Is co-parenting possible when violent marriage ends?

March 18th, 2009 - 5:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 18 (IANS) When a marriage brimming with violence goes to pieces, is co-parenting possible? It depends on whether intimate terrorism or situational violence was involved, says a new study.
“There’s a tendency to treat all violence as if it’s the same, but different types of violence require different interventions,” said Jennifer Hardesty, University of Illinois (U of I) assistant professor of human and community development, who conducted the study.

“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,” she said.

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 conflict management 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.

According to Hardesty, renegotiating boundaries after divorce poses unique challenges and risks for abused women. “Separating from an abusive partner 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.

Conversely, women who had experienced situational violence in their marriages often described safe co-parenting relationships characterised by respect for each other’s boundaries, said an U of I release.

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.

The study was published in Family Relations.

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