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Lost in the Divorce Shuffle

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To protect everyone involved, "it's important to know why someone is carrying out this behavior -- whether it's to protect the child or to vent their own feelings. Court mediation people should be able to find out what's really going on," she tells WebMD.

Though he's been practicing psychiatry for more than 45 years, Gardner says he never saw a single PAS case until the early 1980s. Before the switch to evaluation of parents regardless of their gender, and equality in decision-making, this was unheard of, he says.

Today, the precise number of cases is unknown, but "PAS is extremely common," he says. And with half of all marriages ending in divorce, it's something that is likely to affect most of us at some point, whether directly or indirectly.

If divorce is an inevitable part of your future, think long and hard before going into court battles over child custody, says Gardner. "And if you're inclined to seek vengeance by depriving the other party of the children, ask yourself if that is a reasonable way to deal with your anger and hurt." The children will not only suffer in the short run, he says, but mounting evidence shows that PAS can lead to lingering psychological problems.

What's more, says Gardner, once done, there is little chance of its being undone. "In a recent follow-up study of 99 PAS cases, PAS produced life-long alienation," he says. "Some parents never saw their kids again."

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