Parental Gatekeeping: Overview of Forensic Model and Conceptual Framework for Gatekeeping Services
What is gatekeeping? Parental gatekeeping refers to how parents’ attitudes and actions affect the involvement and quality of the relationship between the other parent and child in either a positive or negative way. Scholars have proposed a gatekeeping continuum that varies in degrees of facilitative to restrictive on the issue of supporting the other-parent–child relationship.
Dr. Austin’s gatekeeping articles can be downloaded from this webpage.
Both Parents. Following divorce, both parents participate in gatekeeping and their pattern of behavior can be cooperative, conflicted, or a mixture. The main goals of the gatekeeping forensic and co-parenting educational services are to promote cooperative co-parenting for the children’s best interests and also to reduce the stress for both parents. Dr. Austin tries to help parents learn to compartmentalize any strong negative feelings they may hold towards the other parent from their co-parenting behaviors that need to be constructive, problem solving, and child-focused.
The Gatekeeping Continuum. On the facilitative extreme of the continuum a parent is being proactive and inclusive of the other parent. On the restrictive extreme would be extreme alienating behaviors by a parent, or even abducting the child.
In all of the gatekeeping services listed on the website, the parents receive education about the gatekeeping model, including learning about the supporting research in a limited way.
Why is Gatekeeping Important? Gatekeeping is important because of research that strongly shows that children of divorce are likely to be better adjusted and enjoy the best long-term outcomes when they enjoy quality relationships with both parents. The gatekeeping forensic model explains this research finding in terms of the concept of Social Capital that is associated with each parent’s contributions to the child’s well-being and development. Social Capital refers to the important psychosocial resources the child receives from the important relationships in his or her life. Parents are the main source of this social capital.
Gatekeeping is part of a common factor in state statutes that define best interests of the child. This best interest factor concerns how each parent supports the other-parent child relationships. State laws also often declare that it is state’s social policy to support the continuing involvement of both parents.
Restrictive Gatekeeping (RG) refers to actions by a parent that are intended to interfere with the other parent’s involvement with the child and would predictably negatively affect the quality of their relationship.
Facilitative Gatekeeping (FG) occurs when a parent acts to support continuing involvement and maintenance of a meaningful relationship with the child. Facilitating behaviors are proactive, inclusive, and demonstrate for the child that the parent values the other parent’s contributions.
Lists of specific examples of Restrictive Gatekeeping and Faciliatative Gatekeeping can be downloaded from the website.
Gate-Opening and Gate-Closing Behaviors. RG behaviors are examples of gate-closing and so are expected to not be in the child’s best interests. They hinder the free flow of a parent’s psychosocial resources to the child. FG behaviors are examples of gate-opening behaviors and so are expected to promote a child’s access to a parent’s social capital.
In all of the gatekeeping services, parents are educated about identifying RG and FG specific behaviors. There is discussion about how each parent has the responsibility to “manage the gate” in a constructive way in order to promote cooperative co-parenting for the child’s benefit.
Protective Gatekeeping (PG) is a form of RG that arises when a parent acts to limit the other parent’s involvement or is critical of the other parent’s parenting skills because of concern about possible harm to the child. PG is defined in terms of the reasons a parent wants to limit access or involvement by the other parent, or is not very supportive of the other parent’s relationship with the child. A history of substantial intimate partner violence, harsh parenting, substance or alcohol abuse, or a major mental disorder are common reasons for why one parent may to want to limit the other’s access. See Dr. Austin’s forensic models for understanding and assessing intimate partner violence in child custody disputes. www.child-custody-services.com
When Restrictive Gatekeeping is Justified. Sometimes there are valid reasons for a parent’s restrictive attitudes and behaviors towards the other parent. The RG may be justified. The parent might have an alcohol problem or be coercive in his/her parenting or co-parenting.
When Restrictive Gatekeeping is Unjustified. In other instances the parent’s concerns about harm and the child’s well-being may not be justified. Sometimes it is unclear and the parents will have legitimate differences of opinion on an issue, such as with a disagreement about overnights for a young child.
In the gatekeeping services, Dr. Austin directs a discussion about the process of justification of RG positions on issues and behaviors. Parents are encouraged to appreciate each other’s different perspectives on gatekeeping, such as whether overnights for a very young child is appropriate.
Restrictive Gatekeeping or Alienation? In high conflict cases, there often are allegations of alienating behaviors by a parent and an attempt by the parent to alienate the child from the parent. These alienating behaviors are expected to hinder the other parent’s involvement with the child and the quality of the parent-child relationship. So alienating behaviors are always a form of unjustified restrictive gatekeeping. The term of alienation is often used very loosely and in most situations the problem really is one of restrictive gatekeeping. Alienation often involves significant psychological disturbance in the alienating parent and in his/her relationship with the child. If the child is not resisting or refusing to have contact with the other parent, then the child is not alienated.
Dr. Austin provides expert instructional testimony and trial consultation for cases involving high conflict and allegations of restrictive gatekeeping and/or alienation. See the child custody evaluation and trial consultation website: www.child-custody-services.com
Gatekeeping in the S.A.F.E. service: Early Intervention for Voluntary Development of a Parenting Plan. Issues are assessed that are keeping the parents from reaching agreement on a parenting plan. Alternative parenting time schedules/patterns are described for the parents to consider. Participants in this service also receive a brief introduction to gatekeeping and co-parenting. The level of past and current gatekeeping is assessed. The parents learn the gatekeeping model that is used in coaching the parents about parenting plan options to consider. In preparing the brief report for the parents and attorneys, the gatekeeping issues are described and points of agreement and disagreement so that parents can try reach a voluntary agreement on a parenting plan. See the S.A.F.E. brochure.
Gatekeeping in Relocation cases and Long Distance Parenting. Gatekeeping is at the center of most relocation cases where a parent wants to relocate with the child to a new community. There often is litigation and a trial as the nonmoving parent opposes the relocation of the child. The moving parent needs to convince the court that she or he will be supportive of the other parent-child relationship, or be a facilitative gatekeeper.
The gatekeeping service for relocation and long distance parenting provides co-parenting education on gatekeeping with the challenges of long distance and coaching on how to make the court’s order and long distance parenting plan work for the parents and child.
Gatekeeping as Centerpiece in Co-Parenting Education. Gatekeeping is the starting point and organizing framework for all of the co-parenting services and for S.A.F.E. See the brochure on co-parenting education and coaching for relocation and long distance parenting.
Gatekeeping Coaching in Parenting Coordination Service: Dr. Austin offers Parenting Coordination/Decision Maker services. Co-parenting education and coaching on gatekeeping is incorporated into the PC/DM service to promote cooperative co-parenting.
Gatekeeping Assessment in Child Custody Evaluation. In a parenting evaluation the court’s expert – evaluator assesses the gatekeeping factor in predicting future co-parenting behaviors. The pattern of gatekeeping behaviors is considered in making recommendations to the court on parenting time and decision-making. See the parenting evaluation and trial consultation webpage: www.child-custody-services.com
Publications on Gatekeeping Forensic Model and Child Custody:
Austin, W. G. (2011). Parental gatekeeping in custody disputes. American Journal of Family Law, 25(4), 148-153.
Austin, W. G., Fieldstone, L. M., & Pruett, M. K. (2013). Bench book for assessing gatekeeping in parenting disputes: Understanding the dynamics of gate-closing and opening for the best interests of children. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practice, 10(1), 1-16.
Austin, W. G., Pruett, M. K., Kirkpatrick, H. D., Flens, J. R., & Gould, J. W. (2013, in press, July). Parental gatekeeping and child custody/child access evaluations: Part I: Conceptual framework, research, and application. Family Court Review, 51(3)