Since you are reading this, I know that you must be dealing with a pretty intense situation. You are in the middle of a very surreal world where you are in fear and your children are confused and emotionally wounded.
Co-parenting with the man who abused you during your union is an exercise that can make even the most sane people crazy. In the thick of this journey, nothing makes sense. Not even the law.
In many states around the country, domestic violence “comes into play” when making custody decisions, but the measure of what it takes for judges to grant sole custody to the victim is very high and hard to understand. In other words, our ex’s can get away with a lot of criminal behavior before a judge is going to step in and say enough.
Are you screaming back at the computer screen yet? I know, it makes no sense. I know it sucks. I know it is shocking and traumatizing to live in a world where it seems little can be done to protect innocent children and victimized mothers from the person who terrorized them.
But, unfortunately, it’s our reality.
If this is you, I feel your pain. I really do. I co-parent with my abuser and live in a state where the words “custody” and “visitation” were eliminated from the legislation in 2008 and replaced with the words “shared parenting time” to level the field between parents and make them each equal in the eyes of the law. It was meant to stop men and women from bickering and forgetting that their children were getting caught in the cross-fire.
Good intention. Horrible outcome if your ex is an abuser. Laws like this often give abusers a tool they can use after divorce to gain power and control _ the purpose of abuse _ and use the kids in the effort. Laws like these were not meant to allow abusers to exploit the law and use it for further abuse. But, abusers are good at exploiting opportunity.
Does domestic abuse matter?
In my state, domestic abuse is “considered,” in fact, it’s one of 16 listed reasons that can weight shared parenting time toward the victim, but this is still an evolving law and the propensity is still there to believe that anything labeled with the word “domestic” in it, describes a relationship problem not relevant in the courtroom.
I know of many stories where women are co-parenting with the father of their children who had nearly killed their wives, had long criminal records of abuse, strangled their wives, attempted murdered, or stalked their ex’s. I learned about a women recently who was raped by a co-worker, had a child as a result, and the rapist sued her for custody. She is now co-parenting with her convicted rapist.
Laws can change.
These injustices are horrible, but there are many people hard at work on behalf of victims of violence trying to change these loopholes in the laws and educate judges, attorneys and parenting coordinators about the dynamics of domestic abuse and how family structures need to look after abuse in order for the victims to heal and move on.
The day is coming when co-parenting with an abuser will not be allowed. We just aren’t there yet.
Co-parenting with your abuser is a very hard pill to swallow and anxiety surrounds the thought. Add in the misunderstandings about abuse in society, and it gets harder still.
But, there is hope and there are things you can do to improve the situation for you and your children and as hard as it is to act, you need to. A lot is at stake, namely the emotional health of you and your children.
Here are a few tips I recommend if you are co-parenting with an abuser:
- If you haven’t already, call your local domestic abuse shelter and make an appointment to speak to a counselor there. Co-parenting with an abuser is nothing you should do alone. You need help navigating this terrain. Domestic Abuse shelters are fast become resource centers beyond emergency shelters. Ask what they have and keep at it.
- Seek therapy with someone trained in trauma therapy and domestic abuse. There are many counselors out there who have no experience with this. Just like you wouldn’t go to an eye doctor when you broke your foot. Don’t go to the wrong type of therapist for this treatment. But, now more than every, you need the emotional strength that comes with excellent therapy.
- Face the truth about your relationship. Many of us struggle with our realities in life. Its normal. Denial is part of life. But, when we don’t frame our problem correctly, then we have little hope of solving it or treating it. When I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, my healing really began and it was a relief. Recovery was then attainable. When you are co-parenting with an abuser, you are co-parenting with someone who is not your friend, no matter what you hoped or he says. Abusers don’t have real friends, ever. They collect people like pieces on a chessboard. They don’t have healthy relationships, ever. It may take you a very long time to finally accept this because of course, he is telling you otherwise, but keep at it. The faster you do accept it, the happier you can become.
- Get a great attorney who is not a narcissist, who shows compassion, who is well trained and educated in family law and divorce. If your attorney talks more about himself or herself than letting you tell your side, then you need to rethink this hire. Your attorney is going to be your captain in court and you need to pick well now, because once you are there, it is really hard to change.
- Seek resources. Most single moms are tapped out of time and money. We juggle a lot everyday. And yet, dealing with an aggressive ex requires a lot of attention that we don’t have and frankly, steals further from our children. But, there is help out there. Get over pride issues you may have and seek out in your community where you can get help to manage daily life. The more relief and margin you build in, the better you will feel and the better able you will be to co-parent with your abuser. In my town, I have found lots of resources at churches, domestic abuse center, the police department, our local university, support groups, and so on. With help, you can get a rest from the stormy weather kicked up by your ex.
- Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your fantasy life. Crying is a good thing. Don’t let anyone tell you to “get over it” and move on. Yes, you need to accept your situation, but you get to acceptance through a process and it starts with feeling the pain of all of this.
By Julie Boyd Cole, [email protected]
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