During a custody battle, the tensions between the former couple run high. There may be residual anger between them plus the natural desire to protect their children. During this time, we often see a situation called parental gatekeeping. Understanding what this is and how someone expresses it is crucial if you are involved in a custody hearing for your children.
What Is Parental Gatekeeping?
Essentially, it is a way for one parent keeping their children away from the other parent as a means of protection. The three major types of parental gatekeeping are:
- Actual harm: The parent or child may have had negative experience (such as rape or violence) with the other parent that would cause them to have a reasonable fear for their child.
- Perceived harm: Although the parent or child have never seen anything explicit, characteristics or circumstances exist that give the parent reason to fear for their child.
- Manufactured harm: In this case, the child is in absolutely no danger, but one of the parents will make up false allegations just to keep the other parent away from the child.
For the rest of this article, we will be talking only about parental gatekeeping due to perceived or manufactured harm.
Why Does Gatekeeping Happen?
- Leverage: Because custody is often a part of a divorce or other legal proceedings, the gatekeeper may feel that if they can dangle child custody in front of the other parent, that they will gain leverage in negotiations.
- Anger or Revenge: While this isn’t always the case, this is one of the most dramatic and emotional. The gatekeeper may have a legitimate reason to be angry, such as infidelity or abuse on the part of the other parent, so they may use this opportunity to punish them, even if they are a fine parent.
- Lack of Respect for the Other Parent: This can come down to arrogance or narcissism, with the gatekeeper thinking that they are superior to their former partner and therefore only they are deserving of the children.
- Gatekeeper’s Past: We can’t always attribute bad motives to a person in this situation. It’s possible that a past of abuse or family issues is cause for the gatekeeper to act in this to protect their children.
Defending Against Parental Gatekeeping
Emotion is what causes this situation in the first place, so logic is the best way to combat it. A person should keep the following points in mind in this situation.
- Hire an attorney with experience in family law: The gatekeeper will be doing everything in their power to keep their child away from the other parent, including every legal resource they have access to. Be sure to work with someone who can defend your rights and understands how the opposing side may exploit any loopholes.
- Keep the child first: Even if the other parent is using the child as a weapon, it’s important not to follow suit. Remember that they are the true victim here and if this is truly about them and not fighting fire with fire, you should remember that their needs come first.
- Be prepared: When dealing with child custody, understand that this is not a game of chicken. If brought to court, being able to show the conduct and actions of gatekeeper will work against them in the end. Any sort of documentation or evidence (text messages, emails, pictures, witness testimony) should be readily available when making accusations of parental. Otherwise, you may end up looking like you’re making baseless accusations.
No one “wins” in this situation, but hopefully your actions can cause the gatekeeping parent to reconsider his or her position for the sake of the child.