Unfortunately, many abusers are not yet ready to give up their power and control after the couple separates so the abuse continues. This is often referred to as post-separation abuse. Women may have to deal with ongoing issues for months or even years after their formal family law case is over, especially when there are children.
Post-separation abuse makes it very challenging for women and their children to move on. However, there are strategies a woman can implement to make life after court a little easier.
Are there safety issues?
The first step for a woman in building a workable post-separation relationship with her former partner is for her to identify any safety concerns and put measures in place to reduce the risk of harm to her and her children.
- Does she need to change the locks on her home?
- Does she need to be careful how she uses her devices and social media?
- Does she need to manage access exchanges in a particular way?
Is a relationship still necessary?
Once she has addressed safety issues, she can move on to identify the reason(s) she needs a relationship with her former partner.
- Does she need to stay connected because she and her ex are co-parenting children? What does the order require?
- Is she staying in touch because she is still close to his ageing parents (or perhaps even involved in providing support or care to them)? Is there a way she can sever her relationship with them from her relationship with her ex? Can she trust them?
- Is she in the process of selling the family home so she and her ex need to be able to discuss offers and decide together when to accept one? Can this be done through their lawyers rather than directly between the two of them?
If she and her ex are co-parenting children, she will need to be in a relationship with him for some time — possibly many years — and will need to be able to have countless conversations about the children, some of them difficult.
On the other hand, if she doesn’t have kids and just needs to communicate with him for the purpose of selling the family home, this is a short-term relationship with a relatively straightforward purpose.
Communication tips when there’s post-separation abuse
Whatever the reasons for the ongoing relationship between a woman and her former partner, they will have to communicate with one another. The extent and mode of communication will vary from situation to situation. Safety needs to be the woman’s first consideration.
Women whose former partners are involved with the children, especially young children, will likely have to communicate regularly and perhaps even frequently. Even when children become young adults, there will be times in their lives (graduation, marriage, serious illness or injury) when a woman and her ex may need to communicate with one another. And, if and when there are grandchildren, communication may again become an issue.
Even for former couples where there was no abuse during the relationship, positive post-separation communication can be challenging. Hurt feelings, a lack of trust, possibly new partners — can all interfere with effective communication even if there are no safety considerations.
Where there is post-separation abuse, all of the usual challenges exist, but there may also be ongoing power and control issues, and safety may be a factor.
Many abusers use the children as an excuse to insist on more communication than is actually required, and many women are so used to going along with what their partner wants that they do not realize they can set limits on communication after the court case is over.
Here are just a few of the do’s and don’ts we suggest.
- Schedule conversations with the ex-partner when the woman has time, is not distracted and when the children are not within hearing distance
- Prepare before the conversation: make notes about what she want to talk about, perhaps send an agenda to their former partner ahead of it
- Take notes during the conversation and keep them
- Be focused, clear and precise in their language
- Set and maintain clear boundaries re topics to be covered, length of the call, etc.
- End the conversation if the former partner becomes abusive or threatening or if they are not getting anywhere
- BIFF: brief, informative, friendly firm
- Use the children as messengers
- Meet in person in either her home or the former partner’s home
- Rush into conversations without planning them
- Throw anything out: telephone messages, emails, letters, texts etc.
- Get sidetracked during the conversation
- Make assumptions
- Get angry
A woman cannot control how her former partner communicates with her, but she can control her own communication. Many more tips are available on our site, FamilyCourtAndBeyond.ca.