What is the best way to interact with an abuser when you have to? Shared parenting with an abuser.
This question came in from a reader:
The court has ordered me and my ex to do shared parenting. And the judge is telling us that we are both at fault for our issues, that our arguments were concerning to her, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. What is the best way to interact with the abuser when you have to, and he’s using the children to antagonize you by depriving them of medication or clothing? What do you do? When his wife and family members are causing others to turn on you, do you say something?
How do I navigate through this in a way that honors God and keeps me out of trouble with our judge? There has to be some way though to deal with an abusive man in a direct, authoritative way that won’t be perceived as my being antagonistic towards him. Please let me know how you have dealt with people like this.
Okay readers, it’s over to you. How would you answer this lady’s question? Do you have any tips from your own experience?
Related items on this blog
“BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People” by Bill Eddy
Family Courts and Systemic Abuse
The Truth Behind Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Parenting after Separating from Your Abusive Ex — by Dr George Simon Jr
How I Teach My Children to Honor Their Abusive Parent
Legal Resources (a sub-page of our Resources)
Flatly, with little emotion so the abusers are not rewarded for getting a rise out of you. Stay calm in front of the judge showing composure and respect for everyone at all times. Actions speak louder than words. It’s not fair. It never was to begin with- but you can show them you’re not like him by refusing to take his evil bait. The battle is not of flesh and blood. Put on the armour of God before court.
This may not be fully applicable here, but I knew someone who was discouraged about having to go to co-parenting counseling with an abuser. The bottom line for her to remember and keep reminding herself of, though, was that though the ostensible purpose of the counseling was for co-parenting, the real purpose was to expose his wickedness and to help her become stronger. As the meetings progressed, she definitely saw herself becoming stronger and more able to face his lies with truth, but she also had to keep reminding herself of the real purpose.
No one believed me. There was no help. The judge sent us to mediation and co parenting classes. Our child was young and couldn’t tell anyone what was happening. I did what I could on my side. A couple years into it I was saved. Then I prayed that God would expose the evil. And He did! But the courts still made me share custody!!!! It made no sense! Years went by…
He finally went to jail for DV with his new wife. Then I dug my heels in and wouldn’t give up or give back our child. And every one, my lawyer, his lawyer, my new husband, court mediators and judge made life miserable and unrelenting about how I was keeping the child from the father. I was pressed HARD in all directions to give in. After a long while or so our child visited under supervision of a family member. Events exposed him more and STILL I had to say NO WAY!!! That is not change it’s DANGEROUS!!!!
Our child didn’t go back until of age and then he didn’t want to stick around his dad because because of the new family that pushed him out. After he graduated it was as if it never happened.
I know that isn’t the best advice. It’s my struggles and they were very real and heart breaking through the entire time. There were victories short lived but I grew stronger and not afraid of him.
In the end I had to stick up for what I believed and knew I couldn’t back down. Unfortunately I had a similar husband when I remarried so it was devastating in ways that I didn’t understand at the time. Fighting so many battles.
You can only do what’s right on your side and speak the truth to your children. Distance yourself from the ex as much as possible. Be there for damage control for the kids. Boundaries, God’s word, great friends, prayer for wisdom, this site.
Resolve to not give in. I wish I had this site back then!!!!
Keep all communication via text or email. Especially regarding the children. Be available for VM in the event of an emergency, but don’t respond to VM unless it is an emergency; otherwise do so by text or email.
YES! I’ve managed to pull it off almost exclusively via text and email for nine years now. He still gets super long winded in some emails, but I refuse to give him the space in my brain, so I skim and delete.
I was ordered to do shared parenting also. And I have implemented what is termed “parallel parenting.” I do not interact with my exh unless absolutely necessary. And I do not interact with his family nor friends / allies at all. I have switched churches (losing all my friends and having to start over in the process).
There was a deep need for me to learn to let go of having to feel justified. Others can – and will – say what they like. I had to continue to tell myself that I did not need to JADE: Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain – anything, to anyone – especially him. I needed to just be silent. I could be silent. I could walk away. And that was better than engaging. Engaging is what they want and I refuse to give them that! Less was more. Communication with him needed to be “business professional.” I would wait a day or two before answering any email or text. His urgency did not constitute my emergency. I had to firm up those boundaries – first with him and then enforce them with myself. Doing so has saved a mountain of stress.
When it comes to medication and clothes – parallel parenting has worked. Our lives are separate now, including expenses in these areas. I do not expect him to pay for these nor do I expect him to “play fair” in returning item for item fairly matched. No matter what some court document says. I live by my own high standard. Whatever clothes he sends my child in – those are the same clothes returned. I have my own clothes that my child wears during visitation with me. And lest you think that money grows on trees at my house – these clothes were bought at quarter prices from either yard sales or thrift stores. A good lot was donated from friends whose kids “just happened to be a little older.” God sees. He provides.
My divorce is final – I do not fret about the judge. He is not looking into the details of my life and holding me accountable. He hasn’t given my case another thought and isn’t losing sleep over me. It would be highly unlikely for my exh to spend thousands of dollars to take me back to court just because I only send him the clothes he sends me…or because I choose to pay the co-pay on medications or ask for a second bottle so that I have my child’s meds on-hand without having to pass items back and forth. No. If I am to be dragged back in court and waste the judge’s time – the court will demand that it is over something worth their time…with plenty of evidence. Custody…and they are loathe to sever that tie without a literal TON of evidence.
Stay strong. Do life with your children on your terms. Seek safety. Seek health. Start building your life around the principles you know to be True. You cannot go wrong. All else will fall away. You can do it. It isn’t easy…it is do-able.
Really good suggestions! My approach is similar.
I too have shared legal custody of my children with my abuser.
At the time he offered them more whistles and bells that they desired durring our divorce, so they preferred to stay with him.
(mostly because he provided non-stop addictive video games to them)
An addiction he created in all of them- by allowing them to play as much as they wanted growing up….. All this while the church leaders kept telling me to submit to my husbands leading.
Durring the divorce because my new job did not produce enough income to have my own place,- I conceded in accepting that the children would reside with their dad.
In the final mediation agreement it was determined that I could visit and spend time with them on my days off – upon notification.
This arrangement has worked out perhaps for the best due to the demanding and unpredictable hours of my full time job..
Anyway I have learned to be very stategic with minimal contact to the ex-abuser… Not engaging in any unnecessary text.
Documenting everything I buy or do for the kids.
Many times I have recieved calls or texts from certain children on their cell phones with legitimate needs like requests for food or clothing or hygiene care.
So on my days off, I would go to the Salvation Army family food bank and get free food boxes to drop off for the children.
But before they take them, – I make sure to document and photograph these supplies with my iPhone exactly what I am dropping off.
I have done this also with any clothes from thrift stores or any supplies..
Document and photograph..
I also let the children know that I am documenting this stuff.
(without letting them know exactly why)
This also makes the abuser quite uneasy because he does not know WHY- you are documenting all that you are doing for the kids..
Why….Just what are you planning with all this documentation?!!
And why are you doing this?!!
This documenting without explaining – makes the abuser “walk the straight and narrow”- due to the possibility of you someday utilizing this information down the road legally against him.
So the end result is — the children get better care and treatment. Because the abuser knows he is being watched.
And by doing this he finds himself in a possible checkmate position, and provides better care for the children.
This is just one way I help the children get better treatment while they have to stay with the abuser.
What a great tactic, standsfortruth!
Who says victims of abuse don’t resist the abuse? What you are doing in documenting all those things you do for your kids is a creative and powerful way of resisting his abuse!
Yes Barbara, and when combining the no response tactic or grey rocking the abuser’s idle text comments, he can’t figure out what or where your next move is- or what it will be ..
This drives them crazy because that is how they get information to further track and calculate their target’s next move. (so they can sabotage it)
Our best power over our abusers comes from depriving them from gathering information about us..
They become fearful and powerless once you figure this out…
It’s like turning out the lights and leaving them groping in the dark..
At this point you can create fear in them by your proactive moves.
Thanks for this. I have been giving – and in a very similar situation plus some – and have not been documenting. Now I will.
The question contains two key words: direct and authoritative. I think you’ve answered your own question: Be direct and authoritative. (See? You’re better at this than you realize.)
Here’s how I would break it down:
Direct — State your main purpose (what you need, what you’re willing to do, what your boundaries are). The abuser will try to derail you (usually with outrageous accusations and lies), but keep calmly stating your main purpose.
Authoritative — God Himself has given you authority as a parent. He is with you every step of the way. Not only that, but He is empowering you by His Spirit. The abuser will try to strip this authority away from you (usually by intimidation), but try to remember what God says about you, not what lies your abuser keeps telling you.
Another thing: a friend of mine in this situation said that communication through e-mail and text messaging was the best way for her to interact with her ex. Everything was in writing, and if he tried to “pull one” on her, she had evidence in case it ever came up in court. (I’m not sure it ever did come up in court, but I think her ex’s fear of being exposed with irrefutable evidence helped to keep him in line.) If she happened to see him face to face, she would discreetly keep her cell phone close by (pocket, purse, etc), with the voice recorder on.
Read up on “gray rock.” It really is the only way. With my ex, I only communicate with him via text. All texts are admissible in court so that’s a perk. When he drops off or picks up the kids I do not even acknowledge his presence let alone talk to him. I know if I do he will simply try to draw me into an argument to make me look like the bad guy. They’re childish that way. It took me nearly two years to finally be able to stop falling into the trap of speaking to him so be easy on yourself. Also, even in texts do not let him know your feelings on a matter. Just the facts. “Jasmine has a dentist appointment and it will be x dollars.” If he doesn’t pay, don’t tell him it upset you or how disappointed you were. My ex is required to pay the bills (in lieu of child support) and he has let it go so badly that we’ve had the electricity cut off. But I just ignored him when I saw him after that. Letting him know how upset you are just feeds his ego, let’s him believe he still has control over you.
As for his family and friends, sadly you will just have to let them go. It’s difficult to lose people you care for but if they cared for you in return, they’d ask you for your side of the story. I eventually had to leave my church because they believed they needed to reach out to my ex with the love of Jesus…or some such nonsense.
Are you in individual therapy? I ask because you need to work through what the judge said. It’s not true and the victim is never at fault but you will still internalize her words, even if you say you don’t believe them.
Actually the judge was abusing you….
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There’s a method that I used before going no contact. You become the automaton. Before answering the phone (or stepping out of the car) you take a deep breath and remind yourself of the focus of that particular conversation. Then you repeat the point without inflection, letting everything else run off like duckwater. It’s basically no-contact with talking.
You do not allow the abuser to contact your emotions or inner self (even if you take a direct hit.) Instead, you remain neutral and repeat yourself.
“The check you promised is overdue. Johnnie and Sam need clothing and medicine.”
Abuser rants, raves, insults you, insults the dog.
“I see. Johnnie and Sam need clothing and medicine. You promised a check last week and it is overdue.”
Calls you names, blames you for breathing air, screams, yells, waves arms.
“Did you bring the check? Johnnie and Sam have needs that are going unmet. According to the courts, that should have arrived two weeks ago.”
Accuses you of wasting money and says you stink.
“So when can I expect the check?”
You may leave without the check but, with practice you disengage while still engaging. There’s a name for this but it’s not coming to mind. I’m sure others can elaborate more. It gets much easier with time and practice.
Exactly! Thanks, Julie. 🙂
Sadly my abusive ex would say that was emotional and verbal abuse of him!
It theoretically should be helpful if you have documented proof of his failure to provide medication and clothing since child neglect and abuse are illegal. But I see that those laws aren’t enforced equally since some get in trouble for failure to report child abuse while others like you report it and are ignored ☹️☹️☹️. Perhaps if you keep the evidence and look for a counselor who understands they would have some ideas. This reminds me of the Persistant Widow and the Unjust Judge. You are a hero when you defend your children.
With my ex abuser, I have to keep all conversation emotionally neutral. This means via text messages, if he gets hostile, I immediately shut him down and block him. Any questions are answered in a short, business-like manner, without any emotion involved. I keep my interactions with him short and to the point, and if he gets dramatic or abusive, I simply ignore those messages altogether or simply say “Ok.” I try never to have phone conversations so he can’t hear my voice. I may get upset by some of the things he says, but I don’t want him to hear it in my voice (if at all possible). I just try to not show him he gets to me.
Great answers here! I, too, struggle with a belligerent ex and parenting. There is no such thing as co-parenting with an abusive ex. It has to be parallel parenting. They will not cooperate with you on anything, go against all the rules they know you have for the children (food, health, clothing, technology, activities, etc.), and blame you for every little thing that goes wrong and really blast you for every little mistake you make. Of course, they don’t make mistakes, and are only letting a kid be a kid, and if a few rules get bent, well, that’s what it takes to be super-dad (you know, the one who had nothing to do with the children before he left).
Parallel parenting is a challenge, especially at first, but necessary for your sanity. No matter what he does, I don’t lower my standards one bit. We each run our homes completely differently (hard to believe we once lived under the same roof). I feel sorry for the children having to adjust back and forth, but they are resilient, and seem to manage. His place is fun, but they are glad to return to love and sanity. I say nothing about what goes on there, and do not press my standards on him. I encourage the children to stand up for what they know is right, but so far most of the time it is safer for them to just go along with him. So far we do not have medication or clothing issues, but having one who is gluten-free has been a problem at times. He isn’t always careful enough, especially with all the eating out they do. I calmly point it out and file away the rant I get in return.
All communication is by email (so thankful I refused texting when he tried to get me into it). He rants and raves. I give myself at least 24 hours to answer unless he doesn’t give me enough notice to wait that long. Then I answer simply only the relevant question. I read and reread, let it sit a little longer, then send. Than I brace myself for the return blast. Right from the start, for visitation pick-up, he parked, stayed in his car until the kids came out, and the same on return. I have no contact with him during the exchange, as I stay in the house.
I have nothing to do with his family, or them with me. He has tried to contact my family (season’s greeting and how he cares, rubbish), but I will email him his abuse / harassment is no longer welcome here. At church, he left, but made sure he kept his allies and that enough people knew how rotten I was, so I am fairly ostracized by some, ignored by others, and sympathetically looked at from a distance by the rest. I endure it for the children, as they have much-needed friends there. I’m also a bit quiet anyways, so I just sit and read a book in my pew before and after services. When things fell apart, my pastor asked both of us to not talk to others about it. I listened, he didn’t. So my story is untold – only 1 couple at church actually know the truth. It doesn’t feel fair, but I respect my pastor, and am trusting in God’s timing for the truth to come out. Some day my ex will blow his hypocritical cover, and people may see for themselves the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Because I am left alone, I accept the loneliness, knowing that God’s love for me and justice will prevail some day. It might be different if I received the unwanted advice and comments others here have to endure.
Its a lonely path, and I cry often. But God’s word has helped me stay on the path of righteousness (as far as I can tell – I do make mistakes, I’m sure). God encourages me, reminds me of what He thinks of the wicked, and is there for me every step of the way, including when my heart is breaking and I am crying fit to die over the pain and asking, why, why, why. I am waiting the results of the court case, I’ll be honest, with fear and trembling. But God will walk me through, help me appeal if I need to, and be there for the children as they try and cope with whatever changes the ex manages to get away with. I hope this (and all the other great comments) help.
Moving Forward, in my imagination I am sitting next to you on that pew, holding your hand, and we are silently sharing our pain and loneliness.
The bricks and mortar church I currently attend has so far produced no one I could call a friend, and I don’t expect it to. There is one married couple there who seem to be a little interested in my work at ACFJ, but they know so little about domestic abuse that they are far from being close friend material.
The pastor has purchased my book (which is why I first went to this church; he bought it via my website so I knew he had bought it) and I thought at least he might be more sympathetic to my work than most pastors are. But on questioning him, I found he has not read my book. He may have read a little bit of it, but I have no idea how much and am too afraid to ask in case I add to his list of reason for thinking me a ‘pestering woman who always asks him tough questions’.
So I’m not nearly as alone on my pew as you are on yours, and I’m not suffering the pain of having to do parallel parenting any more, and the pain of being stigmatized by most of the congregation, but I am with you holding you hand. And thanks for holding mine!
I never thought of Barbara as “afraid to ask” anything, but that actually makes me feel better when I’m undecided about which leaders to talk to and how much to say. We’re all human 🙂
These have been very helpful comments. I keep my communications with ex h to our family wizard (OFW) only. [OFW – Our Family Wizard – is a co-parenting app. Editors.] He was texting and emailing but I referred him back to his request to the release conditions and restraining order conditions of no contact except on OFW, and only about our child. I give minimum info and make our child and the child’s needs and best interests the focus of the communication. I keep it very bland and grey rock as well. Time, date, place, event – when is it due … very basic and very detached and I also do keep my phone on voice recorder if I am going to be in his presence.
Anything that he sends my way that may induce an initial panic, I usually wait a day, pray about it and seek God in the matter and that helps me immensely. Sometimes He shows me what he [ex h] says is a big bluff designed to push me into going to court but when I wait it out, I see that he wants the issue dealt with in court but won’t bring it himself. I guess it is now that I am learning when to call his bluff!
1 Kings 19:9-18 is a good one about feeling alone.
Also, what helps is to have a calendar and highlight all the days in pink that you have the children; and then highlight all the days in blue when he has the children. It is a pretty dramatic representation to show the judge for the judge to see who takes care of the children the most of the time. Also it shows when the parent cancels or is late and spends less time with the kids. These abusers are relentless to try to discredit the victim. The highlighted calendar shows a great visual to the judge.
What would you suggest when the ex is an atheist and is now attacking the faith of a 4 year old, telling them that Jesus is a fake?
I would suggest you apply the parallel parenting approach that others have described here. It can be applied to clothes, medicines, expectations about doing household chores, rules about how much the kids can play video games etc. — with each parent making their own expectations clear in their own household. And it can also be applied to things like values, religious beliefs, etc.
Your ex is saying to the child that Jesus is a fake. And you are telling the child that Jesus is real. So you could just say to the child “Daddy doesn’t believe that Jesus is real, and Daddy wants you to believe what he believes. As you grow up, you will be more and more able to work out the truth for yourself. At the moment, as you go between Daddy’s place and my place, you can be learning what Daddy’s beliefs lead to for Daddy, and what my beliefs lead to for me.” Or words to that effect.
The child will probably sense that you are honouring her liberty to weigh up the matter for herself, and that Daddy is pushing his views onto her and trying to make her be like him.
And if she asks you what she should say to Daddy when he says Jesus is fake, you can brainstorm possible responses with her. She might like to respond blandly with an “Okay, Dad.” Or she might like to say, “Yeah, I know you think that.” Or she might like to think of her own way of responding to him that helps her keep safe. And whatever way she responds to him, try to honour her for that because, in some way or other, her response will be a response of resistance. Because whenever there is an oppressor, resistance is ever present in the oppressed — even if their resistance is just in their innermost being where no one else can see it.
See the pdf Honouring Resistance [Internet Archive link].
I haven’t been to my church since December and not by myself. I know what you mean about being lonely in a pew.
Thanks for sharing everyone – your level-headed approaches are helpful!
A few things I have found helpful for me [when] co-parenting.
Use a communication program like Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents. Then only look at them and reply once daily. My ex was sending dozens of texts / emails a day. Now that he realizes that he will only get my attention only daily regardless of number of messages, he has cut back drastically on what he sends. He actually was so upset about having to use it he accused me of using it to abuse him, but the truth is he was mad that it limited his ability to abuse or bully me. Unlike texts and email where parts can be deleted, and court does not really like [them] for that reason, nothing can be deleted ever, it records when things were read, it records when you sign in, can print or request court appropriate documents. It is much less intrusive in your life, unlike text or emails you control when you look at them. Courts tend to really like them, usually judge has one of these programs he [the judge] prefers, and easily can be court ordered without needing to prove abuse. We have in our agreement that only communicate through program, must look at once daily and if no reply within 3 days that is concidered an agreement.
1) Co-parenting counseling does not need to be done together. I did two joint sessions with my ex. and then asked if I could meet with the therapist separately. I ended up seeing the therapist on my own a few more times, but then we really didn’t have much to work on since I really did not have problems parenting. It’s been 2 years and he is still going because he has lots of parenting issues. Not sure it helps much, but I don’t have to suffer through it.
2) Look into what is called parallel parenting rather than co-parenting. With my ex, co-parenting could never work because he would never agree to anything. I found that some of the concepts of parallel parenting really helped.
Praying for you and your little ones can find some peace and comfort.
I practice almost all of these suggestions shared in these comments. An abuser is all about control, even post-divorce so don’t give him an inch. Don’t let him change his days or not follow the parenting plan even if it is actually easier for you because he’ll think he’s “won.”
Yes, only text if you can. You must protect yourself.
My ex is supposed to pay half of medical bills etc. but that hasn’t happened. No surprise there…he didn’t pay his bills when we were married. I live on poverty level but part of my healing is being able to have a clear conscience before men so I pay all of the bills a little bit at a time instead of tying up my life waiting on my ex. I take the kids to low income clinics etc.
I also try to help my kids diffuse from their encounters with him (the older ones) or visits (the youngest one). I have to be a safe place where they can share their fears and anger without me being emotional.
Document document document and pray! I have a whole slew of people praying the my ex will get a job away from our area so he would have to move! Also, my ex is a porn addict and never keeps a job for longer than a year so I am praying for an increase in my income so I can be completely self-supporting.