Study: When a violent marriage ends, is co-parenting possible?

When a marriage that has included violence ends, is co-parenting possible? It depends on whether intimate terrorism or situational violence was involved, says a new University of Illinois study published in Family Relations.

"There's a tendency to treat all as if it's the same, but different types of violence require different interventions," said Jennifer Hardesty, a U of I assistant professor of human and community development.

"In intimate terrorism, the goal is to control the other person, and the abuser may use not only physical violence but also psychological and financial abuse to dominate his spouse. This calls for rigid, formal post-divorce safety measures, including supervised visitation of children and treatment approaches, such as a batterer's intervention group or alcohol or substance abuse treatment," she said.

"Situational violence is more likely a result of poor rather than a desire to control a partner. There may have been a heated argument about finances that ended with a shove. These fathers can probably learn new ways to manage their anger, and they do have the potential to safely co-parent their children," she said.

Hardesty's study used in-depth interviews with 25 women to explore differences in their co-parenting relationships with their abusive ex-husbands.

Role differentiation was a big problem for fathers who had engaged in intimate terrorism, said the researcher. "These men had difficulty separating their role as a father from their desire to hold onto their relationship with the mother. And because they weren't able to differentiate those roles very well, control issues and abuse of the women tended to continue after the separation."

According to Hardesty, renegotiating boundaries after divorce poses unique challenges and risks for abused women. "Separating from an does not necessarily end the violence. Instead, separation may threaten an abuser's sense of control and instigate more violence," she said.

Risk may continue if former partners co-parent after divorce because abusers still have access to their former wives, she said. "Women in the study who had been victims of intimate terrorism all continued to be afraid that their ex-husbands would hurt them or their children," she said.

In contrast, women who had experienced situational violence in their marriages often described safe co-parenting relationships characterized by respect for each other's boundaries.

Currently the legal system assumes it's in a child's best interests to maintain relationships with both parents after a divorce, Hardesty said. "As a result, women's attempts to protect their own and their children's safety are often undermined or overlooked," she noted.

Parent education classes that help participants redefine boundaries around their parental and spousal roles and teach conflict resolution and anger management skills may help persons who have engaged in situational couple violence, she said.

Different approaches for mothers and fathers work best when intimate terrorism has occurred, she said. For mothers, the course should contain information on coercive control, safety planning, risk assessment, and the legal and social benefits available to them and their children. For fathers, the classes should reinforce a rigid and enforced separation between them and their children and their access to mothers.

"In cases of intimate terrorism, parent education would ideally be part of a set of programs aimed at prioritizing safety and assessing risk over time if children's relationships with fathers are to continue," she said.

"Eventually we hope the courts will be able to screen for different types of violence and target interventions, but we're not yet able to put this into practice. More research is needed to tease out these difficulties. Until we can, I think we have to err on the side of safety," she added.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (news : web)

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Mar 17, 2009
Funny, "women=victim", however I know MANY MANY absolutely crazy insane women that fit in the psychopath category better than in the victim one. So, who is the terrorist there? western people assume that women are always the victims, please, read the news. Though some women (and unfortunately some men) read the news and when they find "she cut his head when he was sleeping" they think/say "oh, poor victim, she MUST suffer so much with that monster"!!! Give us a break, women are SCARY and INSANE... that is why most men do not want to get marry today!!!

Mar 18, 2009
I hate stories like this. The assumptions are always

a) Domestic violence is only ever perpetrated by men
b) Every allegation of assault is justified

which, of course, is rubbish. Women are more than capable of perpetrating violence themselves, or lying about it to get the house and kids.

Mar 19, 2009
As a female, I fail to decide whether I like or hate the article.

People don't divorce for an accidental "shove", there either is repeating violence or there isn't. And when there is, the other partner either breaks the relationship before it gets out of control or s/he doesn't do it on time and the violence gets life-threatening. And for me, if there is a life-threatening violence, the abuser, be it man or woman, should never see his/her child. I don't believe that you love your child while trying to kill his mother or father. Or even if you do love that child, still the institutions have to keep you far from him/her, just like if your in the jail for attempted murder.

And for the scared males that commented before me, I don't know how many times you were beaten by a woman, but my mother was repetitively beaten by my father, until she managed to get a divorce and leave the bastard. Yes, women can be much more psychopathic and in those cases, the court should have the same attitude to them, as to men. But this certainly isn't an argument not to separate children from violent parents. At all! Only in mild cases, after extensive anger therapy, the violent parent should be allowed to contact the child.

Mar 19, 2009
The first two comments are just ignorant, and they are obviously not speaking from an educated platform.
It has been proven that abusive behavior is progressive. There is a pattern that escalates. ie. property destruction, animal abuse, shoving, squeezing, hair pulling, strangling/punching, etc etc. If the behavior escalates and is displayed towards a spouse, the kids are the next likely targets. Once the victim removes themselves there is an increased chance that the abuser will find another outlet for the abusive behavior, this could very well be the children. Also, depending on the physcological condition of the abuser, the children could represent an 'extension' of the victim and create even more anger and frustration for the abuser who, without professional help, will have problems controling his/her actions.

Mar 20, 2009
The followup study needs to investigate the applicability of the findings when the gender roles are reversed.

This study takes an important step in differentiating between different types of negative relationships (duh!), but this step is most definitely incomplete -- It appears to be a bit irresponsible to publish before controlling for gender (and the roles in the relationship).

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