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Women who walk away from violent marriages continue to be harassed while raising kids

Even after getting divorced from an abusive husband, women who are in a co-parenting situation still face conflict, volatility, and uncertainty.

sex and relationships Updated: Nov 02, 2017 10:38 IST
Asian News International, Washington DC
Women who had experienced coercive controlling violence also saw the least co-parenting support and communication about child rearing.(Shutterstock)

When a marriage that has included violence ends, what does the first year of co-parenting look like? A new study has shed some light on the matter. Researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to find out how co-parenting varies during the first year after separation for mothers who have experienced different types of violence in their marriages. Would there be continued harassment and conflict for these mothers or would there be support for each other as co-parents?

“We know with intimate partner violence, when women leave those relationships, that initial period and through the first year can be particularly dangerous for women in some abusive relationships,” said researcher Jennifer Hardesty. The team was interested in the specific type of violence the mothers had experienced in their marriages: coercive controlling violence or situational couple violence. They found that, while both types of violence are serious, women’s experiences in the year after separation varied based on the type of violence they had experienced in their marriages.

The two types are distinguished by the context in which the violent acts occur, Hardesty said. “Both include violent acts, but they are based upon the underlying pattern and motivation of the violence.” She noted that situational couple violence refers to situations where arguments escalate, while coercive controlling violence is when one partner has a constant campaign to control the other partner.

The researchers reported that women who had experienced coercive controlling violence in their marriages continued to experience higher levels of harassment, conflict, and volatility from their former partners during the first year than women who experienced situational violence. Those who had experienced coercive controlling violence also saw the least co-parenting support and communication about child rearing.

During the study, 135 women who had a recent divorce filing were interviewed five times throughout the first year of separation. Women who had experienced situational couple violence in marriage did continue to experience harassment and conflict, but not at the same level as women from controlling violent relationships. For couples with situational violence, there was also a more consistent level of co-parenting support, which may include the former partner being available to help with the kids, “backing you up” as a parent, and offering emotional support.

Another aspect uncovered during the interviews was the unpredictability women from controlling violent relationships experienced during that first year, explained co-author Brian Ogolsky. Educating the court system, including attorneys, judges and custody evaluators, as well as health care providers about the effects that violence and these specific types of violence have on women and a separated couple’s ability to co-parent is important for making assessments in divorce situations, Hardesty concluded. The study appears in Journal of Family Psychology.

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First Published: Nov 02, 2017 10:37 IST