When two parents are separating and they have young children, one parent will sometimes wonder if the other parent can keep them from their children. If the primary caretaker is angry about the divorce and wants to get back at the other parent, the person with physical custody may make it harder for the other parent to continue spending time with their kids.
Can a parent stop a child from seeing the other parent? Usually no, but the courts may prevent a parent from seeing their children in certain circumstances.
When children refuse to see parents
In many situations, when parents separate and the child lives with one of the parents, the parent with whom the child lives may purposely limit contact between the child and their other parent.
If the parents have a court-approved custody arrangement and the child refuses visitation with one parent, this could be because the primary caregiver is encouraging the child not to see their parent. This also means the custodial parent is violating court orders by interfering with the other parent’s time with the child.
When a parent tries to stop a child from seeing their other parent when there isn’t a court order in place, this is called gatekeeping. There are two types of gatekeeping: protective and restrictive.
Protective gatekeeping occurs when a parent has a logical or substantial reason for why the other parent should not be around the child. This can happen when a parent has evidence that the other parent has been abusive, uses drugs or alcohol in excess, has anger issues, or neglects the child.
Even if the parent has concerns about the other parent visiting with the child, the custodial parent can’t legally stop their ex from visitation. If a child’s safety or well-being is in question, the parent who keeps the child most often may want to contact a lawyer to make amendments to the custody arrangement.
Protective gatekeeping can also involve the grandparents. It’s common for parents who want to protect their children to defer to the child’s grandparents for assistance with gatekeeping. This provides additional support for the child and parent if the other parent could potentially harm the child.
Restrictive gatekeepers are parents who prevent or limit child visitation because they are upset about the divorce or separation. These parents use their children to get back at the other parent, but this doesn’t mean that the restrictive gatekeeper is a bad parent in any other sense. They may do exceptionally well when it comes to caring for their children, but they may not deem the other parent fit to provide adequate love and attention.
There are also instances in which the caregiver parent falsely accuses the other parent of abuse and neglect, and this could complicate the custody agreement. One good way to make sure your custody is stripped and given to the other parent is to make false accusations.
If you’ve been the victim of a gatekeeper, the custodial parent may establish the parental standard in your case if you don’t dispute the accusations. As soon as you realize what is happening, you should contact your lawyer and take your case before a judge to make sure your custody arrangements are not altered.
Including the children
Sometimes, restrictive gatekeepers will talk to their children about their other parents’ supposed inability to care for them. Some parents may also disagree or have arguments within earshot of the children, which may prompt children to feel that they have to ‘pick a side’.
Restrictive gatekeepers will also make it difficult to co-parent, since they need to be in control and will undermine the other parent’s authority and caretaking abilities. In these situations, it may be best to hire a mediator to settle parental disputes and keep the children’s best interest at the forefront.
If you’re dealing with a restrictive gatekeeper, it may be a mistake to request joint custody from the courts. Depending on the nature of the situation, you may want to request sole or primary custody. The restrictive parent must show a willingness to work with the other parent in a reasonable fashion for the good of the child.
If your custody request is not granted initially, you may have to revisit it later. Be sure to remind that court that you shared your concerns about custody before and feel that changes should be made to the agreement. This shows you are committed to the care and well-being of your child and want to present in your child’s life, despite the other parent’s behaviour.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.
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