Blog

Co-Parenting with an Abusive Former Spouse

Is Co-Parenting Possible With an Abusive Former Spouse?

Studies show that domestic violence has occurred at least once in two-thirds of all marriages, and some observers have estimated that it is the reason for at least 25% of all divorces. Many divorce attorneys believe that the actual numbers are much higher based on the cases that they have personally handled. In addition, many divorces of spouses who have experienced domestic violence also involve issues dealing with child custody, and in those cases, the victim is faced with the challenge of how to co-parent with their former abuser.

Intimate Partner Abuse

Victims of domestic violence can be anyone living in the household and extend to child abuse and elder abuse. The term “intimate partner violence,” however, is typically reserved for victims who are in a sexual relationship with the abuser. To some professionals, the term “intimate partner abuse” is preferred because many people associate violence with physical violence. However, such behavior comes in many different forms, including mental abuse and financial control.

Abuse Toward Children

There are also divorce and custody cases where children have been the victims of abuse by a parent. If this is applicable to your situation, it is important to discuss this with the divorce lawyer who you are working with. In child custody cases, the emphasis of the court is doing what is in the best interest of the child. As a result, in cases involving child abuse, the court may require supervised parenting time for the abusive parent, whereas they may be less likely to make such requirements if the abuse has been limited to the former partner.

Co-Parenting With an Abusive Ex Is Often Not Possible

Many experts in the field believe that co-parenting in this scenario is not possible. While the marriage may have technically ended, the victim never gets to move on from the abuse as the co-parenting continues to put the victim backed into the same situations. Because abuse does tend to continue when co-parenting, most family law attorneys recommend against it as well and instead advise another form of shared parenting, such as parallel parenting.

Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting

There are significant distinctions between parallel parenting and co-parenting. Both generally have the same goal as far as the children are concerned. Research has shown that children who spend at least 35% of their time with each parent are mentally and emotionally healthier than those who do not. Co-parenting is the ideal. It involves a shared foundation, such as having the same set of rules at one parent’s house as the children do at the other. This is often not possible in an abusive relationship, unfortunately. Studies show that in cases where the abuse continues, the detrimental effect on the children is just as great if not greater. Parallel parenting does require sacrifices that undermine the ideal of co-parenting, but it is a practical solution.

The Benefits of Parallel Parenting

Many family law attorneys are in favor of parallel parenting because it allows both parents to remain in the children’s lives while allowing the abused former spouse the freedom to heal, regain their individuality and grow emotionally. The benefits for the children are that they experience:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better relationships
  • Greater school performance
  • Fewer behavioral issues
  • Fewer emotional problems

Minimizing Contact With a Parallel Parenting Plan

For the victim, the goal of parallel parenting is to minimize and ideally eliminate any contact with the abuser. This does come with some sacrifices. In a healthy co-parenting environment, the parenting plan can easily evolve as needed, and the children can spend time as a part of a family unit even though the parents are no longer together. With parallel parenting, communication should be avoided. The parenting plan should be defined through the custody agreement or court order, and any evolution of that plan is likely going to require changes to those documents.

Parallel Parenting Focuses on Care of the Children

When the situation makes it necessary, courts are in favor of parallel parenting plans because they put the children above all else, and the best interests of the children is always the emphasis of the court. It is worth noting that parallel parenting is not limited to cases involving violence. Parallel parenting is appropriate for any custody case in which the relationship between the parents is toxic and the children are better off having the parents separated.

Conditions for Parallel Parenting

If one spouse has been controlling of the other during a marriage, divorce attorneys and family therapists warn that the behavior is likely to continue and thus co-parenting is not possible. There are also other cases in which a co-parenting environment becomes toxic and parallel parenting is necessary. This can include:

  • One parent diminishing the role of the other parent
  • Withholding parenting information
  • Withholding financial support
  • Ignoring parental responsibilities
  • Using the children as spies

Parallel Parenting Requires Clear Boundaries in the Custody Agreement

Whether the custody arrangement is defined by an agreement or a court order, it is legally binding. If the abusive parent does not adhere to the requirements, then the other parent has recourse. The plan should indicate the public location used for all handoffs. It should also set forth what each parent is responsible for, as it is more difficult to share responsibilities when parallel parenting. The plan can also deal with routines, chores, social activities, developmental milestones and how to approach behavioral issues.

The Communication Book

A communication book is a simple concept but also a rather ingenious one that makes parallel parenting possible. It is a logbook that the parents share but through the child. The parent who has primary custody of the child records all important parenting information in the book. When the child goes to live with the other parent, the book goes with them. The non-custodial parent is now privy to all of that parenting information and can add their own information during the child’s stay.

Therapy During and After the Divorce

Some divorce lawyers recommend therapy even when the divorce is amicable. Parenting after a divorce can become very stressful at times, and everything is heightened when there is a history of abuse. Having a therapist you have built a relationship with is also helpful should the abuse ever continue. If the abuse happens again, contact your therapist first, but then notify your family lawyer so that you can take whatever legal measures are available to you in order to protect yourself and your children.

Local Divorce Representation for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

If you are a victim of domestic abuse who needs to navigate a divorce and child custody agreement, Lawrence Law is here to assist you. Our New Jersey law firm has extensive experience with these types of matters. We have offices in Red Bank and Watchung. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with a family lawyer, call us at 908-645-1000 or contact us using the form on our website.

Back to Blog
SHARE THIS POST:

Related Posts

Blog
Divorce Can Affect Children’s Mental Health

Parents Who Divorce Can Help Avoid Their Children’s Long-Term Mental Health Effects With divorce rates hovering at around 50%, many children will experience their parents going through one. While some children will be able to work through and overcome the intense emotions that accompany the many changes at the end of their parents’ marriage, others…

Read More
Blog
Which Co-Parenting Schedule Might Be Best for Your Child?

When New Jersey parents decide to divorce, they will have decisions to make when it comes to choosing the right co-parenting schedule for their child or children. There are different types of child custody that may be right for each family, depending on the parents’ work schedules and the children’s needs. It is worth spending…

Read More
Blog
Co-Parenting Together After Divorce

Protecting Your Children Through Healthy Co-Parenting Divorce is almost always a challenging time for couples. When a relationship comes to an end, it can be an emotionally painful experience, accompanied by anger, hurt or regret. However, when divorcing couples share children, they have an additional factor to consider: How can you co-parent successfully and healthily…

Read More
Blog
How Relocation Works in Custody Cases

Out of State Relocation for New Jersey Parents In a 2017 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court drastically changed the law that applies to out-of-state relocation with a child after a divorce. Both parents should know how the law now works and their rights in case one parent wants to move out of state with…

Read More
Blog
Why Courts Order Supervised Parenting and How It Works

Why Courts Order Supervised Parenting and How It Works Even though only about 10% of child abuse allegations are substantiated, courts will perceive that there is a risk to the children in a number of circumstances. When this happens, they may order supervised visits. Here is what you need to know about supervised parenting. It…

Read More
Blog
Main Dispute in a Divorce is Often Custody and Parenting Time
Custody and Parenting Time Often in a divorce, the main area in dispute is custody and parenting time of a child.  Litigants can spend months of their lives and thousands of dollars fighting over their child. There are two different types of custody - legal custody and residential custody.  With regard to legal custody, there... Read More

Disclaimer and information can be found here, including links to descriptions and selection methodologies. No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.