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Perverse Reversal of Child Custody

By Charles Pragnell
Nov 13, 2006
There is a very considerable and increasing public and political concern regarding the secrecy of the
Family Courts in child protection hearings and it is hoped that by opening up such proceedings to
public view that it will expose the injustices and unfairness which prevails in many of such
proceedings. Parents report that they are at a serious disadvantage in such proceedings when faced
with the financial and legal might of a local authority and they often do not qualify for legal aid or
are advised by their own legal advisers merely to consent to the making of Care Orders in the hope
that the local authority will return their children in a reasonable period of time – this does not
happen of course and their children are permanently lost to forced adoption or the vicissitudes of
State Care. Some parents claim, with reasonable evidence to support such claims, that the evidence
presented against them is often distorted, embellished, and even fabricated by medical and social
work witnesses and evidence which would exonerate or exculpate them is withheld or disregarded.
Cases which have made headlines in the media in recent years and months appear to support their
But will opening up the Family Courts, per se’, lead to improved justice and fairness for parents?. It
is a step in the right direction but a great deal more needs to be done to create a legal process which
gives equality to parents facing abuse allegations to defend themselves. Not least that an adversarial
legal arena does not necessarily examine the full range of evidence and the outcomes of such
contests often depend more on the quality of legal representation than on the truth or otherwise of
the evidence presented to the Courts. What is claimed to be “In the best interests of the child” is
often no more than the opinions of social workers based, not on what is measurably and
demonstrably to the benefit and advantage of the child, but on little more than fanciful speculation
and misguided dogma regarding substitute care of children and an amour propre’ for `Permanency
One area of the Family Courts’ work which will be unlikely to be opened up to public and political
scrutiny are cases of dispute over child custody and contact after parental separation and yet there
are many similar injustices and unfairness occurring with disturbingly regular frequency in such
proceedings. Such injustices are occurring when children disclose or report to the parent with
custody that they have suffered abuse by the other parent during contact visits and the child(ren)
refuses to attend further contact visits. The non-custodial parent then takes the matter back to
Court to obtain additional contact and even residency of the child(ren) and claims that the custodial
parent has `coached’ or `indoctrinated’ the child into making the abuse allegations. Often the abuse
allegations have been reported to the child protection agencies but in some instances they have
refused to investigate as they suggest it is a matter for the Family Court to decide, or they carry out
only a cursory investigation and suggest that the custodial parent is suffering from `Parental
Alienation Syndrome’ or at least some of the symptoms of this mythical disorder which has been
completely discredited in professional and legal circles.
The term Parental Alienation Syndrome [PAS] was created by Dr. Richard Gardner, an American
psychologist, in 1985 and was based on his observations of disputed child custody cases that

involved allegations of child sexual and/or physical abuse and an inventory he had previously
created and which he termed Sexual Abuse Legitimacy Scale –SALS]
PAS, claimed Gardner, was a mechanism used by a parent, usually the mother, in a child custody
dispute where the parent with residency alleges that the child has reported/disclosed to the
residency parent that s/he has been subjected to a form of abuse by the non-residency parent. . In
this way, it was claimed that mothers gained advantages in custody litigation. The accused nonresidency parent seeks to rebut this allegation with a counter allegation that the child has been
indoctrinated/ coached/ brainwashed by the residency parent into making such allegations in order
to `alienate’ the child towards the non-residency parent. The PAS theory then supports a remedy of
placing the child with their alleged abuser and curtailing or severing completely their visitation
contact with the former residency parent. In effect a Perverse Reversal of Child Custody. [PRoCC].
The American Prosecutors Research Institute stated in 2003 that,‘PAS is based primarily upon two
notions, neither of which has a foundation in empirical research.’’
PAS has never been put forward for verification and validation and is not included in DSMIV, the
diagnostic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association [APA] and does not
therefore qualify nor be deemed to be a mental disorder, there is no body of knowledge to support
its existence, and it is therefore outside of the expertise of psychiatrists and psychologists.
This is further testified to by Dr. Paul J.Fink a past President of the APA and President of the
Leadership Council on Mental Health, Justice, and the Media who has stated that,
“PAS as a scientific theory has been excoriated by legitimate researchers across the nation. Judged
solely on its merits, Dr. Gardner should be a pathetic footnote of psychiatry, or an example of poor
scientific standards.” (cited in Bruch 2002).
Richard Ducote an attorney at law in New Orleans stated in 2003 of Gardner and his PAS theory
“PAS is a bogus, pro-paedophiliac fraud concocted by Richard Gardner. I was the last attorney to
cross-examine Gardner in Patterson New Jersey. …He has not been court appointed to do anything
for decades. The only two appellate courts in the country who have considered the question of
whether PAS meets the Frye test i.e. whether it is generally accepted in the scientific community,
said it does not. Gardner and his theory have done untold damage to sexually and physically abused
children and their protective parents. PAS has been rejected by every reputable organisation
considering it. In a Florida case in which I was recently involved, when the Judge insisted on a Frye
Hearing, Gardner simply did not show up. Perhaps because of this he finally realised that the entire
nation was on to his scam, he committed suicide on May 25. Lets pray that his ridiculous, dangerous
PAS foolishness died with him.”
Yet this discredited theory or its thinly-disguised elements are still being used in Family Courts in the
U.K. and in Australia, and is being accepted by some members of the judiciary, and children are
being placed with parents against whom they have made reports/disclosures of abuse without such
reports having been thoroughly and competently investigated. There are even cases where the
abuse has been shown to have occurred following a child protection investigation and yet the
child(ren) have still been placed with the abusive parent.

An example of this is the case of a young mother who suffered extreme and frequent abuse from
her husband throughout the five years of their marriage and stayed with him in the hope he would
change and the marriage could be rescued, and despite social workers trying on several occasions to
persuade her to leave him. After she finally decided to terminate the marriage, she suffered physical
and mental ill health and agreed for her children to be looked after by the local authority on a
voluntary basis whilst she recovered. However when she recovered from her ill health and sought
the return of her children, the local authority refused to return them and sought Care Orders on the
children, alleging she was likely to cause them harm. Her legal advisers deserted her and her legal
aid was withdrawn and she was left to act as a litigant in person with no legal knowledge or
experience. The Official Solicitor was requested to act in the case but merely consented to the Care
Orders and so Care Orders were made to the local authority by `default’. The children were placed in
the care of the abusive father by the local authority with the Court’s agreement and the mother has
since been denied any direct contact and has even been actively prevented from participating in any
decision-making processes regarding the children’s care and welfare. The Official Solicitor later
apologised for his conduct in the proceedings but the children remain in the care of their father and
any form of direct contact with their mother has been refused.
In another case a young woman gave birth to an illegitimate child after a very brief relationship with
a wealthy professional man. She cared for and looked after her child for several years and the
putative father was granted visitation contact. However as the child grew older he began to make
reports and disclosures to his mother and to several health professionals which suggested that he
was being sexually abused on these contact visits and he became extremely distressed and refused
to attend such visits. The child protection authorities refused to investigate the allegations but were
intent upon removing the child from the mother on the basis of alleged PAS but with no evidence to
support such an opinion. The putative father brought legal action seeking a residency order and the
claims that the mother was indoctrinating her four year old child were supported by a CAFCASS
worker and the father was awarded custody of the child. The mother now has only sporadic contact
with her child and he continues to make allegations of abuse to the mother and to his teachers and
the child protection authorities continue to refuse to investigate because they unquestioningly
accept the views of the original social workers.
Such cases of perverse reversal of child custody are increasing in the U.K. and Australia although
they are in rapid decline in the U.S.A. after the exposure of PAS as a fraudulent and unsound theory.
It is difficult to comprehend how children can be placed in the care and custody of a parent against
whom they have made an allegation of abuse without a full and thorough investigation of those
allegations and merely an assumption that the child(ren) is lying and has been `coached’ into making
such allegations, despite research evidence that such false allegations by children are extremely
In other cases of custody and contact where children have been suffering serious ill health or
disabilities, counter allegations have been made that the mother is suffering from Munchausen
Syndrome By Proxy and has fabricated or induced the child’s illness or disability, which has similarly
been discredited as having neither validity nor utility in child protection matters and not to exist as a
medico-legal entity.

Ending the secrecy of the Family Courts will undoubtedly bring some improvements but much more
needs to be done before full confidence can be brought to a system which has lost so much public
confidence and trust and is continually and repetitively making such serious errors. Not least must
be a re-examination of the presumption that parents should have an equal right to the custody of
the child(ren) or contact even though the parent may not have taken any interest whatsoever in the
child during the marriage and may be using this `right’ simply as a weapon of attrition against the
custodial parent or wishes to continue their abusive and persecutory behaviour towards the child
and/or the other parent.
By Charles Pragnell
November 13, 2006
Diploma in Social Work and Letter of Recognition in Child Care [UK Home Office]
Expert Witness – Child Protection and Social Care Consultant and Child/Family Advocate.