Handling Harassment from a Co-Parent
No matter which way you look at it, ending a relationship is never easy. Some co-parents have no problem staying friends after a breakup while others struggle to speak ever again. In some cases, communication does continue but with unhealthy habits and methods.
Harassment can take several forms, from endless calls or texts to spreading rumours behind someone’s back. Harassment can cause unnecessary stress, sadness, and frustration. Harassment between co-parents can also negatively affect children if they’re caught in the crossfire.
If you are experiencing harassment from your co-parent, there are ways in which you can protect yourself and your kids from their behaviour. Use these 3 strategies when determining the best way to handle harassment from a co-parent.
Talk to someone about it right away
First and foremost, do not wait long to bring the harassment to the attention of someone who can help you deal with it in an appropriate way. Talk to your lawyer about what you and your kids are experiencing. If you have any kind of documentation to support what you've experienced, this will be worth sharing with your lawyer.
If you are in the midst of a custody dispute with your co-parent, your proof of harassment could potentially impact your case. Only a lawyer can advise you on legal matters, so it is important that you bring your concerns and questions to their attention as soon as possible.
You should also bring this to the attention of any mental health professionals you or your kids may be working with. Mental health practitioners, such as therapists, can provide you with a safe space to talk about your co-parent’s behaviour and can offer strategies for easing the emotional stress you and your kids might be facing.
Set clear communication boundaries
Create some rules when it comes to communication. Let your co-parent know that the only way you will communicate with them is through neutral means. This might include limiting face-to-face or phone contact and using written communication instead when you need to speak with each other.
Written communication is much easier to document because you will have tangible evidence of what was said and when. Email or text messaging does provide a way for this to take place, but the problem here is that these kinds of messages can be easily deleted or lost among unrelated correspondence. In a situation where communicating with your co-parent is causing you a great deal of stress, it may be best to separate those conversations from the correspondence you have with others in your life.
One solution is to limit communication to an online tool like the OurFamilyWizard website. OFW provides a private, neutral platform for co-parent communication that is separate from other online correspondence you might have with friends, work, or anyone else. By keeping co-parenting communication contained to a singular platform, parents also protect their children from being caught in the crossfire
Using OurFamilyWizard, your written communications with your co-parent will be accurately documented and readily accessible. Parents have the additional option of allowing lawyers or other family law professionals to oversee their account and directly monitor their communication. Professional access allows family law practitioners to assist parents immediately when the need arises, without having to wait for parents to gather and forward conversation histories or other documentation.
As a way to eliminate contact through other means, parents may wish to pursue a court order that mandates the use of OurFamilyWizard as the only form of communication about their children. No matter how you decide to set your communication boundaries, seek an appropriate solution for your family that works to protect yourself and your kids from harassment coming from a co-parent.
Resist the urge to retaliate
When your co-parent is bombarding you with harassing messages, you may feel a desire to get back at them for this by doing the same. It is important that you resist this urge to retaliate in this way. Retaliation can only make matters worse.
If they are sending you mean-spirited messages, don't respond; and if the message is threatening to you or your kids in any way, take action immediately by contacting your attorney or, when truly necessary, the police.
Harassment from your co-parent may also take the form of them spreading rumours about you to your friends, colleagues, or online. If you hear about it from friends, brush it off and encourage them to do the same. True friends will be able to discern truths from falsehoods.
If the harassment is taking place online, you may consider blocking your co-parent on social media at least for the period in which the harassment is taking place. You might also want to consider going without social media yourself for a period of time. It may be tempting to look at your ex-partner or co-parent's social media pages and see what they've been posting, but in a situation like this, that might not be the healthiest thing for you to do.
Taking yourself off social media also removes one more avenue for the harasser to potentially reach you through. If you worry about deleting your accounts completely, many social media profiles can be temporarily deactivated. Once the harassment is resolved and you feel safe returning to social media, you can simply reactivate when you are ready.
Harassment between co-parents is incredibly inappropriate, no matter which way you look at it. Unfortunately, some co-parents still engage in harassment regardless. If that’s the case, the most important concern should be protecting yourself and your children from this damaging and toxic behaviour.
Do not wait to talk to someone about what you are experiencing, especially someone who can help you to stop it in a healthy way. Establish boundaries as far as how you will communicate with the harasser, and find a means of communication that further protects you and lessens the stress you might feel when talking to this person. Finally, do all you can to fight the urge to get back at your co-parent by returning their harassment.
Experiencing harassment is not only stressful, it can also be extremely disheartening. Going through a divorce or separation isn’t an easy process for anyone involved. And when harassment prolongs the instability of your family, it may feel like you’ll never see the light at the end of the tunnel. But with the right support and strategies, you can protect yourself from harassment and raise your children in a healthy and loving environment.
Healthy boundaries are easier when your co-parenting has a solid foundation.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.