This is a living post of resources and advice gleaned from the Baobabs Women’s Support Group.
The same questions and situations come up frequently and it is our hope that this post can grow and evolve to help guide others through this difficult journey without having to reinvent the wheel so often!
Hang in there, warrior!
Preparing to leave a high conflict relationship…
Do not underestimate the potential for violence or manipulation of law enforcement. If there has been any physical abuse, threats of abuse, refusal to allow you to leave a room or the home, following you when you leave, tracking your car or phone, or violent rages where walls were hit or personal items thrown, and especially if this person has weapons, exercise extreme caution. What this person was capable of while maintaining the relationship is a small preview of their lack of limits when you become their enemy.
Real life situations from members:
- Many instances of phones being tracked with software
- Instances of trackers installed on vehicles or vehicles disabled
- Loss of control in the moment resulting in violent assaults (always report any violence to the police to get it documented)
- When police are involved in an altercation, fabricating stories about you being mentally ill so that it is documented in a police report (always get a copy of every police report and know that you can make a statement that must be appended to the report after the fact)
- Fabricating evidence (scratching themselves, burning their own belongings, sending themselves death threats on made-up email accounts with your name or the name of a family member, spray painting death threats on their own property…) and then filing false police reports
- Abusing or stealing personal pets
- Threatening friends or family members
- Filing for protective orders, restraining orders or stalking injunctions against you or your supportive family members or friends (these are automatically approved without so much as a review of the evidence, and will negatively impact your life until you can get into court to get them overturned)
Consider joining a support group or investing in coaching from a high conflict divorce specialist. This is a difficult endeavor involving the family law and, often, the criminal justice system. It is also an isolating experience where family and friends may not understand the reality or may burn-out from the ongoing nature of the conflict.
I am available for virtual coaching regardless of where you are located. My physical practice is located in a private residence so that, if you are local, you can receive private support without your partner recognizing the home as a business if they follow you. We can also meet in a public space like a coffee shop or library.
If you are located in or near Salt Lake County, learn more about the Baobabs Women’s Support Group.
Preparing your divorce decree and parenting plan…
Advice from real parents:
“When I approached my parenting plan/custody agreement, I never thought of the things that could change in my life or my ex’s life that would affect our arrangement. I also went in to it wanting to be fair to my ex-husband. In retrospect, I should have been thinking solely of what was best for my son. I wish I would have had someone objective evaluate our plan and offer feedback including how the judge and court may look at the situation. I think that we tend to give in a lot because we’re so burnt out and they’ve worn us down and we’re tired of fighting.”
- Insist on legal final say. Try your very, very, very, hardest to hang on to having the “final say” in decisions, even if you must sacrifice elsewhere.
- Be wary of any stipulation that gives a controlling coparent opportunities to exert that control as a weapon. Example: Avoid a stipulation that you are required to have written permission to take your child out of state; this can lead to leverage to prevent reasonable family vacations (It’s more common is to require notification only).
- Clarify all the details.
- Which parent drops off? Which parent picks up? At what times?
- How long must a parent wait for leaving with the child if the other parent does not show up for a pick-up or drop-off? What happens in that instance?
- How are you allowed to communicate? What if a parent asks the other for an approval and gets no response?
- Do not get stuck in the weeds. If you find yourself trying to control your ex’s life in your parenting plan, such as identifying when they can date, when they can introduce the children to their new partner, which of their family members can see the children, whether the children can have sleepovers with your ex’s family…it’s time to step back and notice that you are now behaving as the controlling coparent in a situation where you are relinquishing such influence.
Problem Solving Coparenting Decisions or Conflict…
“If I could give one piece of incredibly valuable advice to myself after my divorce, it would be to avoid any and all conflict, let go of control, and be patient. Every attempt to enforce decree violations only made my life worse, and in the big picture created more conflict for the children…
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY. Let everything else go. Live in peace instead.”
- Document everything. Create a private system that isn’t too taxing, otherwise you won’t keep it up, and you never know when these details will be very important to prove a pattern or to defend yourself against an accusation. If you use a calendar on your phone, you can create all day events with a code title that you can easily search later to pull all of these notes up at once, by date.
- Take pictures of any bruises, holes in walls, broken glass, dents in car doors, etc. Save voicemails or texts that are abusive or inappropriate.
- Put your voice recorder or video button on the quick access screen of your phone so that you can easily trigger it without looking. Video will pick up audio even if your phone is in your pocket – just keep the microphone end poking out. Record any potential problematic interaction.
- Avoid any face to face interactions, period. If you must interact, do it in a public space, record it, take a witness, or during very volatile periods, call police dispatch for an office to “keep the peace.” Do not feel like a burden by doing so, law enforcement would rather keep the peace than manage a domestic violence incident.
- Before you have a decree, it’s the wild west. You both have full rights to your children and no agreed upon schedule that has not been approved by a court can be enforced by the police. If things are turning ugly and/or dragging out, file for temporary orders, which can stipulate a schedule and award temporary child support.
- Your divorce decree is a court order. Unless there are court orders that supersede your decree after the fact, the court will always default back to your decree. That means, even if your coparent agreed in writing to a different holiday schedule, there is absolutely no enforcing this agreement. If they change their mind or don’t drop off the kids according to the new agreement, you simply need to roll with it. This is why it is best to simply follow your decree when dealing with a volatile coparent. The kids often get stuck in the middle of these last minute backstabs.
- Contested Modifications and Orders to Show Cause are expensive, time-consuming and not guaranteed. Again, pick your battles wisely. Your attorney will likely be more than happy to take your money and file whatever you want. This is almost always a losing battle where only the attorneys win. Consider how your coparent responds to such threats to their control, they likely will delay, force your attorney to respond to lengthy filings in order to drain your bank account, or file their own motions full of lies about you in order to muddy the water. Judges are not clairvoyant. They avoid making decisions when they do not know who is telling the truth.
- Do not rely on receiving legal fees. A few judges (smartly) use legal fees as a tool to decrease misbehavior and recognize the burden of enforcing a divorce decree by relieving the parent who has brought the motion from the cost of doing so. Unfortunately, the reality is that most commissions are not able to assign legal fees (must be escalated to a judge) and most judges are wary of ‘blaming’ one party over another, especially if it is unclear who is lying.
- Keep ALL communication with your coparent consistently unemotional, professional and terribly brief. Yes, this is sooo hard. It is the most powerful tool you have though. Do not engage in the fight. Do not spit your emotions into an email. Do not react to any abuse. This is what they want.
- Never ever speak ill of your coparent in front of or to your children. If your children are venting about your coparent, do not jump on the bandwagon. Simply listen, empathize, and consider being supportive of the relationship even though it is hard. Your child MUST process their relationship with the other parent on their own time and in their own way. What they need MOST from you is a safe, unconditionally supportive home base.
Utah Attorneys, Mediators and Custody Evaluators…
Hands-down Best Utah Mediator: