When you are a co-parent, you can sometimes feel like you always have to be on your toes, due to the looming possibility that your relationship with your child can be sabotaged at any point. You can sometimes feel like it will just take one wrong word or one wrong look and suddenly, the next time you go to pick up your child, they may be looking at your differently.
For those that are on a more civil co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse, they may consider parental gatekeeping as a viable option in encouraging a civil, communicative, and consistent co-parenting relationship.
Parental gatekeeping refers to parents’ attitude and actions that serve to affect the quality of the other parent’s relationship and involvement with the child, according to the Family Court Review. Depending on your relationship with your co-parent, the act of parental gatekeeping can have positive or negative consequences.
Positives of gatekeeping
For those that have a civil relationship with your co-parent, parental gatekeeping can be used to benefit the co-parent that may not have as much parenting time as the other. Depending on the child custody situation, one parent can help facilitate interactions with the other parent and the child, who may have experienced emotional issues after a parental divorce.
These types of interactions can help the child open up and reconnect with the noncustodial parent. It also may help to involve a professional, such as a pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional, who can help guide the conversation and make sure that the needs of the child are being met.
If a child feels like they cannot reach out to the noncustodial parent, the custodial parent can help reassure the child that even though the child’s parents are no longer together, they both love and support them and that they should think of where both parents live as homes for them.
This also can work in reverse. If a child is only opening up to the noncustodial parent, due to the infrequency in which they see one another, the noncustodial parent can be the gatekeeper for the custodial parent and help reestablish them on an emotional level in the child’s life.
While in an ideal world, parental gatekeeping would be a useful resource, in order to help noncustodial parents connect with their children, that is unfortunately not always the case.
The dangers in maternal gatekeeping
Many children run the risk of being victim to maternal gatekeeping. This action is when a mother is utilizing her custodial position, in order to restrict access or communication to the child. While it can be used in order to protect the child in cases of abuse, neglect, or criminal behavior, it is more often than not used in order to undercut the role that the noncustodial parent, often the father, has in the life of their shared child.
Maternal gatekeeping operates under the belief that the mother has every right to limit the father’s access to their shared child. This belief encourages mothers to speak unfiltered about the father in front of the child, to limit the father’s access to information and updates regarding the child’s schooling, health, athletics, religious and social life, and to think of themselves as the authority, regarding what is and is not best for their shared child, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Parental alienation and parental gatekeeping
This type of behavior can sometimes be confused with parental alienation. While the two behaviors can work hand-in-hand, they are inherently different.
Parental alienation does not imply the restrictive nature of parental gatekeeping. An alienated child still can see the targeted parent and react like the alienating parent desires, whereas parental gatekeeping includes the limitations of access.
The limitations can cause false perceptions of how a restricted parent may think or feel, and that, in of itself, can cause parental alienation to occur.
This type of behavior has been studied at length with a variety of circumstances at play.
For single, divorced, or separated co-parents with a shared child that has a special needs condition, there is an increased need for collaborative co-parenting, and the act of gatekeeping under those circumstances can foster parental conflict, according to a study published in the Family Court Review.
The study encouraged the importance of collaborative efforts to make decisions. They state that parents of children with special needs can foster the best situation for their child when they are working in tandem.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that mothers could block fathers’ involvement with their children. However, the researchers saw the events of fathers being shut out as something that happens either with fathers consciously not being more involved with their children or as an accidental occurrence due to the child custody situation.
While studies, like the one at Ohio State University, are examining the validity of a father’s cry for help in cases of maternal gatekeeping, other questions regarding the abusive nature that maternal gatekeeping can take on, are being asked.
Is parental gatekeeping abusive?
According to The Huffington Post, not enough is being done to address how restrictive gatekeeping can be. Without any cause that validates the concerns of custodial parent, the parent is free to prohibit the sharing of information to how a child is doing, as well as prevent the flexibility of additional overnights. They also have the ability to stop communication, incite irregular parenting time for the restricted parent and make unilateral decisions for the child, all without the law to regulate it.
The questions regarding emotional or psychological abuse that gatekeeping can create are worth exploring, and for someone who is co-parenting with another individual, it is important to keep track of everything that your co-parent has done, if they are one to gatekeep. Journal the events that occur, so that your family law attorney has the evidence that they need, when you explore the case again.
Importance of an attorney
Keeping in contact with your family law attorney is important when you have such restrictive access to your child and information regarding them, and having a family law attorney who understands what unique challenges fathers may go through during maternal gatekeeping is necessary.
Law firms, like Cordell & Cordell, understand what fathers need during these circumstances and are willing to take the necessary steps, in order to ensure a father’s place in a child’s life.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with Joe Cordell.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.