Identifying Verbal Abuse and Harassment by a Co-Parent


Co Parents and Verbal Abuse

You married. You had kid(s). Then you divorced and are a co-parent. This means that you remain inextricably tied and in necessary communication with your ex-partner until your kid(s) are adults. Unfortunately, co-parenting can bring emotional complications if your relationship with your ex is anything but copacetic. While ideally simple, many people ignore toxic behavior from their ex-partner “for the sake of the kids.” 

Often distressing and emotionally charged, some divorces can end up with an ex-spouse not fully moving on and engaging in verbal abuse and harassment long after you sign your papers. Learn what these concepts entail here, and, in Part II, we will share steps and resources to protect your boundaries and emotional safety during the years of “co-parenting.” 

Divorced Co-Parenting 101

Walking out of your final divorce proceeding may bring complex feelings – loss, joy, sorrow, apprehension, anticipation. Most people don’t successfully prepare for the changing dynamics that co-parenting can bring– and the emotions you may have.

That is partially why many states require divorcing parents to take a Child Impact Class prior to finalizing divorce. Its purpose is neatly spelled out here, but it can be boiled down very simply in the catch phrase of “Divorced Co-Parenting 101”:  

Put your differences aside for the wellbeing of your child(ren), unless you are at risk. Communicate effectively, be pleasant around your ex-partner and do whatever is necessary to not layer your relationship baggage on to your kid(s). You don’t need to like one another, but you do need to behave civilly. You are both entitled to your feelings. However, no one is entitled to behave poorly as a result. 

And most importantly –

Using your hurt or angry feelings as justification for hostile language or behavior is defined as verbal abuse and domestic harassment.

These are often misunderstood and are so very important to clarify in the context of co-parenting arrangements.

Verbal Abuse – Never OK in Co-Parenting

“He/she just sends hostile and negative emails, texts, calls and/or written letters. I know it’s ongoing, but it’s fine. It doesn’t impact me. I’m fine.”

Does he/she berate you consistently? Ignore you request for the communication to stop? Either ignore you or belittle you in front of your kid(s) or to them behind your back? Is it challenging to get decisions made about/for your kid(s) without he/she raising personal differences or grievances that are irrelevant to the decision at hand?

It is not fine.

Verbal Abuse is one form of Domestic Violence. This is any ongoing pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to try and maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. It is not just physical.  

Common forms of verbal abuse are when your current or ex-partner is:

  • Constantly criticizing you, your morals, your value, your intelligence, your looks, your parenting abilities, your family and friends, etc.;
  • Calling you names, telling you that you are crazy or evil, making fun or criticizing you to others, harassing you to cause you doubt or question your own view of reality (gaslighting), insisting they are always right, and you are always wrong;
  • Damaging your relationship with your children by getting the children to participate in the abuse (e.g., telling your children to refer to you by a nasty name), telling the children that you are worthless or that they should not listen to you, causing fear in you that they will turn your children against you, etc.

Domestic Harassment

“There’s just nothing I can do. We have kid(s) together, and we have to co-parent for years still. I am afraid he/she will lie about me to my kid(s), will express strong anger about me around he/she/them or will play victim so that my kid(s) hate me. It’s easier to not rock the boat.”

Domestic harassment takes many forms, including Verbal Abuse. This is harmful to you and ultimately the kids; it causes fear and manipulation.

Harassment is when someone intentionally causes emotional harm to you on a regular, ongoing basis. He/she may call/email/text you to verbally abuse you, threaten to hurt or also harass people you care about, post derogatory claims about you online, tell you they spread information to others about you, or otherwise berate you repeatedly for a period of time.

Your ex-partner’s reasoning for doing it is irrelevant.

Now what

It is hard sometimes to realize what is happening in your dynamic as a co-parent. It can feel a bit out of your control. However, go back to “Divorced Co-Parenting 101” – it ultimately should always be about your child(ren).

You can have control over your actions. Showing verbal and communication respect to the other co-parent is an important initial part of helping your children transition and setting up your protection going forward. It’s an especially difficult task in the face of a hostile co-parent, but it’s still critical for your children’s mental health.

This does not mean accept the abuse or harassment. If you are concerned about physical injury or other danger, contact the authorities and a lawyer immediately.

Part II shares tools and resources to use while co-parenting with a verbally abusive and harassing ex-partner. But…

For today, be kind to yourself. Be kind for your kids.
You are always stronger than you believe.
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Hi All, I’m Rebecca! I’ve worked in marketing strategy in the healthcare and wellness industry since college and my MBA for 20+ years (yikes!!). I’m blessed to have combined my geeky professional self with my passions: awareness of and mental health supports for disenfranchised populations and communities. I volunteer in educating the greater community about the real experiences of those in (and out of) recovery from the disease of addiction. I was so honored to give a TED talk in 2019 about removing stigma and shame by simply shifting the language we use, as this is near and dear me. Yet, at the end of the day, my family is everything in my world. I live with my husband Mike and two teenage sons in Lee, along with a crazy cattle dog (Maggie), cat (Leia), fish, 100 snails and soon to be chickens. While a Jersey shore girl at heart, living in MA and NH since the late 90s has fully converted me to a New England sports fan and avid skier, hiker and kayaker. I guess I’m a perfectly imperfect, harmonious, and happy runner, who cares deeply for humans, and Mother Nature. Follow me on Instagram @mommabear5786 to see what life in a house of boys, recovery, loud music, a bit of attitude, and nature looks like!