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Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project

Brief challenges use of "parental alienation" to negate the legal consequences of abuse

DV LEAP recently filed an appeal in a case in D.C. which is on the cutting-edge of the dominant issue in family courts - parental alienation.  While the theory known as "parental alienation syndrome" (PAS) has been so thoroughly critiqued and debunked that it is becoming rare in family court, it has been replaced by references to "parental alienation" which, because they do not purport to be a syndrome, are harder to attack.  The latest approach seems to be that evaluators will claim that while children are alienated from a noncustodial father for many reasons, not just the mother's hostitlity to the father (and even including the father's behavior), increased paternal contact is still necessary to remedy the alienation.  In the case we just filed, that argument was relied upon by the judge as a basis for rebutting the statute's presumption against joint custody with a batterer.  (DV LEAP has a similar case in Colorado).

This brief is, to our knowledge, the first brief challenging this "multifactoral" explanation of parental alienation as used to negate the legal consequences of abuse.

The case is pending in the DC Court of Appeals.  Once all briefs are filed in March we hope there will be a decision in the coming year.  We are grateful to the pro bono attorneys at Skadden Arps who worked so hard with us to produce this brief.