By: Associate Attorney Micaela Wattenbarger, Esq.

A dynamic we have been seeing quite a bit lately is one where one spouse or parent in a co-parenting relationship is controlling and emotionally abusive, often with narcissistic tendencies. Courts are becoming increasingly familiar with this dynamic and how it impacts a child’s best interests, but the more subtle effects of control and emotional abuse are still often overlooked.

One relevant article that we refer to clients in this situation to is found at: The article draws attention to several arguments often used to discredit abuse allegations and discusses the impact of a coercive controlling dynamic on a child.

Citing to Judge Mike Brigner’s chapter in Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody, the article discusses the following as common arguments used to discredit abuse allegations: continuing to live with the alleged abuser, failure to follow up with the police after requesting a protective order, and the lack of police or medical reports. However, as the article states, these are normal responses by victims and do not provide good cause for doubting the legitimacy of the claimed abuse. Time and time again we have seen alleged abusers bring these factors into play in an attempt to disprove the alleged abuse.

Additional missteps often taken by courts and evaluators include assuming that if there has not been physical violence that the relationship is not abusive and using experts that do not have the necessary multi-disciplinary expertise to provide helpful insight regarding a coercive controlling dynamic. Courts must also be aware that many aspects of a coercive controlling dynamic involve manipulation and may seem counter-intuitive, as the article points out. The controlling parent may, for instance, seek custody of a child in order to exercise a degree of control over his or her victim, when previously he or she demonstrated little to no interest in spending time with the child.

The article also discusses the impact that such a dynamic has on a child. Sometimes the constant stress and fear brought about by daily emotional abuse and control has more impact on both the victim and the children involved than physical abuse. The article goes on to state “the essence of domestic violence is abusers using a variety of tactics, mostly non-physical, to scare and coerce partners to do what they want in order to avoid further abuse.” Though the abuse may be directed at the other parent, it may impact the child since it leads to fear and stress. It also impacts, more directly, the ability of the parents to meaningfully co-parent.

It is important for an attorney representing someone who has been in an abusive relationship to understand the subtleties of a coercive controlling dynamic and to advocate effectively by selecting experts who have an understanding of domestic abuse and have the necessary multi-disciplinary expertise to inform the court about how to recognize and approach this dynamic. It is also important for an attorney to demonstrate to the court the pattern of abuse and control throughout the history of the parents’ relationship.

If you are looking for an attorney who has experience dealing with domestic abuse, whether emotional or physical, in connection with a custody proceeding, call Arnold, Rodman and Kretchmer, PLLC today at 952-955-8008 to schedule an initial consultation.