Because court hearings and trials can involve tremendous expense, anxiety, and time away from being with your children — a bitter irony indeed — you will probably be involved at one or more points in efforts to negotiate an agreement with your ex-partner regarding custody, visitation, and finances. It is quite common for courts to require parents to participate in mediation, even if the man has abused the woman physically, so you may end up negotiating with him even if you don’t wish to. If you can reach an accord that you can live with, by all means do so. Some abusive men do consent to move into the future rather than get stuck in the past, having their own reasons for wanting to avoid costly and stressful court battles. And your ex-partner may even turn out to be one of those abusive men who follow their post-separation agreements reasonably well and don’t mistreat or manipulate the children. If the agreement breaks down months or years from now, whether because your children are sliding downhill emotionally or because their father stops honoring his commitments, you can litigate the case later. However, be aware that proving abuse, and persuading the court to consider it relevant, gets more difficult the farther back into the past it goes.
Negotiating with an abusive man can be perilous. You may feel intimidated by him in the mediation process itself; I just recently spoke with a woman who described how her ex-partner yelled and swore at her right in front of the mediator, who neither did anything to stop him nor mentioned his conduct in her report. You may also feel pressured to agree to a plan that you aren’t comfortable with in fear that the judge will end up ordering something even worse if you don’t reach an agreement. There is no easy answer to these challenges. In a few courts, mediators are available who have been trained on domestic abuse, and some may even follow special protocols, as they should, when dealing with an alleged abuser. You should have the right not to be involved in face-to-face negotiations with a man who has abused you, but state laws and court policies don’t always respect that right.
A large proportion of abusive men do not feel obligated to honor agreements they make, because of their high level of entitlement and their extensive collection of excuses and justifications. An abuser who may seem calm and reasonable, ready to bargain in good faith and leave the past behind, may erupt into his old ways weeks or months later as the reality of the break-up starts to sink into him. Therefore, it is best to include provisions in any agreement that address how future breaches by either party will be dealt with. If you are not represented, pay a lawyer to review any documents before you sign them, helping you structure the agreement in an enforceable way and watching for loopholes that need to be closed.