Parental Alienation Syndrome

Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What can I do to gain custody of my child in North Carolina?”


The Tsimhoni family is back in the news again this month as the parents’ custody war wages onwards. Their case made international headlines last year when a Michigan judge found the parents’ three children, ages 9, 11 and 14, in contempt for not following her court order to have lunch with their estranged father. The judge then sent the three children to a juvenile detention facility and ordered them to attend an intensive “parental alienation program.”

Judge Gavel Charlotte Child Custody Lawyer Mecklenburg Divorce AttorneyThe therapy program mirrors similar privately-run programs across the country that courts sometimes use to address what is conceptualized as Parental Alienation Syndrome, or PAS.


Parental Alienation Syndrome: A contested diagnosis predicated on the notion that a parent can brainwash a child to hate the otherwise stand-up parent. It was first introduced in the 1980s by a then-prominent child psychologist and is still used by some courts today in making custody determinations. Advocates say it helps ensure children have relationships with both parents and safeguards against faulty abuse allegations in high-conflict custody disputes.

When parents first separate, some level of parental alienation can be unavoidable. For example, parents can unknowingly transmit some of their own anxieties onto the child. “Call me as soon as you get there so that I know you’re okay.” “I’ll come get you if you get scared or want to come home, okay?” This level of alienation is normal and typically dies down after a divorce is finalized and the parties start to move on with their lives. However, if such behavior continues or escalates it can forever pit a child against one parent.

Proponents of Parental Alienation Syndrome identify the following as some examples or symptoms of PAS:

  • Psychologically or physically “rescuing” the child from the other parent when there is no threat to the child’s safety
  • Blaming the other parent for breaking up the family, financial problems, or having a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Reacting with sadness or hurt if the child has a good time with the other parent
  • Withholding affection and/or privileges for the child spending time with the other parent
  • Assuming that if a parent has been physically abusive to the other parent, then it follows that the parent will also abuse the child


The original judge in the Tsimhoni case, unsurprisingly, stepped down from the case amid disputed allegations that she was unfairly biased towards the father and a new judge was assigned. Filings from both sides of the case each claim the other parent’s home is not in the children’s best interests.

The Tsimhonis divorced in 2011. Up until last year, the mother had full custody of the three children. Their father returned from Israel, where he worked for much of the year, and claimed that his children refused to talk or even look at him even though he was permitted visitation by the court. He then turned to the court to amend the current custody arrangement, claiming his ex-wife had alienated his children from him.

The children are currently still in their father’s custody and the mother is attempting to have full custody restored to her.

Critics of Parental Alienation Syndrome point out that it has never been accepted by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and say it does not do enough to protect children from parents that are in fact abusive.

North Carolina’s courts have not discussed Parental Alienation Syndrome in many cases, but judges here do routinely hear evidence as to parental alienation in ruling on petitions to modify existing custody orders.

If you are involved in a custody issue where you think the other parent or stepparent is alienating your child from you, it is important for you to have a skilled family law attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.


About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAWMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A certified Family-Law Specialist, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state and administrative courts in North Carolina, before the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, and before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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