Blog post

8 Common Domestic Abuse Tactics After Separation

When victims of domestic violence leave a relationship, we assume they are safe. However, 90% report experiencing post-separation abuse for years or decades after the relationship ended (Sharp-Jeffs et al., 2018). When directed against targets who are parents, these tactics also directly and indirectly harm children.

Harmful abuse tactics after separation

Economic abuse. This can include blocking access to or canceling bank accounts and credit cards, ruining the target’s credit, and not making necessary (and sometimes court-ordered) payments. Economic abuse can be global and life-changing, such as taking out loans in the target’s name, which can (temporarily) prevent them from opening an account with a utility provider or securing a lease for a house. Economic abuse can also consist of a series of seemingly insignificant but ultimately costly actions, such as enrolling a child in activities without paying fees, so the target must pay those unexpected fees or risk disappointment. the child. Or send a child to school without a winter jacket week after week, so the target has to buy several jackets.

Abusers often quit their job or choose to “lose” their job rather than pay child support to the other parent of their children, sometimes rendering that parent (and the children) homeless. An abuser happily informed the mother of his children that he had not paid for the heating oil for the house where she lived with their children, as required by the court, and that he would be picking up the children later. later in the week when his house was too cold to be safe. (She managed to avoid this outcome by selling some of her clothes to pay the oil bill).

Legal abuse refers to the use of legal proceedings and false reports of child abuse to control, harass and impoverish the other parent or seek a change of custody as a means of continued control over the other parent. Domestic abusers often play the role of a loving and caring parent who wants to have part time or more with their children when their real goal is to maintain a pathway to harass the survivor (Morrison, 2015). Often the domestic abuser creates a false narrative (gaslighting) that the other parent should lose much or all of their parenting time because they are “mentally unstable”. Abusers and their lawyers often accuse protective parents of parental alienation when in fact the child is afraid of the abuser because the abuser is bullying the child and has hurt the protective parent in the child’s presence (Meier, 2022).

Insulation. Abusers often work hard to defame their targets, spreading rumors among friends, family, colleagues and congregations. This reputational killing can involve impersonating their ex’s online identity to make them look bad or spreading rumors that the ex has “lost his mind.” Abusers may also tell false stories to their children’s clergy, doctors, therapists, and even teachers, in order to further isolate their ex-partners.

Surveillance, Harassment and Harassment. Surveillance can include apps that track or record their ex-partner’s activities and communications. The abuser may continuously call his ex or send him emails, text messages, and instant messages. If there are children involved, these messages may ostensibly be about child-related issues when their true intent is to interfere as much as possible with the ex-partner’s ability to lead a peaceful life. One survivor told me that her ex texted her every two hours when she had the child with her, more than a dozen times a day, demanding that she tell him what she and her child were doing.

Threats and homicides. Abusers often control their exes with threats. Abusers threaten to spread sexual images and ruin their ex’s reputation and livelihood. They threaten to drive them to financial ruin and prevent the target from seeing their children. They may openly issue threats of bodily harm or a barrage of messages such as “What if something happens to you, God forbid…”.

Unfortunately, abusers sometimes carry out these threats, as evidenced by the high number of homicides after separation. (However, although the risk of intimate partner homicide is highest in the first three months following a separation, separation still reduces the overall risk of intimate partner homicide) (Spencer & Stith, 2020) .

Source: Helena Lopes/Pexels

Child abuse or neglect. If they are in a custody battle (Jeffries, 2016), smart domestic abusers try to avoid blatantly abusing their children. They may, however, drive at dangerously high speeds with their child in the car, or fail to adequately protect the child from COVID-19, insect bites, or sunburn, or allow the child to watch the television all day during his parenting time.

A domestic abuser I know bought his young daughter high heels so he could sneak her on rides at an amusement park where she didn’t meet the height requirement. Another bought his kids chips and soda for dinner twice a week at the local gas station when he had parenting time, announcing to anyone who came that the kids’ “bad mother” had abandoned them ( which was not true at all!). Other aggressors will physically, psychologically or sexually abuse their children to “revenge” their ex-partner.

Counter-parenting is to work against, rather than with, the protective parent. Many abusers don’t mind hurting their children if they can hurt their ex-partner in the process (Peled, 2000). Those engaged in counter-parenting will frustrate the protective parent’s efforts to have children complete their education or complicate transitions or the exchange of assets from one parent to another.

A father who had never shown any interest in his daughter seemed determined to turn her from a studious and popular child into a delinquent pariah, dyeing her hair green and then, when the mother objected, shaving her head of the girl. The girl was so upset that she begged her father to allow her to be homeschooled, and the father took her out of school without the mother’s permission. Counter-parenting is also about making phone calls and virtual visits as tense as possible rather than facilitating harmony.

Abusers rarely give up control when a relationship or marriage ends. Instead, they may try to wreak havoc in the lives of their ex-partners and continue to exercise coercive control in any way possible, often through child-related issues (Fontes, 2015). Courts and other institutions need to be on guard against unwittingly serving as arms that extend the abuser’s reach after separation (Saunders et al., 2016).

To find a therapist near you, visit Psychology Today’s Directory of Therapies.