Parental Gatekeeping in Separation and Divorce

Toddler wearing grey button shirt

provided by Gerry Bock

The Problem . . .
In a contested separation and/or divorce, it is typically very challenging to keep the feelings and animosity towards the “other” party from negatively impacting the child or children involved. The negative feelings and chaotic adjustment often “spills over” into a lack of support for the parent/child relationship of the other parent, or possibly, outright alienation.
Custody disputes often lead to contested disputes, and/or court, and typically involve some form of parental gatekeeping gone badly in the wrong direction. All too often, this ends up with the emotional well-being of the children being damaged.
Numerous studies and research have shown that children of divorce have improved long term adjustment when they are able to freely enjoy a supportive and quality relationship with both parents.
At issue is how well will each of the parents support and sustain the relationship between the “off duty parent” and the child, or children involved, without harm to the child, from the choices that the adults make and how the child is supported in the adjustment process.

What is Parental Gatekeeping?
Research has demonstrated that children typically function and adapt the best when they have positive and engaging contact with both parents.

Gerry Bock, MA
Registered Clinical Counsellor – Collaborative Divorce Coach (Child Specialist) and Parenting Coordinator
Telephone – 604-574-6555

E-mail [email protected]

Positive and supportive parental gatekeeping serves to protect the relationships in the family unit and improves both the development and adjustment in children as they go through the process.
The exception for positive gatekeeping, is in cases of imminent threat to the physical and/or psychological safety of the child.

According to the published research:

  • If mother is content with fathers’ parenting then fathers are typically more positively involved in child’s life.
    • This “content” factor occurs most frequently when there is low conflict within the family.
  • Negative maternal feelings towards paternal side often results in diminishing involvement from the father.
  • Mother’s attitudes towards father’s parenting post-divorce is frequently associated with the father’s attitude and treatment of the mother & child during the marriage.

Parental gatekeeping problems occur during the separation and re-negotiation of the parental responsibilities. Power struggles negatively affecting the children will occur when one parent has difficulty letting go of parental responsibilities and access at the same time that the other parent is attempting to broaden and deepen his or her role with the child, making the negotiation process challenging and litigious.

Which Factors Influence the Best Interests Assessment of the Child?

The following criteria are considered when assessing the best interest of a child:

  • Love, affection, and the ties that exist between the child and all relevant parties (parents, guardians, siblings, etc);
  • The ability of all parents and guardians to give love, affection, & guidance:
  • The ongoing ability to support education plans, culture, community activities, friendships, religious beliefs, and important family values;
  • Providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care;
  • The ability and willingness to cooperate with other caregivers;
  • Possibility of neglect, and abuse;
  • Compliance with court orders, and/or mutual agreements made;
  • History of child abuse and the potential that it may occur again:
  • Conflict between the child and the guardians, past and present;
  • Ability and willingness of all parties to encourage and maintain the child’s relationship with extended family/friends, and to be involved in the child’s school activities;
  • The identification and support of emotionally healthy values in all parties, including the values of the children involved;
  • Mental and physical health of all parties;
  • The wishes and preferences of the children, except where it would be inappropriate to consider them;
  • The presence of and ongoing exposure to any type of violence.