A growing number of experts, mental health workers and child advocacy associations are speaking out against cooperative or shared parenting standards in child custody cases when one parent has a history of abusing the other because such arrangements are very dangerous for both victims and children.
And their opinions are not based on whether the abusive parent hit the children, or the dynamics of the relationships, or whether the children witnessed abuse, or any other classic detail some use to determine the “degree” of abuse and therefore the “fitness” of the parent.
Their opinions are rooted in one simple reason, abusers are not capable of acting in the best interest of the children or anyone else for that matter, as proven by their choice to abuse in the first place. That fact alone is enough to put the brakes on shared, or co-parenting children.
“Good parenting requires that parents do not undermine each other, make sacrifices, and be willing to put the needs of their children ahead of their own. Batterers seek to dominate their households, controlling their families and insisting that their needs come first. While they may love their children and display strengths as fathers, these qualities of control and entitlement make them seriously flawed parents,” From the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
An abuser’s quest for power and control will carry over into divorces ruled by co-parenting and will reek havoc on the children’s development, the victim’s healing process and safety and create many opportunities for further abuse. Abusers capitalize on opportunities to dominate and control people, especially their former partner/victim. Co-parenting (typically where parents are ordered by the court to cooperatively make decisions about the children, share custody and work together) provides the perfect opportunity for abusers.
According to Domestic Abuse Advocate and author Barry Goldstein, abusers given co-parenting rights actually cost family court more by creating situations in order to abuse that result in more motions, court actions and visits.
He wrote for the National Organization of Men Against Sexism:
“Abusers eventually contrive incidents as an excuse to seek sole custody or protective mothers are forced to seek custody because the abusers are hurting the children. Abusive parents with limited parenting skills use shared parenting to get their foot in the door while continuing to harass and abuse their former partners.”
I have been collecting data from a 31-question survey posted on Twitter, here on Divorcedmoms.com and elsewhere about domestic abuse and children custody. Of those who have responded, almost three-quarters say they are continuing to be abused by their ex’s despite the end of the union and the majority say the children are being used to do so and 93 percent say their children have been directly victimized by their abusive parent or witnessed the abuse that includes physical violence toward the non-abusive parent. Ten percent report physical abuse toward their child.
One mother wrote:
“My former spouse filed multiple motions against me post the initial divorce. I spent over $75,000 in legal fees and ended up having to go through mediation on my own. I lost a job because of the time and stress involved dealing with same on top of single parenting (he lives out of state with no address on file) our two children.”
Some other alarming statistics of those who responded to the survey:
- 97% of victims said their abusive exs have threaten them post divorce in some way using the children
- 35% said their abuser directly threatened them with court action in the custody issues unless the victim would do as the abuser wanted
- 25% of abusers threatened to take the children away from the victim/parent or keep them during the victim/parent’s scheduled time
- 59%, the majority, said their abusive ex has made false statements about them to their children
- Almost half, 49%, said their abusive ex ignores their custody agreement
- 48% say their exs cross safety and social boundaries put in place for protection
- 48% say their exs ignore court orders to the contrary and make the children handle communication between them
- 31% say their exs have withheld required financial support
- 41% say their exs will repeatedly change the court-ordered schedule
- 35% say their exs have excluded them from emergency medical and education decisions
- And 7% report that their exs have threatened to physically harm the children or commit suicide while caring for the children
These types of actions are incredibly harmful to both traumatized victims and children trying to navigate their way through such emotional hell, while abusers take no responsibility for the actions and instead blame the victims, the system or even the children.
And many victims, knowing that divorcing their abuser does not end the abuse, are choosing to stay for the sole reason of protecting their children against the 50-50 co-parenting trend that allows children to be left alone with an abuser and bits an often dangerous parent against traumatized victim.
According to Jessica Goldberg, licensed clinical social worker in Gainesville, FL, who treats domestic abuse victims through Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, she says her experience is showing this trend.
“In my experience in working with victims of domestic violence, parents will often stay in an abusive relationships in order to protect their children as they have been warned in consultations with lawyers that their partners will likely get 50 percent shared custody. This puts the victim and the children at risk, but is often a decision made by dedicated concerned parents. These same people would leave in an instant if they knew for certain they could protect their children,” she said.
According to the Institute for Safe Families, which works with children and parents in domestic abuse cases, abusive parents can learn to become a better parents and learn to stop abusive behaviors, when they have committed to a very long therapeutic process and agree to the immediate end to the abusive behaviors.
“It is important to emphasize that working with parents together is NOT ADVISED unless one can be absolutely certain that all violence and controlling behavior has ceased and that the abuser has made a commitment to non-abusive behavior,” the Institute reports in their guide to professionals working with domestic abuse.
Despite good research that highlights what most of us know intuitively _ that bullies don’t make good, empathic, cooperative people willing to compromise in any healthy way, courts around the country are forcing victims and children into co-parenting unhealthy situations with abusers.
In our survey, all almost 100 percent of the responders were abused by their co-parenting partner and yet, only 21 percent have full custody of their children and are spared court-ordered cooperation. Also, not one responder believes that our family court system is working and all are calling for reform.
Domestic violence (click on the link if you want the Department of Justice definition) is introduced in the court custody proceedings little of the time, often because attorneys advice victims not to bring it up or it will make them look uncooperative to the judge and the consequences can be no custody for the victim. In our survey, only about a quarter of responders said that domestic abuse was introduced as evidence. And only a few of those triggered any kind of investigation.
Until domestic violence in all its forms is taken seriously in family court, we can expect more of the same shocking statistics and alarm from health care professionals trained in dynamics of domestic abuse.
Our children are counting on us.
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
She can be contacted at [email protected]