There are co-parents who actually get along with one another. Parents who are able to communicate about their shared parenting responsibilities and make sure that the needs and best interests of their children are always their primary concern. These parents are always friendly, or at least cordial with one another. They are polite when they speak to one another. They put aside their personal differences when dealing with their children, or making decisions involving the children. They know that any acrimony between them will be seen, heard, or at very least sensed by their children and will make the children feel as though they are “stuck” between two parents that dislike one another. These parents understand that when they fight or argue, their children automatically and inherently blame themselves – because the children think they are the only thing that the parents have in common, so if the parents hate each other, it must have something to do with the children. Truly concerned parents are able to co-parent in a manner that is truly beneficial to their children, without acrimony, and without the need for a judge make every final decision. However, this is not always the case.
If your situation is different – more difficult because the other parent is difficult – you are not alone. Though there is very little you can do to change the way your co-parent thinks and acts, there are several things you can do to minimize the impact of abuse on your life and the lives of your children.
If your ex-spouse likes to downplay your son’s accomplishments and exaggerate his flaws, yell at him for every little imperfection, and pretend that you’re the root of all evil, you may not have enough evidence to change the child custody order, but you may still want to do something to counteract their negative effects on the children. When your child comes to your house dejected because of a difficult interaction with the other parent, be positive, try to help him learn how to rise above it and to rely more on you and his own accomplishments and self-worth and self-confidence.
For yourself, do not allow your ex to abuse you in any way. If they are abusive on the phone, the moment it starts, don’t say anything, just hang up the phone. They will likely call back. Answer it, but the moment it begins again, hang up. If you always employ this method, sooner or later – and sometimes this learning curve is slow – they will learn that when they scream, yell, curse, or call you names, the call will be disconnected. They will either learn from their mistakes and stop doing this, or stop calling. Either way, the issue of telephonic abuse will likely decrease or end in time. When this kind of behavior takes place when you and the co-parent are face-to-face, simply walk away. Don’t say anything: Just turn and walk away.
If you find it impossible to deal with your ex either on the phone or in person, try to set up the exchanges of the children to take place at school. In other words, set up your exchanges so that one parent drops the children off at school or daycare in the morning, and the other parent picks them up from school or at daycare. Also, if your ex simply cannot control themselves on the telephone, and won’t learn from your hanging up, stop answering the phone. Start making all communications via text and email. It is much more likely that your unreasonable ex will be more responsible when writing their communications down in a permanent format. In California, it is very easy to get evidence of emails and texts into court. This fact may scare your ex into writing in a more reasonable manner. If not, you can show the judge what they have been sending you and how unreasonable they have been. Without written proof, this is very difficult to prove.
If the abuse becomes obvious, and if you can prove it, you may be able to get an order from the court prohibiting such behavior. If the behavior is serious enough, you may very well be able to take visitation time or custodial time away from that parent.
If your ex-spouse is threatening or abusing you physically, call the police immediately. Then, get a restraining order. You must do whatever you must to protect your children and yourself. Many parents allow abusive behavior to continue because they think they will get in trouble if they don’t follow the court ordered visitation schedules to the letter. Keep in mind that you have a duty to protect your children and yourself. If your children are being abused by the other parent, you must call the police and stop the visitations. Your duty to protect your children from injury trumps your ex’s rights to visitation.
This being said, remember to carefully consider the actual behaviors. If the behavior is offensive but not harmful, or you just don’t like the way the other parent is “parenting” the children at their home, this is not abuse, and you could find yourself in hot water with the court if you restrict or deny the other parent’s visitations. If you are in danger but your children are safe with the other parent, as mentioned above, try to set up the exchanges at school, daycare, or maybe through a third party. If you are nervous about their safety, you may need to seek orders restricting the other parent’s contact with the children.
If you suspect or know that your children are being physically or sexually abused, as mentioned above, stop the visits with that parent immediately and call the police. You have an affirmative duty to protect your children, even from the other parent if they are harming the children. Gather all evidence, photographs, statements made by the children, witnesses who observed the abuse, and consult with a qualified attorney about obtaining a restraining order and sole custody orders.
At Pinkham & Associates, we know that your children are your top priority, and we want to help keep them, and you, safe from an abusive co-parent. If you or your children are being abused, or suspect they may be, contact us immediately for a free consultation.