How to Co-Parent with a Restraining Order

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Two Healthy Homes | Co-Parenting Classes

by Dr. Erica Ellis

Founder of Two Healthy Homes. Licensed psychologist, best-selling author, and a leading global expert on co-parenting and child centered divorce.

The most common parenting plan for parents to continue raising their children together following a separation or divorce is co-parenting. Co-parenting is defined as two parents who no longer live together working collaboratively to raise their children. The goal is typically to create a relationship where both parents are playing an active role in all aspects of their children’s lives.

Co-Parenting Basics

The ability to co-parent requires that neither parent poses a physical or emotional risk to their children or to the other parent. Such an arrangement becomes difficult, if not impossible, when there is a history of domestic violence or any type of abuse (emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse/sexual assault, or verbal abuse). It is also essential that there is a basic level of trust, the skills to effectively communicate, and the capacity to resolve conflict.  Without these basic requirements, the ability to effectively function as co-parents and collaboratively work together on the children’s behalf will be extremely challenging. 

Co-Parenting with a Restraining Order

One of the situations that challenges the basic assumptions of co-parenting is attempting to co-parent when there is a restraining order in place. A restraining order is one type of protection order that is issued by the court to protect an individual from harm. Each state has its own statutes pertaining to protective orders, so it is important to consult with an attorney regarding your state’s specific statues.  They are usually filed for civil reasons such as divorces and exist to prevent someone from causing harm. These differ from no contact orders which are more common in criminal proceedings, and which are used to punish someone who has already caused harm and to prevent further harm from occurring. There are two types of restraining orders, either temporary or permanent, depending on the nature and extent of the threatening or harmful behavior and how long it needs to remain in effect. 

The restraining order in situations where there are children involved will typically outline the conditions of co-parenting and how the parents can work to raise their children within the confines of the order. In some situations, modifications of child custody will accompany the order, such that the target (or the target’s parent) will assume primary custody while the order is in effect. In other situations, joint custody will continue, and the parents will need to work around the conditions of the order to manage daily child rearing tasks.

Restraining orders will typically set conditions for how co-parents can engage in effective communication with each other given the restrictions in place. Often the court will dictate that all communication must be done through a third party, such as an attorney, mediator, or parent coordinator. In other situations, the parents can request an exemption so that they can communicate with each other only on issues related to child rearing and that it be done solely through indirect means such as a co-parenting app. This provides them with a means to parent with a restraining order in place.

Restraining Orders, Co-Parenting, and Children

Another issue that must be addressed within the parent relationship when a restraining order is in effect is how the children’s transitions between homes are going to occur. One option is for someone other than the parents, such as a trusted friend or family member, to be responsible for the transitions. This takes the parents totally out of that role and avoids them needing to have contact with each other during transitional times. Another option is to request a legal exception to the restraining order that allows children’s transitions to take place in a neutral location such as a police station. This provides a safe environment for the hand off to occur without having to involve someone other than the parents in this role. 

Another challenge of co-parenting while a restraining order is in place relates to attending children’s activities. Like a parallel parenting plan, where the amount of interaction between two high-conflict parents is minimized, parents in this situation must find ways to eliminate the need for interaction and collaboration and continue utilizing their own parenting style without interference from the other parent. Each parent must also have their own areas of responsibility such as one being responsible for all details pertaining to doctor’s appointments while the other deals with extracurricular activities. They will also need to attend children’s activities and events separately. They will each handle their time according to their own preferences and then share pertinent information via their chosen co-parenting app. 

Perhaps the most important rule about a restraining order is that it is essential to follow the order as it is written. Violating a restraining order will result in significant legal consequences.

What if the Restraining Order is Being Violated?

If you are the person being protected by the order and you have evidence that it is being violated, it is important that you take the following steps:

  1. Engage law enforcement by calling the police or sheriff in your location
  2. Call Child Protective Services (which may have another name in your location) if you believe your children are at potential risk
  3. Move to a safe location, such as a friend’s house or a shelter, if you believe you or your children are in immediate danger
  4. Keep detailed documentation of the nature of the violation for future legal action

Co-parenting under these circumstances is obviously not ideal and poses multiple risks and challenges both to the adults and children involved.  Following the conditions stipulated in the restraining order will be in everyone’s best interest and will maintain everyone’s safety. Keeping the children’s needs as a priority will be an essential part of making this happen. Often, this is a situation where a co-parenting class might be of great value.

Disclaimer: This article is solely intended for educational purposes. Anyone dealing with a restraining order should be closely consulting with an attorney and all legal advice should come from a legal professional.


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