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What to do when your ex is badmouthing/blaming you to the children

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Separation and divorce can often lead to feelings of hostility and resentfulness, so it is common to find one or both parties badmouthing their ex behind their back. Unfortunately, sometimes the children are the audience and witness their parent denigrating the other first hand. This type of conduct can have a severe detrimental effect on the wellbeing of young minds which may, in turn, lead to long-term health issues such as stress and anxiety. But is there anything you can do when you become aware badmouthing is happening? Read on to find out.

What is badmouthing?

Badmouthing takes many forms, and can be as simple as calling someone bad names. But it can also include telling lies and awful stories, placing unwarranted blame, or criticising an ex, or a combination of such conduct. It can take place in private and in more public spaces, such as saying something directly to the other parent in front of the children or posting it online for everyone to see.

The people who hear these comments don’t always know what to make of them, especially children who are easily affected by what their parents say to each other. Whether or not they believe what they are hearing, the situation is likely to cause emotional distress because children will feel pressure by both parents.

It can also be harmful for children to hear other family members or friends badmouth one of their parents. Even though this isn’t coming directly from a parent, it can be just as uncomfortable and inappropriate.

Typical badmouthing includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • One parent making negative comments, remarks, or untrue statements about the other parent in front of the children
  • Sending negative messages to the child about the parent
  • Expressing dislike of the other parent by rolling their eyes, shaking their head, or making dismissive gestures when the other parent is speaking
  • Making false allegations of harm against the other parent
  • Refusing to co-parent, such as refusing to be around the other parent in front of the children.

How do I deal with a badmouthing parent without going to court?

If your children tell you they have heard your ex badmouthing you, or someone else saying something inappropriate, try not to fall into a tit-for-tat type of retaliation. No matter how tempting it may feel to do the same, you should retain the moral high ground for the sake of the children. Don’t pull your children into any further turmoil by using the opportunity to take your revenge.

Try to see this as a moment to start a conversation with your children about the things they heard and making nasty comments in general. You should explain what they heard is untrue, but try not to get bogged down with having to prove the contrary. Telling them the truth should be enough. Allow your children to ask questions about what was said or any related issue, and do your best to answer them as honestly as possible. By taking this opportunity to explain the situation honestly to your children, you will help them better recognise the truth if it happens again.

After speaking with your children, if possible, you should try talking to the person doing the badmouthing. Have a calm, civil conversation and ask them to stop making inappropriate comments about you to, or in front of, the children. If the person doing the badmouthing is related to your ex, it is probably sensible to start by talking with them first so that they are aware this is going on.

Have any conversations away from the children and try not to reference anything they’ve told you, as this could put them in a difficult situation with the other parent. If your ex shows no signs of stopping, you may have to think about going to court.

Going to court to deal with a badmouthing parent

If you have tried to address the issue of badmouthing with your ex but their conduct has continued unabated, then you may need to apply for a Child Arrangements Order, addressing the time the child spends with them. You could also apply for a Specific Issue Order, which will deal with the single issue in question. Following mandatory attendance at a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) with a mediator to assess whether the case can be dealt with via mediation, the application will be issued.

The court will then appoint a CAFCASS officer to speak with the parties, and depending on their ages, the children, too. In cases that cannot be resolved early on in the process, a Section 7 report is likely to be required, which will assess the facts of the case, the child’s wishes and feelings (the weight the court attaches to this will depend on their age), and make a recommendation to the court as to the way forward.

It is unlikely the judge would require the child to give direct evidence to the court, because the CAFCASS officer will talk to them in private and include this within the Section 7 report.

How can I prove my ex is badmouthing me to the children?

It can help if you have evidence of badmouthing behaviour in court proceedings. However, by its very nature being behind someone’s back, it can be difficult to obtain. Here are some suggestions:

  • Keeping a journal – this can help with important dates and contemporary notes of remarks made in front of the children.
  • Retaining any text messages sent to you or the children, any social media posts, voicemail messages, emails, etc.
  • GP or therapist records detailing relevant matters disclosed by the child

In severe cases where the badmouthing behaviour is found to have had a detrimental effect on the child, the court can appoint a solicitor and guardian who will represent them in court. They will try to convey the child’s genuine wishes and feelings, or what the solicitor/guardian believes would be in the child’s best interests.

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