As part of my practice involves high conflict divorces and separations, I hear this question a lot. So, why not write about it and share one lawyer’s opinion?
The hard truth
Leaving a domestic violence relationship is the hardest step. So, you already have a lot to be proud of!
But when you have children together, your parenting duties continue after separation or divorce. The safety comes from knowing you control your surroundings, communications and exchange locations. You can keep your new residential address secret. You can use communication tools that track content and communications. You can exchange children in public locations or exchange children through the help of a third party. You have a lot of support. You are not alone.
Now focus on keeping the safety while jointly parenting children. In order to do this well, you must understand and communicate how the abuse happens and where the abuser exerts control. This way your lawyer can craft circumstances that limit or head off potentially dangerous exchanges and communications.
Reach out and garner your community resources. The Court Order is only a framework and rules governing the framework. Community support is the structure and practical glue that holds up this framework.
It’s a fluid concept
When you separate from the abuser, especially at initial separation, it is important to keep your safety a paramount consideration. A lot of domestic violence fatalities and serious domestic violence incidents occur during this time period as the abuser has lost control over you. It’s a fluid concept and parenting arrangements should be reviewed when a serious incident occurs or when there is a change in circumstance that affects the current parenting arrangement.
It is important to report concerns about the abuser’s parenting or statements the children have made to both the Police and Children’s Services. Battle domestic violence by speaking out. These statements can also be used to support your Court applications for supervised visits, to terminate visits and for sole decision making. Remember this is a fluid concept. Meaning the Court will consider the history of domestic violence including reported concerns to the authorities: Police and Children’s Services. Consistent reporting by you, the school, community support workers, the daycare and the children’s doctor are very valuable. It helps the Court understand what the concern is and provides evidence from impartial third parties.
Remember this is about showing the history of domestic violence, its impact on the children and the harm the domestic violence has had. It is not a contest about who is the better parent even though it may feel that way.
Remember to ask for help. Do not exchange the children alone and always exchange them in a public place. Remember to use public places that the children normally attend or visit such as a recreational center, MacDonald’s or other such restaurants, in a crowded mall or near a police station. Also, watch what time the exchanges are set for. Do not agree to late night or early morning exchanges, if possible. Safety increases during exchanges if it happens in public and in crowded places. Ask for a trusted friend or family member to be in the car with you during these exchanges. This way you have someone who can call for help if the need arises.
If you have a supervised visitation schedule, be sure to speak with the visit supervisor so you know who they are. Many visit supervision agencies have an intake process, participate in this. Also, ask the visit supervisor to provide a report about the supervised visits.
If there is a lot of verbal abuse, consider using Our Family Wizard or another such communication tool. Make sure the communication tool monitors the use of language and tone as well as offers a printable record of the communications. Kindly note there are fees for these programs so shop around and compare prices. Any printable communications may be used as evidence in Court.
Find a family lawyer who is a “good fit”
It is important to hire lawyers with experience and sensitivity to domestic violence issues in family law. Meeting with several lawyers in consultations will help determine if it’s a “good fit”. Look at your communication styles and see if communication is clear. Keep an open mind as you may hear advice that you are not fond of. A lawyer’s job is to give perspective on the law and how it applies to your circumstances. Make sure your lawyer keeps you updated on each step of your family matter, gathers appropriate documents and allows you to review draft Court documents before filing Court documents as well as prepares you for Court attendances. If you find issues in communication or you do not get to review Court documents before you sign off then find a different lawyer. It is not a “good fit”.
The Judge is concerned about what is in a child’s best interests. The Judge will review both parties’ evidence and weigh both parties’ evidence when making a decision. The Judge will place significant weight on impartial evidence being police officer testimony, children’s services testimony, or other such community agencies. Be sure to bring up any past criminal convictions that the abuser may have. You can still search for records in the Criminal Section of the Courthouse to see what comes up under the abuser’s name. Remember charges are not the same as convictions. Convictions confirm a Court has found the abuser guilty of a criminal charge.
Lastly, any Court Order dealing with parenting issues is reviewable upon a material change in circumstances. This may include unsupervised parenting with the abuser as the Judge can find domestic violence between the parties but find a party still is a good parent. This is why reporting incidents that involve children or are witnessed by children is very important.
Reach Out and Seek Help. If you need legal advice, we are just a consultation away. Please note there is a fee for this consultation and we may be reached at (780) 761-1070 or fill out our consultation form on this website.
We are happy to help answer any questions you may have!
Author: Ning Ramos
Barrister and Solicitor