A Team Approach to Parental Alienation (PA) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

By Bob Finlay, MA, RCC, RFT., July 2012

A 12 year old girl begins to withdraw from having contact with her father 6 months after her parents separate. A 14 year old boy moves with his father and step-mother to Vancouver Island from Vancouver. He begins to make excuses why he can’t see his mother even when she offers to travel to his new home. In the first case, the rejected parent and the child enjoyed a close relationship prior to the separation. In the second case, the previously positive relationship with the mother changed after the father re-married. How do we as clinicians begin to understand the causes of the change in the parent-child relationship and then how can we effectively assist these families? The answers are not clear, and yet we are faced with these cases in our practice. This article is intended to describe some of the lessons I have learned in treating high conflict families with PA and PAS symptoms. The article also describes a Team approach being currently utilized with a particular case that has been identified by a Court appointed Section 15 Psychologist as having elements of PAS.

The field of Separation and Divorce is undergoing profound changes. In March, 2013, the new Family Law Act will replace the Family Relations Act. The spirit of the new legislation is to discourage litigation and encourage collaborative approaches to the settlement of family disputes. As is often the case, legislation tends to follow trends that have already been in existence for a number of years. Mediation, Parenting Coordination, 4 way meetings with Lawyers, Collaborative Law and Self-Help options have emerged as ways to minimize the damage to families and empower them as they transition to a new family structure. This has not always been the case. For example, prior to World War II, Courts assumed that young children were better off in the care of their mothers as per the Tender Years Presumption. Upon separation, fathers tended to leave the family home and if the mother did not facilitate access, they lost contact with their children. After World War II, women became more independent and entered the work force in large numbers. With the passing of No Fault Divorce Laws, the Tender Years Presumption was replaced with the Best Interests of the Child Presumption. Fathers became more vocal about their parental rights and they began to advocate for equal parenting time. The stage was set for potential conflict over the care taking roles and responsibilities of mothers and fathers.