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Are You Deliberately Driving a Wedge Between Your Children and Your Ex?

The Dangers of Maladaptive Gatekeeping

It’s easy to understand how behavior can begin. An offhand negative comment born of bitterness over a marriage gone bad, something as simple as “Your dad is late to come pick you up – no surprise. He’s obviously not in any hurry to see you.”

But before it starts, and becomes a damaging habit, stop yourself. Because not only is this kind of talk about your ex damaging to your son or daughter, it can also come back to haunt you in Arkansas courts, where judges deal very harshly with “Maladaptive Gatekeeping.”

Many studies have documented how deeply children of divorce are harmed when parents speak badly about the other parent. Considered a form of child abuse by experts, Maladaptive Gatekeeping can contribute to low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, a lack of trust, and self-hatred, among other severe psychological problems. Children dealing with one parent’s attempt to sabotage their relationship with the other parent often internalize the hatred directed toward the alienated parent, feel that parent may not love or want them, and struggle with guilt around the tearing down of that parent.

What constitutes sabotaging behavior? Maladaptive gatekeeping can be mild or extreme, and can include:

–          Frequent negative statements against one parent.

–          Attempts to withhold visitation or deny access to the child.

–          Sharing information about divorce proceedings with the child.

–          Forbidding the child to talk about their other parent, or keep pictures of them or other reminders of the parent.

–          Speaking negatively about the extended family of the targeted parent, and limiting contact with them.

–          In the extreme, making false allegations of child abuse or sexual molestation against the parent.

Courts expect families to recognize their children’s right and need for loving and healthy relationships with both parents, and put that need before their own anger and need for revenge. Parents that ignore this put their case in danger.  Even unintentional hostility toward an estranged spouse such as using a harsh tone of voice or walking away from a conversation in frustration while in the presence of a child can be considered Maladaptive Gatekeeping by some Arkansas judges. So take a deep breath, and put on a happy, or at least neutral, face.

And for children of divorce to grow up as happy and healthy as possible, the research is clear: what’s most needed is to maintain healthy, loving and strong relationships with both parents and to be sheltered from parental conflicts. Stephen E. Fisher focuses his practice on family law at Martin Attorneys, PA.