July 01, 2015

The Parental Alienation Controversy: Two Opposing Views

By Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, PhD

Controversy surrounds the admissibility of evidence of parental alienation in both civil and criminal court cases. The two articles that follow—“Parental Alienation Syndrome: 30 Years On and Still Junk Science” and “Parental Alienation: Misinformation versus Facts”—present diametrically opposed positions.

Federal and state courts’ approaches to parental alienation evidence have varied within civil and criminal areas of the law. Trial judges, as gatekeepers under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and similar state rules, must ensure scientific expert testimony is derived from valid “scientific knowledge” before it is admitted for the jury’s consideration, and judges are expected to examine each expert’s methodology for reliability and relevance. Under the Frye standard, parental alienation may or may not be generally accepted as a concept within the relevant scientific community of experts, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Under the Daubert standard, in addition to general acceptability, trial judges consider other flexible factors on the validity of the scientific methodology or technique, such as empirical testing and whether hypotheses are falsifiable or refutable, known or potential error rates, existence and maintenance of scientific standards and controls, and whether scientific methodology has been subjected to peer review and publication.

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