How To Co-Parent With Abusive Ex: Your Only Option Explained

When you have to co-parent with a harmful former partner, parallel parenting is often the best option to ensure your safety and well-being.

Parallel parenting allows you to disengage from your ex and minimize interactions and direct contact as much as possible.

Co-parenting with an abusive ex is often impossible because the abuser will likely continue their hostility and abuse. Parallel parenting can be a viable alternative.

Studies show that mothers experiencing intimate partner violence face barriers to safety after separation because they’re forced to negotiate co-parenting arrangements.

“After separation from an abusive partner, up to 90% of women report continued harassment, stalking or abuse.”

As a relationship and communication counselor, I have witnessed the cruel cycle of abuse over and over again.

Protecting yourself and ensuring your children are safe must be your top priority.

Should you need it, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

Key Takeaways

  • Take active steps to protect yourself and ensure your children’s safety.
  • Parallel parenting is a form of co-parenting in which direct contact is drastically limited, and communication is minimized.
  • Parallel parenting is often the only safe option when you are forced to co-parent with an abusive ex.
  • Domestic abuse is a crime in all states. Involve child protective services if needed.

Protecting Yourself

It may seem unfair, but when it comes down to it, the matter of keeping yourself safe is on your shoulders.

Know Your Legal Rights

Your legal rights and protections as a parent can reduce the risk of harm.

Ensure you raise issues like physical abuse toward you or your child during custody disputes to allow the court to determine what is genuinely in the child’s best interests.

Set Clear Boundaries and Communication Methods

Establish clear and firm boundaries from the beginning, and don’t tolerate manipulation and abuse.

Boundaries can set precise hours and methods of communication between parents and instructions on communicating with the child.

Arrange To Meet Only in Safe Locations

To protect yourself, schedule children pick-ups, drop-offs, etc. to take place in safe locations only.

Do not allow your ex to choose the location, and always make sure there will be other people around whenever you are required to meet your ex for custody exchanges.

Report Breaches Immediately

Being 5 minutes late when dropping the kids back home is sometimes understandable, but when your ex intentionally or consistently violates orders and/or agreed-upon schedules, you need to document and report these breaches.

Do not confront your ex directly. This will only put you at risk. Instead, notify your attorney, and allow them to take the next steps.

Get a Restraining or Protective Order

A restraining order is a legal tool that discourages abusers from contacting their victims and can even prohibit them from coming within 500 feet of their home, school, or work.

The restraining order can ensure the abuser refrains from threatening, harassing, alarming, annoying, abusing, or tormenting behavior toward you.

The Only Option: Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting is suitable when an abusive ex will likely continue behaviors that make co-parenting impossible.

Parallel parenting can help minimize opportunities for an abusive partner to get at you by limiting direct contact.

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting is a strategy where separated or divorced parents can co-parent by disengaging from each other when they cannot cooperate to raise their children in a healthy environment.

This co-parenting style is suitable when parents can’t communicate respectfully without hostility or be in the same room without conflict. 

How To Create a Parallel Parenting Plan

Parallel parenting plans aim to minimize interactions between parents as much as possible.

Each parent is in charge of the control and day-to-day care of the children when they’re under their care, but it’s all business, and everything is separate.

Parallel parenting involves strictly limiting communication to pressing issues or emergencies, and neither parent can dictate how the other parent manages parenting responsibilities.

Successful parallel parenting plans are thorough and straightforward, leaving no room for assumptions or interpretations.

Plans can include fixed calendars for specific visitation dates, predefined pick-up and drop-off locations, exact start and end times, and the name of the person responsible for children’s transportation.

A smiling young woman reading a text message on her phone while standing outside on a pretty day.

Communication When Parallel Parenting

Communication when parallel parenting must be business-like in nature and non-personal and should only relate to information relevant to the child’s well-being.

Establishing a communication process can help prevent manipulation or harm from an abusive ex, and tools like a parallel parenting app can be helpful.

Parallel Parenting App

Parallel parenting apps help streamline schedules, family calendars, and communication.

They can provide a more reliable form of communication that cannot be altered or manipulated.

Parallel Parenting Boundaries

Setting parallel parenting boundaries can help limit potential harassment and prevent your ex from getting an opening for manipulation or engagement.

It can include blocking them on social media and increasing your privacy settings.

Establish reasonable and tactful rules like when or how often you’ll check messages or when your ex can call you.

How To Enforce Parallel Parenting Boundaries

You can enforce parallel parenting boundaries by filing the parallel parenting plan with a custody, paternity, or separation case in your local family court.

The plan can become the final order both parents must follow with the judge’s approval.

If your ex breaks the court order, you can take them back to court and push for sanctions, sole custody, or decision-making rights.

How To Protect Your Children From an Abusive Ex

There are several steps you can take to try and ensure your children’s safety.

Visitation Supervision

A court-appointed visitation supervision monitor can watch the kids between drop-off and pick-up to ensure they’re safe.

You can also ask that conditions be put on the visitation, like requiring that your ex doesn’t drink or use drugs when with the kids or that certain people can’t be around the kids.

File for an Order of Protection

You can go to the courts for an order of protection that protects you and your children from the threatening or harassing behavior of your abusive ex.

The order can prohibit them from entering your home or your children’s school.

What To Do if the Abuse Persists

You can call the police if your ex disobeys the order of protection, and they can end up in jail.

Domestic abuse is a crime in all states, and you can press charges for assault under criminal law.

You can also involve child protective services, and suitable action will be instituted in the family court, where the first and foremost concern will be the safety and well-being of the child.

A angry man shouting at a woman sitting in a chair.

How To Prove the Other Parent Is Emotionally Abusive

Proving the other parent is emotionally abusive can be challenging since there are no visible scars or bruises, but it’s not impossible.

Proving emotional abuse may require:

Documenting the Abuse

Keeping an ongoing log of the abusive behavior can provide you with powerful evidence in court.

Document the instances in detail, and include the dates and times of every occurrence to strengthen your documentation.

Incorporating Evidence From Various Avenues

You can use evidence from various avenues to support your claims.

These can include written evidence from emails, text, or social media messages; footage like videos, photos, or audio recordings; and testimonies from witnesses who can attest to the abusive behavior or its impact on the child’s life.

Psychological Evaluations

Psychological evaluations of the child and the abuser can provide a detailed, evidence-based assessment from a licensed expert to strengthen your case.

It can highlight the extent of the abuse and show the harm resulting from it.

Having the Right Representation

A strong legal representation can help you win an emotional abuse case. They can help fortify your case by gathering, organizing, and presenting the evidence as effectively as possible.

How To Defuse an Abuser

You can implement various strategies to defuse an abuser before their behavior gets more out of hand. These can include:

  • Remaining calm – Keep your emotions calm, and remember that the behavior has everything to do with them and not you. Don’t internalize critical statements or add emotional fuel to the fire.
  • Don’t take the bait – The abuser may be trying to get a rise out of you so they can continue abusing you. Avoid engaging with them emotionally, and instead assert confidence with your body language, set boundaries like not responding, and maintain a neutral expression.
  • Move to safety – Try to put physical distance between you and the abuser, and move to an area where an exit is available. If possible, you can also incorporate a third party to help prevent the abuse from escalating.

Co-Parenting With Abusive Ex

Co-parenting is a collaborative approach where separated, divorced, or never-married parents work together to raise their children even though they don’t live together or have an intimate relationship.

According to research, the quality of the co-parenting relationship after divorce or separation is a critical determinant of the children’s well-being, with positive co-parenting resulting in better outcomes.

However, achieving and maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship with an abusive ex can be elusive because of the factors involved.

What Co-Parenting Involves

Co-parenting involves separated or divorced parents setting aside their differences and providing children with an environment to thrive emotionally, physically, and mentally.

This co-parenting style focuses on the children and always doing what’s in their best interest. Successful co-parenting involves various factors:

  • Communication – Parents must establish conflict-free communication and discuss matters about children without blame, complaints, or raising past issues.
  • Compromise – Co-parents don’t always agree on every decision, but sometimes you’ll need to consider your ex’s point of view to reach a basic agreement on matters concerning your kids.
  • Setting hurt and anger aside – Successful co-parenting means negative emotions take a back seat to your children’s needs. There shouldn’t be any manipulation of your ex or children.
  • Clear boundaries – Establishing clear boundaries makes it easier to work together as co-parents.

Why Co-Parenting With an Abusive Ex Is Impossible

Co-parenting with an abusive ex is impossible because they’ll likely continue their hostility and abuse in the context of co-parenting.

Research shows that in many cases, abuse from a partner doesn’t end upon separation.

Most times, abuse escalates post-separation with victims experiencing post-separation abuse for years or decades after the relationship ends.

Mothers face significant pressure from abusive exes and usually have no choice but to continue dealing with them for the children’s sake.

Childcare arrangements like co-parenting allow abusers to continue attempts to control their ex-partners through various tactics, including:

  • Threats and violence – Abusers often try to control their exes using threats like ruining their livelihoods and reputation or blocking them from seeing their children. They can also issue threats of bodily harm and carry out those threats as evidenced by post-separation homicides.
  • Harassment – Abusers may continuously call, text, or send emails to their ex masked as concern on child-related matters when the true intention is to interfere as much as possible with the ex’s ability to live a peaceful life.
  • Child neglect and abuse – Abusers can psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse their kids to get back at their ex. Some may avoid blatantly abusing their children but can endanger them in various ways to threaten their ex.
  • Counter-parenting – This can involve working against the other parent instead of collaborating. Abusers can try to foil the efforts of their co-parents, even if it means harming their children in the process.
  • Economic abuse – Abusers can block access to bank accounts or fail to comply with needed payments. Some may even choose to lose their job or quit rather than support the other parent.