William G. Austin, Ph.D., Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Evergreen, Colorado
Raleigh, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Email: wgaustinphd2@yahoo.com






William G. Austin, Ph.D., Ph.D., Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed., and Marsha Kline Pruett, Ph.D., M.S.L.

Parental Gatekeeping refers to how parents’ attitudes and actions affect the involvement and quality of the relationship between the other parent and child. Past behaviors are the best predictor of future behaviors, so in shared parenting litigation it is helpful for the court to examine co-parenting attitudes and behaviors of each parent before and after separation.

Facilitative Gatekeeping (Gate-Opening Behaviors) occurs when a parent acts to support continuing involvement and maintenance of a meaningful relationship with the child.



 Reinforcement of Child’s Relationship With Both Parents

o Having photographs of the other parent in view of or easily accessible to the child

o Praising gifts and cards given to child by other parent; having child send birthday and Mother’s/Father’s Day card to other parent; having joint birthday parties for child

o Telling child that there are no secrets between parents

o Ensuring child knows that parents communicate about important matters jointly; refraining from using child as messenger or detective

Parental Communication/Access to Information

o Providing child-related information timely, without other parent asking for it

o Ensuring parent and parent’s contact information is on all forms so all records are available to both parents

Parent’s Interactions with Child/Protecting Child from Parental Conflict

o Praising the other parent to the child

o Protecting child from disagreements and parental discord; minimizes parental contact at transfer times; hides adult information; demonstrates healthy resolution of disagreements

o Protecting child from monetary issues between parents

o Allowing and actively supporting private communication between parent and child

o Allowing privacy during parent/child calls, texts and emails

o Encouraging child to initiate calls to other parent

o Scheduling daily time for electronic communication between parent and child, including Skype/Face Time

Time-Sharing and Child’s Activities

o Following the time-sharing schedule; trying not to interfere with other parent’s time; cooperating on needed changes as situations arise

o Being prompt at transfer times

o Being flexible so the child maintains meaningful contact with other parent; ensuring child attends life cycle events with each parent

o Offering other parent first option to care for the child when designated parent is unavailable; allowing access to babysitters when needed

o Encouraging child’s development of own interests and participation of activities during parent’s own parenting time

o Sharing child’s activities and functions; giving other parent notice of events; participating jointly

o Obtaining permission first before scheduling during other parent’s time; exchanging time if necessary so that child can still participate

o Modeling appropriate decorum when attending child-related activities; greeting and having child greet other parent at functions

Gate Opening Behaviors that Facilitate Social Capital

o Regular access to extended family members of both parents

o Siblings on same time-sharing schedule for large part/most of the time

o Expertise of other parent highlighted in child’s life

o Child’s activities are planned to maximize ongoing involvement in peer, sports, religious, or neighborhood activities

o Parent’s particular expertise acknowledged and taken advantage of to benefit child

o Positive role modeling regarding parenting, co-parenting, discipline and respect for importance of each parent’s developing relationship with the child


The nature of the litigation process may exacerbate parties’ conflict and hinder their motivation to be encouraging of the other parent’s relationship throughout their court action.  It is important for judges to try to distinguish restrictive behaviors that are separation and divorce litigation-related or induced as opposed to signs that the Restrictive Gatekeeping and the use of gate-closing behaviors will be enduring.



Separation/Divorce Litigation Related

Enduring Gate-Closing

Mild to moderate resistance to following orders, and only those related to current litigation process

Indiscriminate and ongoing difficulty in following court orders

Progress in parental communication over time

Parental communication still fraught with conflict or is non-existent

Progress in joint decision-making

Automatic resistance to preferences of or requests from other parent

Progress in ability to compromise

No willingness to compromise


Gatekeeping in Relocation Cases. Potential harm to the nonmoving parent-child relationship, and therefore to the child, is always the central issue in a relocation dispute. Facilitative Gatekeeping by the moving parent will be the key to managing the risk of harm to the child’s relationship with the parent left behind. The residential parent in a long distance parenting arrangement needs to be proactive in promoting contact between the other parent and the child. Without this type of active cooperation, the quality in the parent/child relationship will greatly diminish. It could be argued that Facilitative Gatekeeping should be a condition for judicial approval of a relocation request, with the court considering the gatekeeping behaviors of both parents.  When there are no valid concerns regarding the safety of the child or other parent, such as domestic violence and abuse, substance or alcohol abuse, or major mental disorder of the non-moving parent, court orders regarding relocation may include the following:


1.      the child’s address, school, activities and all records be available for both parents

2.      on-going communication between parents and between parent and child occur regularly by phone, text, webcam, email, and/or chat

3.      substantial time set for child with non-moving parent on regular basis

4.      transfers of the child occur midway or are facilitated by moving parent

5.      designation in parenting plan of vehicle and responsibility for costs of child’s travel


When Creating Court Orders remember:


Ø   The greater the conflict experienced by the parents, the greater the need for specificity when writing judicial orders and legal documents.

Ø   There are signs that distinguish Restrictive Gatekeeping behaviors from those that may be time-limited and separation and divorce litigation-related versus an enduring, chronic problem.

Ø   Facilitative Gatekeeping should be a necessary condition for judicial approval of a relocation request.

Ø   Judicial orders that are specific and include well-constructed parenting plans with detailed time-sharing arrangements foster greater compliance.

[1]© Judges’ Bench Book on Parental Gatekeeping, William G. Austin, Linda Fieldstone, Marsha K. Pruett, 2012.

  Services Available in Colorado and North Carolina Locations
Evergreen, Colorado
Cary and Wilmington, North Carolina