A gatekeeper, simply put, is a person who decides who’s in and who’s out. While traditionally, gatekeepers were used to protect city limits, today, they’re the sometimes self-appointed person who acts as the guard – or the gate – of cultural and social groups, jobs and careers, and sometimes, even people and children. 

What is a Gatekeeper Parent?

A “gatekeeper parent” is a term usually used in a legal setting. Still, families can use it casually to describe how one parent might be “gatekeeping” their children from the other parent. 


But contrary to popular belief, sometimes parents can conduct gatekeeping positively — it just depends on the actions and intent, according to the Family Court Review

Here are two examples of a gatekeeping parent: 

  • Bob and Cindy divorced, and their son, Johnny, is having difficulty dealing with the drastic change and wants to spend as much time as possible with Cindy, who moved out. However, Cindy has a substance abuse problem, so Bob tries to limit visitations because he’s worried whether Cindy is equipped to care for Johnny.
  • Single mother Lucy is still distraught and heartbroken over her ex-husband’s cheating. Lucy vents to their daughter, Anna, about how horrible of a person her father is and refuses to let him see or talk to her on school days because he’s “disrupting” Anna’s studies, even though that’s far from the truth.  

Can you tell which one has negative and which one has positive effects and intentions? Unfortunately, since parental gatekeeping is so complex and the situation may feed many reasons behind it, it’s not a catch-all term to describe issues like parental alienation.

Characteristics of a Gatekeeper Parent

Whether you suspect your ex-spouse is a gatekeeper or you may be displaying traits of one, it’s good to know the most prominent characteristics of parental gatekeeping, so you can spot it before it progresses into a bad situation: 

  • Criticizes the way the other parent parents and behaves
  • Controls the organization, planning, and visitations between the other parent and the child(ren)
  • When the child spends time with the other parent, the gatekeeper will give precise instructions on caring for them
  • Is reluctant to let go of the “lead” role in the family, which may manifest in gatekeeping
  • Views the other parent as a helper, not an equal parent

Remember that sometimes, parental gatekeeping is in the child’s best interest – but it can be hard to identify, which is why many people in the family law community wonder whether or not gatekeeping is a type of parental alienation. 

Is Gatekeeping a Form of Parental Alienation?

There are ways that parental gatekeeping and alienation overlap: In many instances, one parent will undermine or speak badly about the other parent and not treat them as an equal in the co-parenting relationship.

However, there still needs to be studies that state whether or not gatekeeping is different from alienation.  

The American Psychological Association (APA) does not consider either a diagnosable syndrome; instead, gatekeeping and alienation are terms used within the court of law to describe the relationship between parent and child. 

In negative cases, gatekeeping is viewed as a more complex and severe version of alienation, while other family law experts argue it’s a symptom of alienation. 

In short, gatekeeping can be a form of parental alienation, but legally and psychologically speaking, it’s generally determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Hickey & Hull Law Partners Can Help You

Divorce becomes a thousand times harder when children are involved. Even if you and your ex-partner are doing your best to co-parent and work together, sometimes unresolved feelings can surface and affect how the parent-child relationship develops.

Whether you’re going through a divorce or reassessing child custody and parent-time orders, you need an experienced family law attorney team to ensure no stone is left unturned. With decades of experience specializing in parental alienation, Hickey & Hull Law Partners can help you today. 
Call us today or fill out our online form, and we’ll get started. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.

In the River Valley:
502 Garrison Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) ‍434-2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-2415

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In Little Rock:
124 W. Capitol Avenue Suite 870
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (479) ‍434-2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-2415

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In Russellville: 

127 East 3rd Street
Russellville, Arkansas 72801

Phone: (479) ‍434-‍2414
Fax: (479) ‍434-‍2415



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In Northwest Arkansas:
409 W. Poplar Street
Rogers, AR 72756
Phone: (479) ‍802-6560
Fax: (479) ‍802-6561

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