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How to Co-parent With Your Abusive Ex

January 03, 2023
Advice, Co-Parenting
How to Co-parent With Your Abusive Ex

Your ex was physically or emotionally abusive to you, and you finally found the strength and grit to get out of their clutches for good. That’s great news, and we couldn’t be happier for you.

The not-so-great news is that if you and your abuser have children together, rarely do you get a clean break from them. Sometimes, you have to figure out how to co-parent with your ex-abuser.

How do people do this safely and effectively? It’s going to take careful planning and strategizing, but we have some helpful tips.

  • Put your safety first.
  • Understand why legal processes are what they are.
  • Limit your communication and establish boundaries.
  • Document, document, document.

Safety First

If your abuser targeted you but not your children, there’s a strong chance the two of you can co-parent effectively. However, if you legitimately fear for your children’s safety, you and your legal counsel must go through the proper channels to keep your kids safe. You must prove your ex is unfit and have their parenting rights revoked or extremely limited.

Now is also the time to have open, age-appropriate discussions with your children about what abuse is, what it looks like, and what to do about it. To start the conversation, reach out to your child’s school counselor, or a licensed family therapist, and your legal representative. These professionals can educate you and your children about what to do when you experience abuse (from parents or peers).

What to Expect in Legal Custody Cases

Just as you wouldn’t want anyone to be able to accuse you of physical abuse and then take your children away from you without proof, so it is with your ex-spouse. Legal processes uncover and prevent false allegations, so hang in there and follow the advice of your mediator or attorney.

The legal system typically finds it is in the children’s best interest to spend time with both parents. However, proof of domestic violence could sway their decision and limit your co-parent’s custody arrangements. But, chances are good that your children will maintain at least some physical contact with their other parent, so you need a solid plan for handling communications with your ex.

Limit Communication and Set Boundaries

Unfortunately, you are a trigger to your ex, so avoid speaking one-on-one with them. Speaking in person or by phone could jeopardize your own and your children’s safety. Obtain a restraining order if need be.

From now on, communication should be brief, business-like, only concerning the children, and in writing. Written communication is vital for legal documentation and evidence.

You can expect your co-parent to be uncooperative and push the limits. Stay cool, calm, collected, and never contact your abuser directly. Instead, document everything and connect with your legal counsel to settle things on your behalf.

For custody exchange meet-ups, pick a public place such as your child’s school. Do not meet at their house or have them come to yours. Aim to always have another adult with you at custody exchanges–someone who isn’t antagonistic.

You can even try one of these scenarios:

  • Have a neutral third party make the exchange on your behalf. Example: Your father takes your children to a neutral location for custody exchanges.
  • Have neutral third and fourth parties meet each other for exchanges. Example: Your mother picks up your kids and drops them off with your ex’s mother.

Download a Co-parenting App

Limit contact and establish boundaries with your co-parent more easily by using co-parenting apps. Some specialize in preventing harsh communication between co-parents with tone meters that detect charged language and suggest ways of changing it.

Others allow you to share calendars, schedules, school, and medical information on their platform without talking or texting. And others, like co-parenting expense trackers, enable you to request payment for shared parenting expenses politely. You can upload pictures of receipts, send bills, collect fees, and keep track of who owes what.

Look for an app that keeps unalterable records of everything shared within the platform so that all exchanges are documented. All parenting plan violations can be recorded on your app. Apps make the documentation process much more manageable.

Ex never showed up to a custody exchange? There’s an app to track that. Having trouble getting them to pay their fair share? Yep, an app can help you log that information as leverage in a case against them.

Create Your Parenting Plan

Work with your legal counsel plus a mental health advocate, like your child’s school counselor or a family therapist, to create a proper parenting plan. Having a solid strategy for various situations will help you decrease the number of interactions you have with your ex.

We strongly recommend that you seek professional advice to create your plan. There’s a lot you can probably already guess you need to plan for, like:

  • Custody days
  • Child’s school and extracurricular schedule
  • Holidays and vacations
  • Sharing expenses
  • Transportation

But there’s a host of other variables that only an expert has learned through experience, such as:

  • What to do if you or your child get sick but you’re supposed to trade custody with your ex?
  • What if your ex and child are ill, but it’s time to switch custody?
  • What if your child has special needs?
  • How long should you wait on your ex at the agreed upon meeting place to exchange custody of the kids?
  • What are reasonable time limits on communications and responses?

You Are Not Alone

Co-parenting with an abusive ex isn’t easy. Undoubtedly, having support and guidance to assist you helps. Reach out to a legal advisor and a therapist. Ask family and friends to help with custody exchanges as well as mundane parenting tasks (babysitting, housework, cooking).

Take steps to help you co-parent effectively without having to communicate much with your ex. Avoid unnecessary confrontations and improve documentation by using a co-parenting app for everything from child support to sharing schedules and medical information.

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