I have observed and listened to friends who have been divorced, some because of domestic violence, some for other reasons. What I have concluded is that it is different going through divorce due to abuse compared to other reasons.
When a couple separates for a reason other than domestic violence, they can work together, make joint decisions about the marital assets, co-parenting and even become friends after some time has passed. They can be amicable in their dealings with each other.
When a couple separates because of domestic violence, many of those things cannot happen. The best piece of advice given when a victim leaves an abuser is to cut off all contact. The problem arises when there are children because contact is essential and cannot be stopped. C0-parenting becomes an exercise of manipulation, control, and an opportunity for continued abuse.
Every decision, every division of the life lived together, it’s all a opportunity for control and manipulation for the abuser. When my friend left her abusive husband, he told her that he didn’t have any responsibility to pay child or spousal support because he was providing a home for them, all they had to do was return home. Of course, this was wrong and he was ordered to pay child and spousal support back to the date he should have paid it in the beginning.
Every time I have to ask my ex for something for the children, he argues or he uses the request against me. He has refused any treatment for our children if it will cost him money, including occupational therapy, orthodontist work, and other services recommended by their doctors.
The justice system is also skewed against victims of abuse. In court, divorce proceedings are treated as simply a marital breakdown. Unless severe abuse can be proven, criminally and medically, against the children, the abuser is given the same consideration as the victim. The court system seems to refuse to consider domestic violence against a parent as abusive against the child as well. Many women return to the abuser in an effort to be present so they can protect the children. Courts too often grant the abuser full or split custody, placing them back in a position of abuse, destroying the reason many women used to find the courage to leave, to protect their children.
It’s a challenging thing to divorce from an abuser. It takes courage and strength. It means recognizing the abuse, understanding that they will continually try to control, hurt or manipulate you through or because of the children. It means you can never fully be 100% free of the abuser. Divorce is not simply an end to a relationship, it is a piece of freedom, it is the opportunity to live outside of abuse. It takes strength, wisdom and courage to know how to deal with the abuser on an ongoing basis. Setting and enforcing boundaries, knowing that they will be pushed and pressed at every opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, it is easier to be divorced from an abuser than to live with an abuser, but it’s not the end of the story. Those who are outside of the relationship will not always understand this dynamic and this can result in a lack of support after some time has passed.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep believing in yourself, give yourself grace to keep healing. Set your boundaries. If you can’t go “no contact”, go written contact. Keep communication via email or text so you can keep a record of agreements and conversations. There are ways to work around it. The farther you get from the abusive relationship, the easier it will be to manage your emotions and boundaries around the abuser.