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.

Restrictive Gatekeeping (Gate-Closing Behaviors) 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 their relationship. Being able to identify gate-closing behaviors gives judges options to consider when constructing court orders regarding parental responsibility and time-sharing that protect children from the conflict between their parents.



Lack of Reinforcement of Child’s Relationship With Both Parents

o Not permitting child to have photographs of other parent

o Denigrating or withholding gifts or card from other parent; not allowing other parent to child’s birthday party

o Asking child to keep secrets from the other parent

o Using child as messenger between parents; asking child for personal information about other parent

Parental Communication/Access to Information

o Withholding information about the child

o Not placing other parent’s name as parent on school/doctor forms

Parent’s Negative Interactions with Child/Child’s Exposure to Conflict

o Derogating other parent to or in front of the child, exposing child to conflict and nonverbal tension

o Parental discord at transfer times; phone conversations in front of child

o Leaving adult information easily accessible for child

o Discussing child support issues with child, blaming financial difficulties and lack of purchases for child on other parent

o Making communication difficult between other parent and child

o Holding all parent/child conversations by speaker, if allowed at all

o Making sure child is unavailable at call times; not giving child messages other parent has called

Lack of Cooperation with Time-Sharing and Child’s Activities

o Not following the parenting time schedule; continuous misinterpretations of parenting plan; frequent requests for changes unrelated to job schedule

o Being chronically late; not showing on designated days; providing no notice if delayed or unavailable

o Being inflexible on needed changes to the scheduled times and days

o Restricting child from attending any event with other parent unless it is that parent’s designated time

o Not honoring the right of first refusal if in parenting plan; not informing who child will be with if not with either parent

o Denying child’s participation in extracurricular activities unless during other parent’s time

o Impeding other parent’s participation; not giving notice to other parent of events; not attending child’s event if other parent is present.

o Unilaterally scheduling activities during other parent’s parenting time

o Putting child in the middle if both parents are at same function; keeping child from other parent

Gate Closing Behaviors that Affect Social Capital

o Impeding access to other parent’s family members

o Sibling splitting on recurrent and consistent basis

o Employment of others to effectuate child- related tasks rather than other parent

o Continuity in child’s activities are often compromised by parenting schedules and behaviors

o Child’s access and involvement with other important adults is negated, restricted, or actively prohibited to punish or control the other parent

o Continuing residual DV behaviors (harassment, intrusiveness), harsh parenting, substance abuse and alienating behaviors by a parent.


Protective Gatekeeping arises when a parent acts to limit the other parent’s involvement because of concern about possible harm to the child. Protective gatekeeping behaviors may actually be warranted when there has been a history of substantial intimate partner violence, harsh parenting, substance or alcohol abuse, or major mental disorder of the other parent. Therefore, it is crucial for the judge to know if those concerns are legitimate; evidence is needed to validate the need for gatekeeping safeguards in court orders. In order to determine whether those behaviors are justified or unjustified, the judge may require:

·         psychological evaluations of one or both parents

·         psychological evaluations of the children

·         substance abuse testing and evaluation

·         risk assessment for domestic violence 


Constructing helpful court orders when Restrictive Gatekeeping is an issue:

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

2.      When Restrictive Gatekeeping is justified, include protective gate-closing safeguards in judicial orders that may protect the children and the parties, such as:

·         neutral transfer locations or supervised transitions

·         parental communication limited to emails or web-based program (such as OurFamilyWizard)

·         on-going substance or alcohol abuse testing

·         protecting the identity of parent’s address

·         purchasing telephone for child’s calls with other parent or electronic communication only

·         protecting identity of parent/child’s exact location, school, activities (severe DV)

3.      Orders for services should include specific questions or reasons for the referral:

Ø   Mediation: may be able to provide agreements between the parties that limit restrictive gatekeeping.

Ø   Co-parenting counseling: when both parents are exerting Restrictive Gatekeeping.

Ø   Individual counseling: when Restrictive Gatekeeping is an issue with one parent, individual counseling may be a more appropriate referral; extended co-parenting or joint counseling can be ordered once Restrictive Gatekeeping issues are addressed first with the offending parent.

Ø   Family counseling: for both parents and children, as well as significant others; older children also may require individual counseling to address their personal issues confidentially. Both therapists can work together to achieve optimal results for the children.

Ø   Parenting Plan Recommendations: when the issue of gatekeeping is not resolved through a counseling process or when there are questions concerning the safety of the child. Judges can ask that the Parenting Plan Recommendations delineate gate-opening and gate-closing behaviors of each parent.

Ø   Parenting coordination: can assist parents in implementing their parenting plans, and refer the family for appropriate therapeutic intervention.

4.  Limiting the child’s time with the parent exerting Restrictive Gatekeeping may be a consideration, especially when all else fails.

[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