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.

Despite this information, many people still fail to understand the importance of fathers. A report by the Federal Administration for Children and Families describes “maternal gatekeeping,” which occurs when mothers interfere with fathers’ access to their children.

According to this report, “more than half of nonresident fathers offered accounts of gatekeeping behavior, ranging from refusing to grant physical access to making frequent last-minute schedule changes. Gatekeeping also came in more indirect forms, such as refusal to communicate in person or by phone, withholding information from the father about the child or berating the father.”

Motives for gatekeeping vary. Sometimes, it’s used to control the other parent. Other times, it’s used for financial gain. According to the Federal report, “mothers would sometimes restrict access when a father failed to provide ‘extras’ over and above the required child support.”

Nebraska judges are losing patience with gatekeeping parents.

A court recently ordered a mother to return a newborn to Nebraska after she moved the child to Florida. The court also accepted the father’s proposed shared parenting plan over the mother’s objection.

According to the court, “We understand [mother’s] position given the young age of the child and the relatively little amount of time [father] has spent with the child during his lifetime. However, parenting time relates to continuing and fostering the normal parental relationship of the noncustodial parent. [Mother’s] proposed plan granting [father] just 16 hours of parenting time per month with the child does little to continue and foster [father’s] relationship with the child.”

This decision is consistent with other recent decisions that rejected parents’ attempts to remove children from Nebraska because of gatekeeping or other bad faith behavior.

Courts also take gatekeeping into account when deciding custody. The Supreme Court recently approved sole legal custody and equal parenting time for a father because of the mother’s gatekeeping and refusal to co-parent. The mother’s parenting time was reduced to every-other-weekend once the child starts school. The Court of Appeals similarly approved an every-other-weekend schedule for a mother in a very similar case.

In another case, the Court of Appeals approved a parenting plan that gave a father sole legal custody and equal parenting time. According to the trial court, “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]. Physical custody will be shared on a rotating weekly basis.”

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.

Everyone needs to understand that parents who engage in these behaviors, regardless of their gender, are harming their children. If a parent were beating a child in public, most people would intervene by trying to stop the abuse or by calling the authorities. Any parent who limits the other parent’s access to their child or who interferes with the other parent’s relationship with their child should be treated the same way.

What they’re doing isn’t appropriate or justifiable. It’s child abuse. It’s also domestic violence directed at the other parent as a way to control them by damaging their relationships with their children.

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Nancy Shannon is a family law attorney in Omaha. Jennifer Harman is an associate professor of psychology at Colorado State University.


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