A good family court order or agreement about the arrangements for the children can facilitate a workable relationship between a woman and her ex-partner and lessen opportunities for post-separation abuse. The more details that are set out with precision in the order, the less room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding or manipulation, and the fewer issues the former couple will have to talk about.
With this order in place, a woman and her ex-partner can build a structure for their ongoing, but new, relationship.
Details to consider
A family court order can include details such as:
- How are child arrangements handled? When, where and how will the parents pick up and drop off the children?
- Is she comfortable with her former partner coming into her house when he is picking up or dropping off the children? What might the conditions on this be (e.g. Ring the bell? Stay in the front hall? Have a friend present? Go to the children’s rooms?)
- What happens if her former partner arrives late to pick up the children or not at all?
- How often will they communicate? What format will they use? (in writing, in person, by telephone, etc.) What if there is an emergency? Are there boundaries on social media?
- What will they do when a conflict develops — between the two of them about a parenting decision or with a child who does not like a parenting decision they have made?
- How will they integrate new partners into this relationship? (For communication, pickups and drop-offs, engaging with the children directly, decision making, discipline)
The woman and her former partner will need to learn how to have a relationship as parents and not as partners. They are now more like business partners, raising their children as well as they can. They will need to have boundaries and limitations in this relationship and a detailed court order will help.
If he breaches the order
Many abusers ignore or breach family court orders. A court order that is clear about consequences for failing to follow it is a helpful beginning to managing an abuser who does not think the law applies to him. A police enforcement clause may be useful, although not all police will become involved even when there is such a clause.
A woman should make a number of copies of her order. She can keep one at her home, carry one with her, leave one in the glove box of her car and give one to anyone who might be involved if her former partner breaches the order (e.g. day care workers, school principal, extended family members, security at her workplace). It is much easier for the police to intervene if they can see the order.
Keeping track of every time her former partner does not follow the order, even if the breach seems small at the time, is also helpful. She can use a small calendar to do this, and just make a short note on the relevant date stating what happened (or what did not happen). By keeping track of every breach, it is easier to identify patterns over time, which will be helpful if she has to return to court. She should keep this calendar somewhere private.
It is also important for her to let her lawyer know when her former partner has breached the family court order, so they can keep a record, too.
If it is safe and the woman feels confident enough, she could communicate directly with her partner about his breaches.
If the order has a police enforcement clause in it, she can call the police when there has been a serious breach. They may be able to assist in enforcing the order, but even if they cannot, her call creates a record that may be useful in the future.
A woman who is dealing with a former partner who breaches the order frequently, especially if those breaches are related to arrangements for the children or create safety concerns, may need to go to court to ask the judge to change the existing order to reflect this behaviour.
It is important for her to remember that her partner can use the opportunity to allege that she has not been following the order and to try to make his own changes. She should discuss this with her lawyer and obtain legal advice before making a decision.