Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a phrase coined in the 80s by psychiatrist Richard Gardner. It has a fancy name that makes it sound like a scientifically proven thing. It is a more authoritative-sounding way of saying someone is brainwashing your child or trying to turn them against you. Fathers in child custody battles often claim PAS against mothers, especially if the mother is trying to stop them from seeing their child because she believes they are abusing the child.

The problem is, it is not scientifically proven and is “essentially composed of unsubstantiated claims,” according to Jeffrey Edelson, a professor and director of research at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. Worse still the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges found it “diverts attention away from the behaviors of the abusive parent.”

A study for the Department of Justice looked at previous court cases. It found that if a mother accuses the father of abuse, by counterclaiming PAS, he can double his chances of taking child custody away from her. If the roles are reversed, it does not work so well. It was three times less effective.

In the study, 51 mothers who had accused a father of child abuse were accused of PAS in return. The courts sided with the father in all but one case.

If you are a mother involved in a child custody dispute, seek legal counsel. Even if you are sure you have a good reason to stop your child seeing their father, you never know what legal arguments the father could use against you.