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Feature Article


Co-Parenting After Divorce for Families Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence

Ann Huey, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia
Jennifer Hardesty, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University
Kim Leon, Former State Extension Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia

If you have continued contact with your children's other parent as a result of the custody arrangement or visitation, consider the following ways to ensure the safety and well-being of you and your children:

  • Recognize continued abuse and control attempts. If abuse continues, document it. Keep written records of all interactions with the abuser, including exact times and dates children are picked up and returned, dates and amounts of child support, and any violations of court orders of protection
  • Set boundaries. Decide who has access to the house and how each person can enter the house. For example, who is allowed to enter with a key, and who needs to knock to enter the house? Decide what topics you will talk to each other about and what methods you will use to communicate (in person, by telephone, by e-mail, leaving notes or messages for each other, etc.).
  • Prioritize safety. Exchange children in a neutral public place and consider having a third party present. Inform teachers and other care providers exactly who does and does not have access to your children.
  • Foster positive adjustment for you and children. You or your children may continue to experience symptoms of stress after the divorce. Some symptoms that are commonly reported by people who have experienced domestic violence are:
  • Fear of closeness or difficulty trusting others

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (signs include re-experiencing the traumatic event, feelings of numbness, and constantly feeling "on edge")

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Low self-esteem

The divorce transition may be difficult for your children, even though it may ultimately result in a healthier and happier life for them. Also, children may continue to experience distress even after the domestic violence has ended. Some signs of stress to look for in your children:

  • Fear or anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Physical complaints (e.g. stomach aches or headaches)
  • Aggressive (e.g. biting, hitting, kicking) or defiant behavior
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Problems at school
  • Withdrawal or depression

Encourage your child to communicate his or her feelings. Seek support and help for yourself and your children. Professional counseling can be very beneficial to adults and children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence.

See the feature article "Where to Look for Help if You Have Experienced Domestic Violence" on this website for sources of help.



Last Updated 05/12/2009


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