If you have been involved with a partner who was emotionally or physically abusive, you are probably relieved and thankful to have gotten them out of your life. If you have a child together, however, you know it’s not quite as simple: You need to balance keeping your child safe with the possibility that your ex might get visitation with or even custody of the child. How can you ensure that your ex isn’t in the position to put your child in danger? Read on for tips on getting custody from an abusive ex-partner.
Document Everything You Can
If you are or were being abused, it is important to have some type of documentation if at all possible. This will be your proof that you are telling the truth. You might have photographs of physical injuries in the case of physical abuse. Doctors’ bills, chart notes, documentation of emergency room visits, and other physical proof of abuse will be helpful.
Emotional or verbal abuse will be harder to prove. A therapist or the staff at a domestic violence shelter can testify on your behalf. So can friends, family members, and others who might have witnessed the abuse. (Just hearing about it from you and reporting what you’ve said won’t be an effective testimony in the case of friends and family.) If you have threatening emails or texts, keep them and take screenshots. In some states, it’s permissible to record telephone calls, which will help if threats or abuse takes place over the phone.
Talk to Your Legal Resource Group
If you are working with a legal resource group, they will be able to recommend resources that will help you get the truth out about your spouse. For example, you might need counseling to help you cope with your abuse in a healthy way. Parenting evaluations can also help the judge know the full story of how each of you relates to your children and each other.
A guardian ad litem’s job is to represent your children; they will usually meet with both you and your ex and will contact references for both of you. If your child is old enough, the GAL will meet with and speak to them, too. This is a good way to get a neutral third party to examine your ex to see if they would potentially be putting the children in danger.
Request Supervised Visitation
In most cases, though not all, it is better for children to be able to develop a relationship with both parents. In the case of domestic violence, it is often safer for visitation with the abusive parent to be supervised. This means that you would drop off your child with a trusted third party, such as a social worker. In some cases, it might be a grandparent or aunt or uncle. The interactions between the abusive parent and the child would be supervised to keep the child safe while still allowing a relationship to develop and grow.
Call Child Protective Services and the Police If Needed
If your abusive ex does get custody or unsupervised visitation with your child, it is important to be vigilant of any signs of abuse. If you see bruising or injuries on your child or if they are very clingy or otherwise not acting like themselves after a visit, you can report this to child protective services in your area. You can also file a police report. They will investigate to find out whether any abuse has taken place. Be sure to take photos or videos or document your findings. You can also call your attorney or legal resource group about your concerns to find out what your next step should be.
In most cases, it would be unwise to refuse to send your child on their scheduled visitation unless their safety is truly at stake, as this could put you in contempt of the court orders.
Keep Yourself Safe
In many cases, domestic violence is directed at an adult partner and not at a child. If this is the case in your relationship and a judge has granted your ex custody or visitation, you will need to comply with the court orders unless your child is in danger. You will also need to keep yourself safe.
Try to always have an adult with you when you need to have in-person contact with your ex. Bring a friend or relative along when you bring your children for visitation. Also, meet in a public place; do not have your ex go to your house or go to his or her house. Some police stations have a well-lit area available for estranged parents to meet to exchange their children; see if that is available in your area and feel free to use that option if needed.
You might consider getting a restraining order against your ex, as well. This will both serve as a warning and as added documentation. If your ex approaches you after you have a restraining order, you have a valid reason to call the police for help and this might help you get sole custody of your child.
Get the Help You Need
Parenting a child along with an abusive ex can be traumatic and difficult. You might have been financially dependent on your ex-spouse; this is one way that abusers often maintain control over their victims. You might have also been emotionally dependent and even have suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. It is important to have a trusted financial advisor and therapist to help you get through these issues. You might need to apply for welfare benefits for a short time so you can get on your feet after not having had financial independence. There is no shame in getting the help you need to be an effective and loving parent to your child.
Contact National Family Solutions to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and your child from an abusive ex and parent.