This is a personal letter for the Guardian ad Litems, Evaluators, social workers, and Judges (etc) who are ordering co-parenting, divorce education, mediation, couples therapy and other professional interventions to compel victims of domestic violence to co-parent or share joint custody with an abuser…written by a victim who has been traumatized after your failed interventions.

Why is it when a victim of abuse flees the relationship, often losing everything she has to do so, the Family Court (and personnel) tells the victim that she needs to better communicate with the abuser? That she has to make it work for the children? That her concerns about safety and continued abuse, harassment, or stalking are not valid–she just needs to learn how to co-parent?

A few thoughts on co-parenting for women involved in domestic violence situation:

*Communication is about equality. It is NOT the victim’s fault that she is unable to communicate with the abuser, or make joint parenting decisions. The problem IS the abuse, and the threatening or dangerous behavior.

It is impossible to communicate with a person who does not see you as a human being, who does not respect your rights, and who has caused physical, emotional or bodily harm to you. There is no “co parenting” in an abusive relationship because the abuser will seek to dominate, control, intimidate and otherwise continue to abuse the victim – even using the children as a pawn to do so.

*It is not safe to attempt mediation, couple’s counseling or joint sessions between a victim of domestic violence & their abuser.

*An abuser will not benefit from classes, mediation, therapy or other interventions until they realize they have a problem, that their actions & words are harmful, and decide to be open to suggestions; and willing accept the need to change.

*According to one study, only 5% of abusers really change.

*A victim won’t be helped by mediation, classes or therapy because she will get the message from the Court that something is “wrong” with her, which creates further victimization. And even if the victim uses all the strategies offered, the abuse will continue–it does not solve the original problem.

*Women leaving domestic violence need support, resources & encouragement to heal from the abuse and rebuild their lives. Safety of the victim and child should be a number one priority — not the rights of an abuser.

*Abusive behavior should have consequences, and should be punishable under the law. Harassment Restraining Orders (HRO) and Orders for Protection (OFP) should be taken seriously. NO Court officer should force any woman who expresses safety concerns into any kind of mediation or couples therapy with an abuser.

*Divorce Education is better suited for families who do not have a history of domestic violence; different interventions are required when families violence, incest, or any kind of threat, intimidation, stalking, controlling behavior or violence involved. In fact, abusers will often manipulate these classes, and the professionals involved to gain leverage.

For Further Reading:

A large part of the reduction in domestic violence homicides had been aided by providing victims with safer ways to leave their abuser. Court decisions, particularly in criminal cases taking domestic violence more seriously sent an important message that society no longer tolerated abusive behavior. The frequent custody decisions supporting abusers have undermined this progress and sent the opposite message.

Domestic violence advocates have told me that they are seeing more mothers staying with their abusers and taking his beatings
because they are afraid the custody court will separate them from their children and they won’t be able to protect them. Of course some of these mothers do not survive this decision. At the same time, custody decisions that minimize the significance or fail to recognize the father’s abuse are sending a terrible
message that society will tolerate this abuse..” Barry Goldstein, “Extreme Custody Decisions that Risk Lives”. http://timesupblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/extreme-custody-decisions-that-risk.html?showComment=1311216123158#c1623428036311340788

What influences women when they are making child custody decisions that will bring them into future contact with a violent or controlling ex-husband? Fear, pragmatism, and the belief–sometimes reinforced in mandated divorce education classes–that their children will suffer if both parents are not in their lives, according to a University of Illinois study in the August Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. ..

And, although experts recommend that abused women be screened out of co-parenting classes, such as the class mandated in the two Missouri counties studied, half of the women in the study were directed to participate in the classes, even though all but one of the women’s attorneys knew there had been violence in the relationship.

‘Many women talked about the influence of that class on their thinking about custody,” said Hardesty. “They’d say, I can’t restrict his involvement with the children because I know it’s bad for the kids if we’re not getting along and both involved in their lives.'” Rick Nauert, Phd. “Co-parenting with an Abusive Ex?” http://psychcentral.com/news/2006/10/06/co-parenting-with-an-abusive-ex/310.html

Co-Parenting with an abusive spouse, Protect yourself and your children. Some tips and things to remember when co-parenting with an abusive ex-spouse can be found at this blog: http://coparenting101.org/2010/10/part-2-co-parenting-with-an-abusive-ex-spouse/

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What are YOUR thoughts? Please post below

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