Parental Alienation Syndrome - Ruins Parental Bonds and Hurts Children

8:00 p.m. ET
Why some divorced parents deliberately turn their children against each other and the devastating affects on the kids

ZAHN: In tonight's eye-opener, a troubling syndrome that's tearing many children and parents apart is one that can be especially painful at times like Father's Day. While most kids were spending time with their dads yesterday, others went out of their way to avoid their fathers all together yesterday and experts say a growing number of children whose parents divorce are being taught by one parent that the other, in many cases, the father, is a monster. And the devastating results are detailed in this month's "Best Life" magazine. Jason Carroll has more in tonight's eye-opener.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the end of another family get together at the Opperman home. These should be happy occasions but there are only bittersweet for Jeff Opperman. They remind him of a time before his contentious divorce, before he was alienating from his youngest son, a son who now wants nothing to do with him.

JEFF OPPERMAN, DIVORCED FATHER: I remember the child who would come get me at night when he had a bad dream. I remember the child who wanted to play baseball with me. That child doesn't exist anymore.

CARROLL: The last time Opperman saw his youngest son, he was 11 years old. That was six years ago. Now Opperman's only connection to him are through class photos, sent to him by his son's school once a year. His mother did not want us to show his face.

OPPERMAN: It is incredibly difficult for me. One day a year, when these pictures show up, I'm transported back in time and I relive the pain, all the anger, all the frustration of losing my child to parental alienation.

CARROLL: Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS, some psychologists call it a form of brainwashing. It is what happens during a divorce when one parent deliberately destroys a child's relationship with the other parent, by bombarding the child with negative comments and feelings of hostility like in the Oscar nominated movie, "The Squid and the Whale."

CARROLL: It is not just in the movie. The author of a recent book on PAS says in real life it's deep rooted effects are felt by millions of children.

DR RICHARD WARSHAK, PSYCHOLOGIST: It as though they are developing the kind of hatred that people develop when they have a racial hatred, when they hate people just because they are of another race. They focus only on perceived negatives.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I hated by dad, I hated myself.

CARROLL: For years this 17-year-old girl whose identity we concealed for her privacy believed her father wanted nothing to do with her after her parents' nasty divorce. She was just eight when her mother started telling her that her father never wanted to see her again.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I thought he didn't love me. I thought he didn't want me anymore. I felt if my own dad didn't love me or want me, then who would.

CARROLL: But, when she got older and visited her father, she realized she had been lied to all of these years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really made me see that my dad couldn't be the person my mom was making him out to be. He was so loving.

CARROLL: So loving, in fact, she decided to move in with him and is much happier now. Those who have studied PAS say most children never return to the alienated parent.

WARSHAK: What is washed out of their minds are any memory of having a good relationship with the parent. They really act, in many ways, like victims of cults do.

CARROLL: Experts say mothers are usually the ones accused of PAS because courts typically grant them primary custody. Skeptics worry abusive fathers will use PAS against mothers to gain access to their children or to avoid child support payments.

DR. AMY NEUSTEIN, SOCIOLOGIST: The PAS label sticks to the mother like glue. And that's very, very dangerous.

CARROLL: As in many difficult divorces, the two sides in Jeff Opperman's case disagree. A Superior Court judge said both parents bear some responsibility for the dilemma, but the judge in the case also said the court believed that the main responsibility rests with the wife, who allegedly sent the son wrong messages about his father. Opperman's ex-wife told CNN she didn't bad mouth him and encouraged her children to have a relationship with their father, adding Opperman is being vindictive. Opperman is thankful for now to have a relationship with his older son.

GREG OPPERMAN, CHILD OF DIVORCE: It was like I was trying not to play favorites and there is a lot of pressure to be someone's favorite.

CARROLL: On June 5, Opperman reached out to his son again. This time he sent an email. It reads: "I'll always be your dad no matter how old we get. I'll love you and miss you."

The response like the others over the years.

OPPERMAN: That's what happens. Not read.

CARROLL: If he does choose to respond, he says that he will be there for him. Jason Carroll, CNN, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


ZAHN: Tough road ahead there. Another thing we would like to add is a thank you to our friends at "Best Life Magazine" for their help in getting this story on the air.


Please write an thank them for covering this very important issue. It will help in possibly getting more attention, that is greatly needed.


 Dear PAPA Group Members and friends,  
This e-mail was originally going to focus on some possibilities that I saw for those attending our meeting this Thursday (as well as those contributing over the web,)  Our meetings continue to develop into a more effective forum for personal healing and empowerment, parenting growth and family reunification, and even likely efforts in community education and political action. It's been exciting to be a part of sharing the creation of a social and personal change vehicle that embodies goals, values and commitment which I believe in. And couldn't be more important.
Then George Mason sends me NOW's  annual meeting resolution regarding PAS. And I feel like a criminal. The last sentence in the resolution speaks for itself, "any professional whose mission involves the protection of the rights of women and children denounce its use as unethical, unconstitutional, and dangerous. " Read it for yourself and understand that the expression "first they ignore you, then they call you crazy, then they battle you, and then YOU win" is where we are in of making our case on behalf of our children.
We're really getting to them! They know the truth, and I think they're panicking as PAS gains more credibility every day in Courts and Communities around the country. The follow up show to "Breaking the Silence" will be televised on PBS September 12, and it will I believe, set the record straight.
Their resolution is both shocking and appalling given that more than 150 scholarly articles have been written substantiating PAS both in clinical and epidemiological terms. Enough so that the American Psychiatric Association has appointed a committee to explore PAS inclusion for DSM 5 in 2010.(This is the diagnostic "bible" for mental health professionals),  as a recognized diagnosable mental disorder that combines elements of personality and mood disorder reflected in dysfunctional family systems. At first I was enraged and then I realized that after all these years of ignoring us,  they are now taking up arms against us.  
I don't think that's too strong a term to describe how this resolution is demanding that any professional swear allegiance against PAS or they are being  "unethical, unconstitutional and dangerous." Ideology applied on a grand scale painting hatred of others as the only explanation for a problem is a fascist expression of the manipulative power of control through fear. It exploits  as it manipulates thru stereotypes and prejudice, hardly "in the best interest of the child."
It seems obvious to me that there are inconsistencies in the logic, inaccuracies in the facts, and a lack of moral grounding in the NOW resolution. I'm sure we will take the resolution apart line by line and see how it is based  on falsehoods, slander and bias. We can save that for later.
For our PAPA Meeting we face the challenge to respond to their statement in the most powerful way possible. It is that opportunity to bring mothers and fathers together. Women will be more effective in challenging the prevailing cultural myths about PAS that NOW has clearly restated. It's a great new opportunity to expand our efforts thru recruiting new parents to take up the fight against alienation.
We must come together and realize that we are at a higher level of moral reasoning in protecting the best interests of children. We do not look at the tragedy of children hating a parent just thru the eyes of "protecting women and children," but understand that children are really protected when they learn tolerance, acceptance and we practice the opposite of alienation - inclusion.
It especially galls me to read the resolution after providing counseling to children and parents for 35 years who have been damaged beyond repair by the too often heartless, ignorant, or just plain greedy divorce industry. The collusion with the DV industry and organizations such as NOW is obvious in how both thrive on polarization, animosity and yes, hatred. The adversarial decision-making contest the family court practices too often predetermines a motive and a means for the alienating parent to receive the King's ransom. And another family suffers unnecessary pain, financial devastation, and children wounded forever.
What can we do about it ?? That is what our PAPA meeting is all about!  we all need to come together and tell our stories so that the world can hear. It's time for all of us:  mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles and adult children from alienated families to recognize that we are the courageous warriors of truth, hope and love. 
There is a higher level of responsibility when you are the healthiest, most aware family member. Often that challenge is a burden that causes us to give up or become enraged. We have other options and our PAPA meeting is a chance to collectively and individually stand up for what's right.  I'm looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible on Thursday at 730 in Framingham. Jeff Parks (508)-561-8186.

Yet the National Organization for Women Attempts to Deny and Hide Reality and Actually Intimidate Mental Health Professionals into Ignoring this Problem.

This "resolution" shows the true colors of NOW. They are an organization interested in promoting unequal rights, even when this hurts the children of their members as a result. What could be more telling of the lack of moral integrity of this organization than this.


Passed at NOW Annual Meeting July 26,2006
WHEREAS, the term Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was created by the psychiatrist, Richard Gardner. It is used as a tactic in courts by litigating attorneys as a defense strategy for batterers and sexual predators that purports to explain a child's estrangement from one parent, or explains away allegations against the estranged parent of abuse/sex abuse of child, by blaming the protective parent; and
WHEREAS, there are no data to support PAS; and
WHEREAS, mothers are primarily pathologized and blamed for interfering with their children's attachment to their fathers and PAS is used by many evaluators and courts to discount children's fears in hostile and psychologically abusive situations as a form of entrapment, keeping the child from the protective parent; and
WHEREAS, abuse is continued via the court system thru a series of ruthless assaults from all angles strategically planned over time by an abuser, his criminal-divorce-personal injury attorneys and PAS therapists to fully discredit, blame and control a protective parent with the sole purpose of hiding abuse, infidelity, finances and to "win" possession of the child(ren), while proponents of PAS profit; and
WHEREAS, as documented in the PBS film, Breaking The Silence, The Children's Stories there are epidemic levels of abuse and dysfunction in our courts system where espoused judges repeat Richard Gardner's unsubstantiated doctrine and make binding recommendations in conjunction with PAS therapists and PAS attorneys; and
WHEREAS, the newly revised, 2006 edition of "Navigating Custody and Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge's Guide," published by The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, includes a strong statement condemning the use of PAS which it calls a "discredited" syndrome that favors child abusers in custody determinations;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Organization for Women (NOW) denounces Parental Alienation Syndrome and recommends that any professional whose mission involves the protection of the rights of women and children denounce its use as unethical, unconstitutional, and dangerous.