Unfortunately for individuals who have children with an abusive spouse, the divorce is not the end of the relationship between the abused and the abuser. The abused and the abuser now have to co-parent. Co-parenting can often offer the abusive ex more opportunities to harass, threaten and intimidate their former spouse. However, there are safeguards that survivors of abuse can put into place to make co-parenting with their ex tolerable. In this article, we will review what those safeguards are.
Before we discuss what safeguards can be put into place to make co-parenting with an abusive ex tolerable, there are three points that need to be covered. First, it's important to define what we mean by "abuse." Obviously, we consider physical abuse to be a form of abuse. However, we also put verbal and emotional abuse under our umbrella of abuse. Second, we're only discussing individuals that are abusive towards their spouses and not their children. Third, protective orders and supervised visitation are the first and best line of defense against an abusive spouse. However, this article will discuss options outside of obtaining a protective order and supervised visitation against an abusive ex. Often times abused individuals, for whatever reason, can't obtain a protective order or supervised visitation. Those reasons can range from financial, to the degree or type of abuse or to available evidence. However, as we'll lay out, being denied or not being able to obtain a protective order or supervised visitation doesn't mean the abused ex is defenseless.
Limit the Forms of Communication
Co-parenting requires communication, but that doesn't mean all channels of communication should be open. In contentious co-parenting relationships, we often recommend our clients seek a court order that requires the parties to signup for a co-parenting software such as TalkingParents.com or OurFamilyWizard.com. These programs are a platform for parents to communicate and exchange information about their children. They also tend to keep abusive exs on their good behavior since communications through these programs can easily end up in court. In conjunction with the use of a co-parenting software should be injunctions preventing the parents from communicating outside of the software except in the case of medical emergencies. For most abusive exs that can no longer send harassing texts, calls, email and letters, much of their bark is gone.
Exchange the Child in a Safe Location
Co-parenting means having to meet with the abusive ex to exchange the child. Normally, exchanges in Texas take place at either parent's residence. However, in the case of an abusive ex, we recommend our clients pursue a court order that requires their exchanges occur at a public location. Police stations are ideal locations for an exchange. Many of our clients prefer exchanging their children at malls or big box retail parking lots. By keeping the exchange public, the abused parent can really limit their ex's willingness to misbehave.
Exchange the Child with a Ready Witness
We also recommend our clients bring along a friend or family member to their exchanges. This friend or family member should be willing to testify in court. Clearly, this may not always be an option. However, when possible, it's a good idea. It shows the abusive ex that the abused is serious about going back to court to address any harmful behavior.
Reduce all Physical Interaction outside of Exchanges
We recommend our clients pursue permanent injunctions that prevent their ex from coming near our client's residence, place of work and the client themselves. This closely mirrors the relief a protective order provides but with some key differences. First, unlike with a protective order, enforcing violations of these injunctions requires going back to court and proving the violations occurred. Second, the injunctions are permanent and last beyond the 2 years a protective order lasts. Third, judges are more willing to grant these injunctions versus a protective order because enforcing these injunctions requires the abused to reappear before the court and prove the violation occurred.
Using the above safeguards will make co-parenting with most abusive exs tolerable. They are no guarantee of peace of mind or safety, but for those who have been unable to obtain a protective order or supervised visitation, these safeguards can provide an achievable and fairly effective solution.