By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

Shall I be a gateway or gatekeeper?

It is the public policy of California to assure that children of divorce have frequent and continuing contact with both parents and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child (California Family Code - 3020).

Child custody evaluators seek to determine the "quality" of parenting of each parent and the extent to which each promotes the relationship with the other parent. This article takes a look at the factors that describe each parent's effort to support the child's relationship with the other parent. Next month we will look at the "quality" factors of parenting in determining child custody.

Analyzing each parent's contribution to encourage the relationship with the other parent is termed "gatekeeping." There are different styles of gatekeeping ranging from cooperative (facilitative) to restrictive (Fieldstone, Austin, Pruett, 2012).

The facilitative gatekeeper supports continuing involvement and maintenance of a meaningful relationship with the child, is proactive, inclusive, supportive of the other parent-child relationship, and demonstrates that the parent values the contributions of the other parent. Some of the behaviors would include ensuring the child knows that parents communicate about important matters jointly, provide timely child-related information, encourage children to initiate calls to the other parent, show flexibility in scheduling in order for the child to maintain meaningful contact with the other parent, and sharing the activities and functions of the child (participating jointly).

The restrictive gatekeeper engages in actions that interfere with the other parent's involvement with the child and would predictably, and negatively, affect their relationship. In some cases, this may be the wiser choice (i.e., domestic violence cases, drug and alcohol abusive environments, etc.). This style may be related to a view of gender role values and norms, threats to parental identity, perceived incompetence in parenting, safety concerns, or child support issues.

In a study involving interviews of parents, both mothers and fathers reported that positive (facilitative) gatekeeping was linked with higher levels of cooperation and shared childrearing, lower parental conflict and hostility, and greater father involvement (Pruett, 2007).


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