Parental Gatekeeping / by Cassandra Hearn

Nearly every parent wants to do what is best for his or her child. Parents work to make sure that children are safe and their physical and emotional needs are always met. However, during divorce or custody litigation, parents will commonly disagree on what a child needs and what is in a child’s best interest. Custody disputes can sometimes give rise to behavior by one parent called “parental gatekeeping.”  It is essential to recognize and deal with this type of behavior head-on.

Parental gatekeeping occurs when a parent unilaterally takes steps to limit harm to a child from the other parent. This harm may be real or imagined. Usually gatekeeping happens during a custody case, but in some cases it may have been going on before the divorce even started, while the parties and the children were still residing together as a nuclear family. A parent who is reacting to a real threat of physical harm to a child is not the type of parent who may suffer adverse consequences in custody litigation. After all, if a parent knows that the other parent is physically abusing a child, it is the non-offending parent’s duty to protect the child from that physical harm.

It is far more common that a gatekeeping parent is reacting to an alleged “perceived” harm. That is, a parent believes that a child may be harmed if the other parent is allowed to share parenting responsibilities. Where one parent has spent years being the primary caretaker for the parties’ children, he or she may have the perception that the other parent is not capable of taking over more responsibility and will try to shield the child from that parent’s potential incompetence. In these cases, a parent may start showing gatekeeping tendencies. Some common traits of gatekeeping may include a refusal to share information such as doctor’s appointments or school schedules, severely restricting contact between the other parent and the child, or making important decisions without first discussing the issue with the other parent. Interrupting the other parent’s visitation in the form of unnecessary and repetitive phone calls or text messages can also be a telltale sign.

If you observe these behaviors in the other parent, one option could be to go to family counseling. A neutral third-party can help the other parent to discuss concerns without feeling “attacked.”  If a parent is unwilling to work through these issues, it may be necessary to ask a trial court to intervene. A detailed court order concerning contact between parent and child, information that must be immediately shared, and the types of decisions which must be discussed before being made can all help to set the ground rules and curtail the gatekeeping. Left unchecked, gatekeeping can evolve into parental alienation.

If you believe that the other parent in your case is showing these types of behaviors, call us today at 619-800-0384 for a consultation. We have experience in helping our clients with all aspects of custody litigation and look forward to helping you craft solutions for your family.