Parental Gatekeeping & Parental Alienation

Parental Gatekeeping
For parents who are co-parenting after a divorce, parental gatekeeping can become a very serious problem when trying to co-parent and communicate effectively. Parental gatekeeping is a term used to describe a parent’s preferences and attempts to restrict and exclude the other parent from being involved in the child’s development. Gatekeeping attitudes and behaviors can range from very positive, which are facilitative, to very negative, which are inhibitory, or to the most extreme known as Parental Alienation.

Although restrictive gatekeeping usually occurs in divorced families, about 20% of parents in “intact” families are restrictive gatekeepers, 42% of parents showed an intermediate level of gatekeeping and about 37% were very cooperative and inclusive (Allen & Hawkins, supra n. 12 on page 200).  This shows that gatekeeping is much more common than most assume. For this reason mental health professionals as well as legal professionals must be educated and aware of parental gatekeeping and it’s negative effects on family cohesiveness.

Parental Alienation
Parental gatekeeping can become very extreme which is known as Parental Alienation (PA). Parental Alienation occurs when a parent alienates one or all children from the other parent. The rejected parent naturally reacts very negatively when the child resists spending time or communicating with them. Once the children begin rejecting the alienated parent, conflict ensues which is typically followed by legal action. 

The child’s view of the other parent can negatively change which will only further conflicts and litigation between co-parents. The treatment for parental alienation involves intense therapy for children to be reintroduced to the adult from which the child was alienated from known as reunification therapy. Once the child has been re-introduced, the parent who was doing the alienating must be treated as well with intense therapy to halt the behaviors as well as attitudes to allow participation from the other parent.

Attitudes versus Behaviors in Restrictive Gatekeeping
It is crucial to have the ability to distinguish between gatekeeping attitudes and behaviors. The theory that many researchers have developed states that a parent’s gatekeeping attitudes will lead to what is called “gate closing behaviors” which closes off a parent completely from the child . In the context of divorce and litigating parents, negative attitudes about the other parent and his or her parenting skills or knowledge is expected and usual. A common mistake by evaluators is to view a parent as non-supportive, even to a point of alienating the child, when the parent merely holds a critical attitude. 

The important issues that avoid parental alienation are if the parent can avoid impeding access to the child, cooperate with the parenting plan, and share information.

Common gate closing behaviors can include showing hostility at exchanges, not facilitating phone calls, derogating the other parent in front of the child, and being rigid or inflexible when there is a need to change or reschedule events in the parenting plan or time schedule.

Court & Legal Implications of Restrictive Gatekeeping
In court restrictive gatekeeping can be seen as Parental Alienation which has serious legal ramifications. Theses destructive behaviors can cause a great deal of damage to the children involved as well as a loss of parental rights. In extreme cases, children can be removed from the restrictive parent’s home and moved to the other parent’s home or guardian for safety. In extreme cases, a judge may rule that the parent is only allowed to interact with the child through supervised visitation programs. Although these are all extreme cases, the outcome of restrictive gatekeeping shows the negative outcome most, through children and how they begin to view the outside parent. The most important factor that contributes to healthy development in a child being raised in a divorced home, is the support of both parents without constant conflict and litigation.

Restrictive Gatekeeping Behaviors

  • Limiting communication, despite court order, between children and parent
  • Limiting time sharing with other parent
  • Withholding important information regarding the child
  • Interrupting time sharing with other parent
  • Speaking negatively about a parent with or in front of a child
  • Making decisions without the other parent’s input
  • Arguing or negative communication in front of children with other parent
  • Refusing to communicate with other parent
  • Being strict and non-flexible for necessary time changes to time sharing

If you think you or former spouse is engaging in these harmful behaviors or attitudes, please feel free to give us a call for a consultation! (561) 429-2140

8 Responses to Parental Gatekeeping & Parental Alienation

    Thank you for an excellent post and some very interesting statistics. The concept of parental gatekeeping is a very apt way to describe behaviors that could develop into parental alienation.

    Parental alienation affects countless children, parents and extended family members every year. For more information on this destructive family dynamic, you can visit


    mike jeffries

    Sarah Meier

    Thank you for drawing attention to this issue that is devastating to families worldwide. “Gatekeeping” is a good word to describe alienating behaviors, because often, if you listen, you will hear comments from the perpetrating parent like “I divorced [their father/their mother] because I didn’t want my child to grow up to be like [him/her]” or “I’m protecting my child from [the other parent’s] opinions/ideas/way of doing things.”

    The gatekeeper assumes the role of judge and jury with regard to the other parent, and why shouldn’t they? Because despite a court order, they have been given absolute authority to do so by the courts that do nothing to ensure protections for the (usually) non-custodial parent and child(ren). Until “contempt of court” gets some teeth, you can keep counting the children who fall under the Failure to Thrive column.

    Awareness, education and firm, consistent rules will help alleviate the problem — before the devastation sets in.

      Thank you for your comment Sarah!

      I first became aware of the “gatekeeping” term during a workshop hosted by William Austin, a forensic psychologist known for his contribution to this topic. His description was perfect, basically describing the parent as having the ability to be either a facilitative gatekeeper, a restrictive gatekeeper, or a protective gatekeeper. I highly recommend reading up on his research.

      I also agree that awareness and education have to be increased to help alleviate the problem. The parents and the professionals involved need to have a clear understanding of the signs and symptoms, as well as the long term consequences for the children placed in the middle.

      Thanks again,
      Dr. Kristin Tolbert

    Susan McGilloway

    Another very dangerous behavior by the alienating parent is subtle manipulation in which the person appears to be supportive of the other parent; however, takes advantage of every issue between the child and the alienated parent to appear the hero and subtly undermine the relationship. This behavior is the most difficult to address as it is subtle, covert, and manipulative.

      Susan, I couldn’t agree more. It is those little things that can be quite difficult to prove in court and end up making the targeted parent feel like they are slowly losing their child without a good cause. It is so important to document these issues if there is a chance that the case could be going to court and it is imperative that the evaluator has a clear understanding of parental alienation and gatekeeping behaviors. Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts! Dr. Kristin Tolbert

    alain smithee

    I am sending a printed copy of this article via snail mail to my gender biased family court judge because Her Honor (sarcasm intended) recently told me (again) that ‘children belong with the mother’ before increasing my child support order because ‘your [ex-]wife (NOT our children) deserves that money!’

    Then again, I feel that ‘child support’ should be a shared responsibility instead of a requirement for the non-custodial parent to provide a government mandated lifestyle for the children (and by inference, the custodial parent and her …paramour).


    Mental health gatekeeping was used through law as a bribe while
    also proving to violate my civil rights. Furthermore, family courts needs
    need to realize the trauma left by gatekeepers. They are not warranted as their
    re rights to parents by birth.

Leave a Reply





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.