June 10, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Last time I discussed this article by attorney Nancy Shannon and academic researcher Jennifer Harman (Lincoln Journal Star, 6/6/19).  The two excoriate maternal gatekeeping as a danger to children who need both parents actively involved in their lives.

Extensive research shows the importance of fathers to their children’s well-being.
These studies indicate children in father-limited environments are almost four times more likely to live in poverty, more likely to use drugs and alcohol and twice as likely to commit suicide.
They also have significantly lower educational attainment, are more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency, have higher risk of being victimized by crime, have higher risk of physical and mental health issues and have lower life expectancies.
Having educated their readers about the vital importance of fathers and then about maternal gatekeeping, Shannon and Harman go on to say,
Nebraska judges are losing patience with gatekeeping parents.
They then go into four separate cases in the courts of appeals and the state Supreme Court that demonstrate judges awareness of and diminishing patience for gatekeeping and alienating behaviors.   For example, one Court of Appeals opinion stated,
“Given the strong history of discord between these two, the fact that [mother] has chosen to disregard the Court’s previous directions aimed at establishing a coparenting relationship between [the parents], and the parental alienation instigated by [mother] which is obvious from the record, the Court chooses to award legal custody of the minor children to [father]. 
In short, a sense among Nebraska’s judges that shared parenting is best for kids and any parent who unjustifiably interferes with the other’s parenting time should find her/himself in the judicial crosshairs. 

Of course, I’m ever the skeptic.  I’ll believe that judges, as a general rule, understand the need for equal parenting when I see a lot of in-depth data showing a consistent change in judicial behavior. 

Still, Shannon and Harman’s op-ed is much needed because it highlights important issues in family courts.  Their statement that judges no longer tolerate gatekeeping or alienating behavior is, among other things, a warning to parents who might be tempted to engage in those behaviors.  As such, it may just reduce the incidence of that behavior.

That’s even more likely when they turn to the financial aspects of gatekeeping and alienation.
Courts have also ordered gatekeeping parents to pay substantial attorneys’ fees. In one case, a mother was ordered to pay $9,000 in attorneys’ fees because her lack of cooperation unnecessarily increased conflict and expenses. In another case, a court ordered a mother to pay $20,000 in attorneys’ fees.
That looks like a warning to me.

Finally, Shannon and Harman point out that gatekeeping and alienation are not only child abuse, but domestic violence aimed at the other parent.  That latter is a particularly excellent point.
It’s also domestic violence directed at the other parent as a way to control them by damaging their relationships with their children.
Essentially every statute governing custody and parenting time requires a judge to consider whether domestic violence has occurred and issue orders accordingly.  If, as we’re told, DV is a matter of maintaining control over the other person, then Shannon and Harman are unquestionably correct that gatekeeping and parental alienation are, in addition to child abuse, domestic violence.  Family attorneys should be advised and assert the issue in the appropriate cases.

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