the “tender
years” doctrine was replaced by the “best interest of the child” policy
(Gardner, 1998). However, even Gardner recognized that over time the
gender imbalance would likely dissipate as more fathers attempted to
gain or retain custody via PAS. The distribution of survey respondents
in this study suggests that the gender imbalance may be decreasing
(although it is also possible that targeted mothers are more likely to
complete an internet survey than targeted fathers). At a minimum these
data suggest that there are some mothers who believe that they are
victims of PAS.
The first research question pertained to the frequency of the strate-
gies as described by the targeted parents. An examination of the types of
strategies revealed sixty-six different behaviors/actions, highlighting
the range of strategies available to parents who aim to alienate their chil-
dren from the other parent. This extensive repertoire demonstrates that
no single act signifies parental alienation and parents who alienate vary
in the number and type of behaviors they exhibit. There appear to be
endless permutations and combinations of alienating behaviors. Looked
at from this perspective, it is clear that parental alienation syndrome is
more a goal or an outcome rather than a specific set of behaviors or
actions on the part of the alienating parent. For example, all but a few
parents reported badmouthing, but none reported just that one strategy.
Thus, it can be concluded that in many cases badmouthing is a core fea-
ture of parental alienation but that parents who do that (and successfully
118 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
alienate the child from the targeted parent) also engage in additional
alienation strategies as well. As a result, combating parental alienation
requires both persistence and ingenuity. It also means that there is no
single magic formula for countering it because the specific behaviors
vary from case to case (although there are certainly common themes
across the surveys).
One common theme, for example was the extent to which the chil-
dren were placed at the center of the conflict between the two parents.
Rather than the conflict occurring outside of the child’s awareness, PAS
places the child in the heart of the conflict. Negative comments about
the targeted parent are made directly to the child, intimate aspects of the
marital relationship and financial matters are openly discussed with the
child, and children are forced to choose between their parents rather
than be allowed to love them both. These are just the kinds of scenarios
associated with poor child outcomes in the post divorce literature. That
is, studies have consistently documented that post divorce conflict–
regardless of custody agreement–is associated with subsequent nega-
tive outcomes for children (Amato, 1994; Clawar & Rivlin, 1991; Ellis,
2000; Long, Slater, Forehand, & Fauber, 1988). Another disturbing as-
pect of many of the strategies described was that they entailed active
participation of the child (asking the child to choose whether to visit,
asking the child to spy and/or keep secrets from the other parent, and so
forth). Engaging the child in the betrayal and rejection of the targeted
parent might be particularly effective because it could result in guilt and
shame that the child will want to ward off through justification of the re-
jection and avoidance of the targeted parent–furthering the estrange-
ment and negative feelings about the targeted parent. Another common
theme was that many of the strategies entailed a degree of deceitfulness
and deception. The alienating parents were able to create situations in
which the targeted parent appeared to do nothing right. They were con-
tinually being set up by the alienating parent to look bad in the eyes of
their children.
In light of the complexity of the phenomenon, an important next step
for the field is to develop intervention programs for families affected by
parental alienation. These should entail therapeutic interventions for
both parents as well as dyadic interventions for the child and targeted
parent in order to assist in the reparations of that relationship.
In particular, interventions need to provide guidance to targeted
parents about how to establish and/or maintain a secure and loving
relationship with their child in the face of the alienation campaign. For
example, how should targeted parents balance their need to explain their
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 119
side (which may lead to arguments and bad feelings) with the goal of es-
tablishing warm and loving moments that could help build towards a
more positive relationship. Strategies for maintaining contact during
non-parenting time should also be identified in order to help the parent
and child manage the separation. For example, under what conditions is
it advisable for targeted parents to send cards, make phone calls, attend
social and sporting events in order to demonstrate interest and care? Are
there situations in which targeted parents should assume a less active
role? In the absence of tested interventions, Gardner (1998), Warshak
(2001), and Darnall’s (1998) suggestions should be considered as the
best the field has to offer at this time. Additionally, we recommend that
targeted parents identify the alienation strategies that they believe the
other parent is utilizing in order to try to reduce their impact. For exam-
ple, if there is reason to believe that gifts sent to the house will be thrown
out, the targeted parent could deliver gifts directly to the child (if there is
contact) or to the child by a third party. No single solution will work for
every case, but anticipating the strategies and trying to minimize their
effectiveness is worth considering.
A second notable finding from these data is that the targeted parents
in general knew more about the alienating parent’s strategies than adult
children (Baker, in press). Although there was considerable overlap be-
tween the strategies described by the adult children and those derived
from the surveys with the targeted parent, there were some areas of di-
vergence as well. In addition, there were several “other” types of alien-
ation strategies mentioned by the targeted parents but not by the adult
children. This suggests that although the adult children have insight into
their felt experience, they are not necessarily aware of the full battery of
strategies that alienating parents use to effectuate the alienation. Al-
though they are the targets of the alienation, the process partially takes
place outside of their awareness. This finding has implications for as-
sessment and intervention. For example, custody evaluations and men-
tal health interventions with children likely to be experiencing PAS
need to include both parents in addition to the child. As Gardner (1998)
pointed out, although individual therapy with children can be helpful in
some situations, when PAS is an issue, it will be important for the thera-
pist to unwittingly support the PAS by taking at face value the negative
statements and feelings expressed by the child client.
One strategy in particular bears further mention. An allegation of
physical or sexual abuse is currently a controversial issue in the courts.
Often, it is not known whether the allegations are true or false. That is
the same dilemma that is faced in this study. Knowing if the allegation is
120 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
true or false is something that cannot be assessed for the purpose of this
study. Of the 97 parents, 29 specifically alleged that the alienating par-
ent had “badmouthed” them to the authorities (22 fathers and 7 moth-
ers). Of this number, 14 specifically used the term false allegation of
abuse (not specifying whether it was physical and/or sexual) while the
other half referred to false allegations of domestic violence or referred
to being badmouthed to the authorities without additional information
to know what the allegation referred to. Differentiating between true
and false allegations of abuse will continue to be a problem for the
evaluator until a standardized and valid protocol is developed.
Another notable finding was that neither the number nor type of strat-
egy was related to the gender of the target child or of the targeted parent.
The alienation strategies described by the survey respondents were em-
ployed across the board by parents who wanted to turn their children
against the other parent. They appear to be universal strategies that can
be used by either mother or father.
Also noteworthy was the finding that not all children were equally af-
fected by the PAS strategies. While the vast majority of the respondents
reported that the other parent was an obsessed (as opposed to naïve or
active) alienator, not all target children were perceived to be equally
affected by obsessed alienators. Of the 88 obsessed parents, 19 of the
children were reported to be mildly alienated, 26 were reported to be
moderately alienated, and 41 were reported to be severely alienated
(with two cases un-coded on level of alienation). Exploratory analyses
were conducted to examine possible correlates of level of PAS. Two of
the five examined variables were statistically significant. Specifically,
girls and older children were more likely to be rated as severely alien-
ated compared to boys and younger children. The age effect might be
attributable to the fact that the older the child the longer the alienating
parent had been “at it.” This would suggest a cumulative effect of alien-
ation strategies. It is also possible that older children are given more lee-
way by their parents to choose visitation and hence, more pressured by
the alienating parents to choose. There is less recourse in the courts once
children are teens and perhaps alienating parents are aware of that. In
addition, teens typically have more freedom and are easier to access (cell
phones, instant messaging, text messaging, and so forth). Alienating
parents probably have greater opportunities at their disposal to contact
the target child outside the supervision of the targeted parent. In this
way, the alienating parent can implement the program of alienation with
greater frequency than with younger children. And finally, older chil-
dren may be more susceptible to appeals to their independence and,
Amy J. L. Baker and Douglas Darnall 121
hence, may be more easily manipulated into “exercising their independ-
ent thinking,” along the lines of Gardner’s independent thinker phe-
nomenon. For all these reasons, targeted parents with teens who are not
yet severely alienated should be alerted to the possibility that the alien-
ation could still progress. It may not be wise to assume that if the child
has not advanced to the severe level yet s/he never will. It is possible
that adolescence could mark the beginning of a new offensive in both
the alienating parent’s efforts and their impact.
Nonetheless, these data cannot fully shed light on what factors
account for why some children become mildly alienated while others
are moderately or severely so. This is an important direction for future
research. The more that can be learned about factors associated with the
level of PAS, the more effective intervention and prevention will be.
Areas for future attention include identifying variables that may influ-
ence the severity, duration, prognosis, and effective reunification ther-
apy. Another facet worthy of exploration is the role of memory, sug-
gestibility, and personality that may make some children differentially
vulnerable to the alienating parent’s propaganda. Understanding these
variables can assist therapists working towards reunification. Similarly,
the role of the targeted parent needs to be better understood. Specifi-
cally, what is the most effective response to the alienated child and the
alienating parent, and what role if any do targeted parents play in per-
petuating the alienation. While striving to avoid blaming the victim, it is
important to note that in some cases the targeted parent may play a role
in the alienation, either by having negative parenting attributes, retaliat-
ing with their own alienating behavior, and/or by not being an active
and involved parent, and hence providing the alienating parent with
ready ammunition in the campaign.
Several additional avenues for future research suggest themselves.
First, validating level of PAS and type of alienator would bring consen-
sus to the field and allow for uniform coding and categorization of key
constructs. Second, identifying the familial contexts within which PAS
is most likely to occur (i.e., disputed custody cases, families with narcis-
sistic parents) would allow for preventive interventions to be offered to
high-risk families. Third, understanding the factors that transform pa-
rental alienating strategies (parent behaviors) into parental alienation
syndrome (resulting alienation from the targeted parent) would help
determine under what conditions children exposed to alienating strate-
gies become alienated. Most likely there is a combination of factors
including the personality characteristics of the alienating parent, con-
stellation of the family (role of siblings and extended family), responses
122 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
of the targeted parent, and characteristics of the child (ability to with-
stand brainwashing and manipulations) as well as other as yet unidenti-
fied factors.
LIMITATIONS
And, finally, the limitations of the study need to be noted. First, a ret-
rospective design was utilized that did not allow for a determination of
causality. That is, although the survey respondents described the strate-
gies used from their perspective, it cannot be known whether in fact
such strategies led to the alienation. The possibility that estrangement
could account for or explain the parent/child problem was not assessed
in this study. Another limitation is that the timing of the alienation was
not consistent. Thus, for some the experience of the alienation was rela-
tively fresh while for others it was much less so. It is possible that some
of the participants did not remember all of the strategies used because
too much time had elapsed. In that respect, the findings may under-rep-
resent the frequency of the strategies. Self-selection and the self-report
nature of the survey may have resulted in additional biases that can only
be addressed in studies in which random sampling and independent
observations are utilized.
NOTE
1. Exact dates were not provided for the date alienation began and for the date the
child first seemed alienated.
REFERENCES
Amato, P. (1994). Life-span adjustment of children to their parents’ divorce. The
Future of Children, 4, 143-164.
Baker, A.J.L. (2005). The long term effects of parental alienation syndrome: A qualita-
tive research study. American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 289-302.
Clawar, S. & Rivlin, B.V. (1991). Children held hostage. Chicago: American Bar
Association.
Darnall, D. (1998). Divorce casualties: Protecting your children from parental alien-
ation. Dallas: Taylor Publishing
Ellis, E.M. (2000). Divorce Wars. Washington, DC: American Psychological Associa-
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Gardner, R. (1998). The parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and
legal professionals. Cresskill, NJ: Creative Therapeutics.
Johnston, J. & Kelly, J.B (2001). Rejoinder to Gardner’s “Commentary on Kelly and
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Family Court Review, 42, 622-628.
Long, N., Slater, E., Forehand, R., & Fauber, R. (1988). Continued high or reduced
interparental conflict following divorce: Relations to young adolescent adjustment.
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Rand, D. (1997). The spectrum of parental alienation syndrome. Part 1. American
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Turkat, I. (2002). Parental alienation syndrome: A review of critical issues. Journal of
the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 13, 131-176.
Vassilou, D., & Cartwright, G.F. (2001). The lost parents’ perspective on parental
alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Therapy, 29, 181-191.
Waldron, K.H., & Joanis, D.E. (1996). Understanding and collaboratively treating
parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Family Law, 10, 121-133.
Walsh, M.R. & Bone, J.M. (1997). Parental alienation syndrome: An age-old problem.
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Warshak, R. (2001). Divorce Poison. New York: Regan Books.
124 JOURNAL OF DIVORCE & REMARRIAGE
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