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What happens in the family court when your ex is controlling?

Family Court and Controlling Ex’s

Let’s face it controlling people are exactly that – they love to have a sense of power and control over you. Their own sense of self-importance, their overwhelming desire to win at all costs knows no bounds. Even once you have left, they don’t give up – in fact in some cases, that spurs them on with the desire to gain sympathy from everyone else whilst making your life as difficult as possible simply because you left them.

Of course, there are many parents who are able to negotiate around child contact and it is often easier if your children are older, but for parents who exhibit controlling or narcissist traits, one of the ways they will try to keep control is through the children. They may or may not care about how this affects their own children – it may simply be another battle they want to win, but at what cost?

Family Court

Google ‘family court’ and you will see no end of campaigning and comments from parents feeling unheard and complaining about the judgements , disputes about parental alienation, the process and the outcomes that don’t seem to focus on the children’s best interests and at worst potentially put their children in danger. Family courts in the UK still seem to work on the presumption that children will have contact with both parents, even when there has been a history of criminal convictions or domestic abuse.

There is no way to ‘sugar-coat’ it – the system is broken.  There is no consistency from court to court and if you are forced into court proceedings things aren’t going to be resolved quickly.

I went to court to vary a Court Order – the judge didn’t listen , he believed everything my ex said, even though there was no evidence to back it up. I couldn’t afford to challenge it any further and to be honest I was so traumatised I couldn’t face it again so I decided it was time I had to move on for my own sake’’

Amanda, Windsor

I went to court 35 times over 5 years – my ex could afford to take me back time and time again over stupid stuff.. He wasn’t allowed to apply to court again for 2 years and I won costs on a few occasions. It cost me financially but I moved on and my daughter and I have a good life now.’

It’s not just you finding it difficult….

It doesn’t matter how good your lawyers are or how much you pay, it seems everyone struggles with family court . Angelina Jolie has been through 3 sets of lawyers as she is apparently trying to get the Court to agree to her moving abroad with the children. Brad Pitt wants them to stay in the UK. Who is right? What impact is it having on both parents and the children? Could their time, money and energy be better spent elsewhere? Only they can decide.

Angelina and Brad’s divorce hits a speed bump

Things to consider

I am not a lawyer and I would always advise anyone faced with the prospect of going to Family Court to seek legal advice from not just one but 2 or 3 lawyers before embarking on this journey. Ask lots of questions, ask how much it is likely to cost in the worst case scenario. There may be multiple court hearings, expert witnesses needed to give evidence, Barristers required to challenge at hearings and of course communication between you and your ex can soon rack up additional costs if done through solicitors.Find out more informatin about Family Court here:

Do you have the strength?

Are you strong enough to do this? If you are going down this road you need to be as strong as you can be. Attending court, virtually or face to face  can be emotionally exhausting – it’s not just the court hearing, but the preparation of documents, evidence and testimony that takes time to prepare and a lot of thought and consideration. Can you do this more than once? Most people who go through the Family Court system end up with files and files of paperwork and can recount dates of hearings, judges comments and outcomes almost as if they were the lawyer! This is because to get through this system you have to stay extremely focussed – treat it like a second job, it takes time, focus, energy and commitment.

woman holding a pink dumb bell

There is no guarantee you will win. Even with all the evidence on your side and all the experts, there is no guarantee. It depends on so many things – the individual judge , their attitude and belief about the evidence, the understanding and knowledge of every professional involved and the evidence from you, your ex and the children. Think about what will happen if you lose. What would it cost you – not just financially, but emotionally.

Tips if you are going to Family Court

  • Be clear on your expectations with your legal team and ask them for their professional opinion on potential outcomes. They don’t have a crystal ball but you need to have realistic expectations. You need the best solicitor you can afford – one that understands your needs and you can trust.
  • Get a good support team around you – people who can support you emotionally through this – a divorce coach,  a domestic abuse worker, a counsellor, support for your children, family and friends who will be there for you when you need them. You will need them to lift you up, to keep you motivated as you navigate this system.
  • Consider exactly what you want included in your Court Order – get as much in there as possible to prevent you having to return to Court further down the line. Try and think of every eventuality, not just for now, but also as the children grow older.
  •  If there are any breaches of a Court Order you will have to consider going back to Court again to challenge this . A controlling ex will still try and push the boundaries – be consistent, stick to the Order and be clear. Keep a log of everything if they breach it consistently in case you need to return to Court.

Step out of the situation, breathe and think….

  • Be the bigger person. Put your children first. Think about what is best for the children at all times – not what is best for you or your ex.
  • Remember this will come to an end at some point – it may take a while, but it will stop. It may be when your children decide to vote with their feet, it may be when your ex starts a new relationship and focusses his energies elsewhere, it may be when you decide enough is enough or maybe the court will decide.
  • Protect your children at all times – don’t overshare, don’t get them involved in it, don’t speak negatively about the other parent, no matter how hard that is. The children have two parents and no matter what they do and say they will still love them. Get the children a safe space to talk about their emotions – a child therapist can help with this. Get some resources to help your child deal with anxiety or anger and learn how to support your children through this challenging time.

Resources to help children

Coping skills for kids


Walk away

This can seem like such a shocking thing to say, wouldn’t you want to fight for your children? How can you let your ex dictate everything when you know it isn’t in the children’s best interests? Sometimes as a parent you have to make tough choices, but you do it because you know it is the right thing to do.

Weigh up the pro’s and cons of engaging with these proceedings. Remember you have a choice. Just because your ex is determined to go to Court, it doesn’t mean you have to. Is there another way you can challenge your ex around child contact? Have you considered whether it is possible to mediate with them? Is it better to agree to their demands around contact and focus your energy on making the most of your time with the children and building a new life for them instead?

Think about whether it is really worth fighting over who has one extra day with the children?

Only you can decide – if you are going to Court, maybe think about giving yourself a deadline. How many proceedings are you willing to go through before it becomes more destructive than constructive?

My solicitor told me I could either agree to shared contact or fight through court, but I just didn’t have the energy or confidence to do it. He was a bully and it was making me and my child ill. I agreed to shared contact, which of course he didn’t keep to, but I soon learnt that he was thriving on the fight. I decided that day not to do it anymore. When he didn’t let me see my child I didn’t argue. When he sent him with dirty clothes, I didn’t challenge him, I just washed them and sent them back. Over time he learnt that he wasn’t actually winning and things got much better and easier.’’

Remember what a controlling ex wants is a fight and to know that what they are doing is hurting you – they thrive on it. Sometimes it can be safer and better not to do that – walk away from the fight, work on protecting yourself and your children in other ways, start rebuilding yourself so that your ex’s behaviour affects you less. Don’t worry about what other people think – this isn’t their life, it’s yours and you know what is best for you and your children. Move on.

Think about it

Think about how this is affecting your children at each stage before you decide to go on.  Sit back and really think about your strategy. Are things going well or is there a better or perhaps a different way to manage co-parenting? If you are struggling to cope while the children aren’t with you, flip it around and make use of this time to get yourself stronger, to focus on creating a really good life for you and your children.

maybe its time to leave your controlling ex at the court door

If they are struggling with different rules with each parent, give them the tools to manage this. Teach them how to manage their emotions, how to manage their time with the other parent and keep giving them reassurance that they will adjust and be ok. Think about how you can manage handovers and communication with your ex so it doesn’t cause more conflict and so you protect yourself.

Most importantly of all, do the right thing.

This brilliant blog is brought to you by Caron Kipping – Domestic Abuse Recovery and Divorce Coach – you can find her in The Hug Directory

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