Toward a Child-Centered Approach to Evaluating Claims of Alienation in High-Conflict Custody Disputes
Theories of parental alienation abound in high-conflict custody cases. The image of one parent brainwashing a child against the other parent fits with what we think we know about family dynamics during divorce. The concept of a diagnosable “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (“PAS”) developed as an attempt to explain this phenomenon, but it has been widely discredited by mental health professionals and thus fails the standard for evidentiary admissibility. Nevertheless, PAS and related theories continue to influence the decisions of family courts, and even in jurisdictions that explicitly reject such theories, judges still face the daunting task of resolving these volatile cases. In the midst of this highly adversarial process, children deserve independent representation to ensure that their interests remain front and center. Mandating the appointment of guardians ad litem in cases involving allegations of abuse or alienation will assist courts in conducting individualized, fact-specific investigations into such allegations to craft custody orders that serve the best interests of children.