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ASK BETH

Debating a theory in the court of public opinion

I recently responded to letters from a mother and a father who felt they were objects of parental alienation by spouses who turned their children against them. Many responded about Parental Alienation Syndrome, a theory used in some custody battles:

Dear Beth:

Fathers supremacy groups promulgate Parental Alienation Syndrome. Lawyers and judges mistakenly believe it has some merit, even though the American Psychological Association discounts it.

What is important is that parents who are abusers use it to ''prove" that the person bringing up the abuse is an ''alienator." So if a loving, protective parent alleges abuse, that parent can lose custody because he/she is an ''alienator," and an abuser can get custody.

GARLAND WALLER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY

Dear Beth:

You have no idea of the huge prejudice against fathers in the family courts today. They are treated like criminals and stripped of most of their constitutional rights. As soon as a woman says ''fear," a restraining order is issued and dad is denied his children.

The motivation for courts is what is easiest for judges and what makes lawyers the most money.

LOVING, CARING FATHER

Dear Beth:

As coauthor with Michael Lesher of ''From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts -- And What Can Be Done About It" (Northeastern University Press), we have examined the dangers that PAS poses to family court litigation. Our analysis of 4,000 family court cases over 20 years shows that this dubious theory can be used as a litigation ploy to circumvent an investigation into a sex abuse allegation. Once you label a mother as having PAS, it becomes a moot point to explore the veracity of her claims of sexual abuse or even to show that she made up the charges. In this toxic family court environment, a syndrome stands in the place of facts.

AMY NEUSTEIN

Beth can be reached at askbeth@globe.com.

Send letters to Ask Beth, The Boston Globe, PO Box 55819, Boston MA 02205-5819. Questions can be answered only through this column. Ask Beth is a registered trademark of Globe Newspaper Co.

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