Separation can become a battle ground, fighting over the children, resorting to dirty tactics to get an upper hand!
There may be allegations made against you to declare you are an unfit parent, an abuser or a substance addict.
You may be shocked, angered or insulted which can make you lash out to defend yourself against the allegations. This can make matters worse as your reaction may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, what should you do?
1. Allegation Analysis
Before you try to defend yourself, assess the allegation. Does the allegation have merit or is it a ploy to invoke the behaviour you are being accused of?
They may have accused you of emotional abuse. Look back at the conversations you have been having which may have got heated, voices raised, shouting expletives or calling each other names. You may think it was justified or that you were both as bad as each other.
You may feel like defending yourself or calling them out on their behaviour too……. but this will just make it escalate further…. and reinforce their allegation that you are an abuser!
STOP! You want to show that you are NOT an abuser so getting into another argument just isn’t going to do that!
They may have accused you of being an unfit parent. Once again, this makes you feel angry, that it is untrue and unfair. Ask calmly why they think that you are an unfit parent so you can assess the allegation. Is it that you can’t care for the children? Why do they think that? Can they give you an example? What was your parenting relationship with your children in their day-to-day care pre-separation? How could you improve?
They may have alleged you are an alcoholic or drug addict. Are you? Do you drink too much or take drugs? Was this way in the past when you were younger? You may have both done it together? Or do you do it now? If so, then you can commit to not doing it whilst in the care of the children or you can commit to taking a test prior to caring for the children. You may feel your ex does it too, so you can also request they take tests pre-care of the kids or commit to not doing it whilst the kids are in either of your care. This can be included in your parenting plan or orders.
2. Modify Behaviour
Modify your communication so as not to be labelled an abuser by ensuring all communication going forward is calm and only discussing child related topics. No blaming, no character smearing nor taking revenge with petty tit for tat actions.
Shift from verbal communication to an auditable method such as a parenting app or email. This will help provide the supporting evidence of how your communication is civil and respectful. Every time you communicate, imagine you are either speaking to your grandmother or a judge to keep yourself in check.
If you do feel you have been triggered, walk away, take deep breaths or count backwards from 100 to 1 until a sense of calm comes over you.
Think of your children’s sad faces, caught in the middle of this family crisis looking to you as parents to be the problem solvers. Let that be you, the one that steps up as the role model.
Is there a parenting after separation course, parenting young children course, anger management course that can demonstrate your conviction to being the best parent you could be for your kids? Is their professional help such as a Divorce Coach, Psychologist or counsellor that can help you during this emotional rollercoaster so it doesn’t escalate into conflict? These resources can help you assess conflict scenarios, identify how they escalated and uncover an alternative approach to get a better outcome. They can also help you craft responses that are calm, solution focused instead of problem focused so you don’t get caught up in email wars.
3. Document Everything
Keep a journal of events that may be used against you and note down date, time, where you were and describe what happened and what was said. Text messages, emails or witnesses of high conflict interactions with your ex should be retained in case you need them as evidence in court.
It isn't just the bad times to document, journal the day with the kids, where you went and what memories you created. If your child had a temperature, document what actions you took ie gave Tommy some children's panadol and snuggled on the lounge watching cartoons. After an hour took his temperature again and it was normal and he said he felt much better or temperature still high so took Tommy to the doctors.
Threats such as “you’ll never see the kids again” or “you’ll pay for this” or “you’ll regret that” should be kept as evidence. Continue to re-enforce via text, email or parenting app that you want to keep communication civil and respectful so that you can both seek solutions to help the children transition and adjust to the new family structure.
Remember, your ex’s opinion of you is just that, so know that your separation has created a minefield and treading carefully is beneficial to avoid explosions.
Allegations may come about as a way to punish you or teach you! They will punish you if they are false or teach you if you need to improve. Recognise the difference to ensure you don't become what you are being accused of!
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner & Parenting Coordinator