Post Separation Abuse. When to Consider Alternative Coparenting Methods with a High-Conflict Ex.


What does Post-Separation Abuse Even Look Like? 

For the first year after I left my abuser, he stalked me with an unrelenting focus at my dance classes, work, and home. He drove by my house and left random items on my car, texted and emailed me hundreds of times a day, used our children as pawns to maintain control over me, and generally made everything as difficult and intimidating as possible. His efforts to undermine and disparage me to the children and encourage them to lie to me was another heavily used tactic. He was/is straight out of the Power and Control Wheel on Post-Separation* playbook. 

Throughout the post-separation years, he has continued the emotional abuse to the point that the children (now teens) refuse to visit or communicate with him. His behavior has made communication and co-parenting between us a truly impossible option.  

Unfortunately, stories like this are common. However, there are professionals in the gender-based violence field that are aware, spreading awareness and education, and generating solutions for advocates, allies, and survivors like me.

Here are just some options I have found helpful and supportive when navigating parenting with a high-conflict person. 

When the Recommended Coparenting Method is Not the Best for You or Your Children 

Survivors like me put our stories out there to validate other experiences, educate others on the complexities of gender-based violence, and offer supportive ways to navigate difficult events and relationships, like attempting to co-parent with a high-conflict ex-partner. 

Turning to alternative methods can help when you and your former partner have difficulties maintaining a civil relationship, and the children are getting caught in the middle of the stress and confusion. Our goal here is always to ensure that the children have a consistent routine and structure while minimizing the interaction between the co-parents, reducing the likelihood of conflict between all. 

Parallel parenting 

Parallel parenting is not a new concept, but it has gained popularity due to the growing recognition of the detrimental effects of conflict on children's well-being. Parallel parenting allows children to have a consistent routine and structure while minimizing the interaction between the co-parents, reducing the likelihood of conflict. 

In a nutshell parallel parenting looks like this: 

  1. Minimal Communication 

Minimizing communication is a great way to minimize conflict. When situations arise where you must communicate, use options that are documentable like text messages or parenting apps, and use a business-like tone. Limit conversations to only focus on the children. Do NOT respond to threatening or intimidating communication. If interactions with your abuser are still high conflict, consider using the BIFF method of communication in combination with a parenting app or email. 

  1.  Use a neutral space away from both homes for exchange of parenting time. 

Choosing a public location between your two homes, or a supervised exchange service, to manage the change of parenting time each week or month. 

  1. Let go of what happens during your former partner’s parenting time.  

Focus on your own day-to-day parenting decisions independently, keeping the spotlight on your children’s wellbeing while they are with you. 

  1. Document, document, document.  

If you are resorting to a method like this, you are probably dealing with someone who is high-conflict and difficult so make sure to document all events, issues, and decisions made as those can help you in the future if you end up in the family legal system. 

BIFF Method of Communication 

Brief. Informative. Friendly. Firm. This is the best way to communicate with high-conflict people. Be patient, it does not work immediately (at least it didn’t for me), and it often causes the high-conflict individual to increase their hostility.  However, if you are following a parallel-parenting approach, you have likely already realized that unfortunately, this is par for the course and at this point, you must exclusively focus on the children. 

This takes practice but remember none of the hostility is about you and that using a firm but informative approach like this can quickly shut down angry communications and keep the focus on only the real communicative needs. 


Trying to use the BIFF response method to an angry or hostile email from your high-conflict ex? Let the robots help. ChatGPT is the latest artificial intelligence that interacts via an online chat function in a conversational way.  

I’ve seen, (and used) first-hand how well this tool works to respond in a low-key, professional, yet firm way to the most unhinged of angry emails. ChatGPT is free to use and will make your communication as simple and solid as any judge would want to see between parents in a family court system.  

Try using these prompts: 

Respond to this high-conflict email in a friendly but firm way.’ Then paste the angry email after the prompt. 

‘Answer this email keeping the focus on the children and de-escalate the communication.’ Paste the original email after this prompt. 

For me, trying these alternative and more progressive methods of communication has led to feeling more confident in my parenting and my relationship with my children, substantially less conflict between me and my former partner, and overall reduced stress for our whole family.  

To all those who are fighting every day to bring peace and healing to themselves, their children, and their communities - we are survivors in healing with you. Remember, no one fights alone. 

For more resources for survivors of domestic violence, check out the BWJP Recommended Reading List:

* An important note here is that post-separation abuse looks different for all. The Duluth Power and Control Wheel on Post-Separation abuse aligns strongly with my experience as a survivor navigating a co-parenting relationship with my ex due to it being a white, cis-heterosexual nuclear family dynamic, however, it may not resonate for you or others as it does not encompass all possible ways an abuser can attempt to leverage separation to their advantage. 

Disclaimers: My reference for what a high-conflict co-parenting situation looks like comes from the High Conflict Institute. ChatGPT or any Artificial Intelligence software is not always correct and should not be used in place of legal services from a lawyer. 

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