Is parental alienation theory scientific?
Author : Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.
As an expert witness I am often called upon to educate the courts about parental alienation theory and research (generic testimony) or to comment on the presence of alienation in a specific case (specific testimony). In either scenario, I write a report and or testify in court about the following issues (1) what is the difference between alienation and estrangement, (2) the common signs of alienation, (3) the primary parental alienation strategies, (4) how alienation is like a cult, (5) how alienation is a form of emotional abuse, (6) and why the courts must intervene. One strategy of opposing counsel is to discredit the field of parental alienation and hence exclude my testimony. In response to this strategy I have compiled a growing list of peer reviewed scholarly articles that provide evidence of the validity of the concepts of parental alienation strategies and parental alienation syndrome/the alienated child.
Some states rely on the Frye standards for determining whether an expert’s field of expertise meets legal standards for admissibility. In these states one must demonstrate that the area under question (in this case parental alienation) has reached acceptance in the scientific community. In light of the hundreds of articles (not all empirical) that have been published in this country and around the world, there is no question that parental alienation meets that standard. This is so despite the fact that there is some controversy regarding it. The reason is that much of the controversy is about various facets of the theory but not with the theory per se. For example, many of the critics object to PAS being included in the DSM or worry that PAS can be misused by the courts, or complain that too little is known about treatment.
Each of these arguments starts with the assumption that parental alienation exists, that is, that some children can be manipulated by one to reject the other parent. A small handful of critics do disagree with the theory in toto but they are not social scientists nor do they offer compelling criticisms because they grossly misrepresent the theory and the background of Dr. Gardner, the person who coined the name for the phenomenon. Other states rely on the Daubert standards for admissibility of expert testimony. Daubert presents criteria for deciding whether scientific testimony should be allowed; (1) validity, (2) reliability, (3) error rate, (4) falsifiability, and (5) peer review. According to my careful review of over 15 empirical scholarly studies, the twin concepts of parental alienation strategies and parental alienation syndrome do in fact meet the Daubert standards. To date every case in which I am hired, my testimony is allowed because of the obvious face validity of the concept of parental alienation. I have yet to be submitted to a Daubtert hearing but I welcome the opportunity to submit the evidence to the courts regarding the scientific merit of the theory of parental alienation.