Co-Parenting Children With An Abusive Ex-Husband

Shared parenting or "co-parenting" is the will of most family courts today. 

But just what is it?

Co-parenting commonly refers to the shared parental responsibility of two, separated or divorced parents and has its roots in a 1989 United Nations convention to establish basic rights for children around the world.

The convention was geared to protect children from the sex trade and exploitation by adults. In that meeting of world leaders, they also agreed that children had a right to know both parents, even if those parents separated.

Somehow, that wonderful sentiment was reinterpreted in our family court however. Today's interpretation seems to insist that regardless of abuse evidence or criminal court action, custody arrangements should focus on parental rights to raise their children, demanding an emphasis on "maturity" and cooperation between parents, as well as the policing of parents in an attempt to keep them from "alienating" their ex's from the kids.

As family law legislation weaved its way through states over the last two decades, it has taken on a far different life than the original intent of the conference. Now domestic violence and sex abuse victims are forced to communicate with their abuser, spend time together during family events, share personal information with each other and make sure they are cooperating to the full intent of the law.

And victims they must do this despite their abusers' abuse, their personal wounds, fears of further abuse and overall sense of unrest in being forced into close proximity with a criminal.

Court ordered abuse?

Unfortunately, co-parenting gives an abusive or narcissist parent a clear path of unintended court-sanctioned abuse, power and control of the ex-partner and the children, instead of protecting the well-being of the child. Co-parenting can give rise to all sorts of emotional terrorism when involving an abuser. 

Abusers find out quickly ways to control you as your life unfolds beyond divorce. Suddenly, you might realize that the joy and happiness you felt about getting free of an abusive husband is gone as you see that you now have to content with an abusive co-parent. There is no divorce from that.

(I've written about this before, click here to read more. Please read as much as you can about this subject, because this dynamic is complicated to say the least. One article isn't going to cover all that you need to know.)

Parenting with your abuser is nuts and your journey of emotional moments and difficult decisions won't be perfect. You can't fix your ex or even stop much of his abuse. The law right now won't let you. But, you can heal from the emotional wounds of abuse and that will help you and your children in many direct and indirect ways.

So, what can you do exactly?

Consider what's called "Parallel Parenting." Parallel parenting means that you and your ex, parent independently of each other and communicate as little as possible. This is different from co-parenting, which forces you to work together, cooperate and share information about your life as it unfolds. 

Parallel parenting goes a bit like this:

  • Everything is spelled out in a court-order parenting plan, including drop-offs, holidays, time-sharing, medical, religious and educational decisions, everything;

  • The parents spend little time together and agree to communicate with each other only through written form;

  • The parent who is with the child, is the parent in charge and only in the case of medical or another type of emergency, is required to alert the other parent of anything;

  • No judging the other parent's skills as a parent;

  • All communication MUST be non-personal and business-tone in nature and only relate to the information relevant to the children;

  • No personal information is shared with the other parent;

  • To minimize conflict, no assumptions are made and all schedules are shared via a calendar;

  • No changes to the schedule are assumed and only allowed through written agreement, but fault is NOT assigned if one parent is unwilling to change the written schedule;

  • No using the child to give communication to the other parent.

Frankly, I don't think parallel parenting is ideal for children either, since it basically gives unrestricted access for an abuser to abuse children. But, I have come to believe that it is the lesser of two difficult situations, especially with older children.

Because parallel parenting sets clear boundaries for the abuser, it can cut down the opportunities of abuse toward you. Parallel parenting can help victims of narcissistic and abusive ex's keep distance and follow a "No Contact" rule often given to victims to help them heal from the emotional wounds of abuse.

However, it doesn't give you much of an avenue to protect your child from abuse, which is why most of us don't keep contact with our abusive ex-husbands in the first place. But, trying to protect children from their abusive father's emotional wounds is essentially futile. Abusers abuse. I am coming to believe that children need exposure to this in order to learn how to deal with the emotional wounds it can create.

Parallel parenting isn't easy. These are little people, not shared property. The bottom line is that marrying, procreating and divorcing an abusive man has many consequences that you didn't expect. There are few resources compared to the size of the problem, but don't stop looking for answers. It's nuts to think that disengaging from a chunk of your children's lives, a life they spend with your abuser, doesn't cause pain and anxiety about your children's safety. I recommend getting as much support as you need in this effort.

More supportive research is coming and sentiment is changing.

Until the lawmakers and judges of the land begin to see that the pendulum might have swung too far and in the wrong direction, we all have to make the best of our situations for our ourselves and our children. 

One thought came to me awhile back that keeps me going forward in my walk with an abusive ex-husband and co-parent: Whatever my wounds felt in this vortex of crazy, my children's are deeper and harder to heal. Knowing that, means that I will never give up trying to figure out how best to there for them.

My abuser is their father. That is one loaded, 5-word sentence. It's in their best interest for me to be as healed emotionally as I can be, to create as loving environment for them as I can, to accept what I can't change and to be there when they call.

I leave the rest up to God and my children's growing judgment. 

More from

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