Coping With Emotional Abuse During A Contested Divorce
A contested divorce is traumatic for everyone involved. There are so many emotional issues to navigate. The parties must make decisions about parenting issues, support, and property division. Physical abuse plays a part in many divorces, but emotional abuse is another form of domestic abuse. Emotional abuse may have existed throughout the marriage, but the emotional turmoil of a divorce often inflames the situation.
What is emotional abuse?
The first step to managing emotional abuse is to recognize it. You may think physical abuse is the only form of abuse, although the two may coincide, or emotional abuse may lead to physical abuse as well. But the effects of verbal and emotional abuse can be just as damaging and severe as those of physical abuse. It often starts subtly with actions, behaviors, and communication that tears the victim down and, over time, erodes their self-esteem. Emotional abuse can take many forms, including:
Blame. This tactic is often used when the victim is in close proximity to the abuser. The abuser blames everything from a bad day at the office to simmering resentments and long-ago personal failures on the victim.
Belittling. The abuser may have a superiority complex. As a result, they put down and debase the victim while exaggerating their own alleged superiority.
Entitlement. Feelings of entitlement often accompany feelings of superiority. An entitled person believes they do not need to respect the rules or abide by a standard of personal conduct. They feel that everyone owes them, and they expect their spouse, partner, or even children, to cater to them at all times.
Control. In order to obtain or maintain power, the abuser must render the victim powerless. A powerless person cannot fight back or leave. The abuser typically maintains power by controlling the access to and spending the household funds.
Isolation. If a person has family or friends who are willing and able to help, they have a way out of a toxic situation. Abusers sometimes control visits and communications or seek to alienate the victim from their support system.
Other common forms of emotional abuse include:
- Stalking or harassing or stalking a spouse or partner
- Insulting, shaming, or belittling a spouse or intimate partner, either in public or in private
- Calling a partner derogatory names
- Manipulating children, friends, or others into disliking, fearing, or distrusting a spouse
- Threatening a spouse or partner
- Making threats of self-harm
- Gaslighting or convincing a spouse or intimate partner to doubt their own thoughts or reality
Emotional abuse during the divorce proceedings
Physical or sexual abuse may come to an end when the parties separate. However, emotional abuse may continue throughout the divorce proceeding, both to harass the spouse and to try to influence the outcome of the contested issues. For example, an emotionally abusive spouse may continue to humiliate or threaten the victim in order to gain a more favorable financial settlement. Or they may try to sway the children’s feelings to influence custody or visitation. In some cases, the ongoing emotional abuse is simply a type of punishment for attempting to end the marriage.
How can you prove emotional abuse?
Victims of physical abuse typically bear scars and bruises. They may have medical records and police reports. But for survivors of emotional abuse, the evidence may be harder to pin down. The abuse they endure is often subtle, private, and difficult to prove. Valuable evidence may include:
Records. Begin immediately to keep a detailed log, or journal, of all contact with the abuser. Record the date, time, and content of the communication. If communicating by email, keep copies. Also, save voicemails, social media posts and take screenshots of text messages. If any of your confrontations have escalated to the point that the police came, be sure to obtain a copy of the police report.
Witnesses. Give your attorney contact information for anyone who may have witnessed incidents of emotional distress. For example, if your partner has belittled, harassed, or insulted you in front of others, their testimony can support your case.
Incidents involving your children. If you know or suspect that your spouse may be manipulating your children, report this conduct to your attorney right away.
What can you do to cope with emotional abuse?
It is crucial to recognize the harmful effects of emotional abuse. However, many people have lived with an emotionally abusive partner so long that they find it hard to do anything about it. However, especially if you have been isolated, it is vital to talk to someone and get help to stop emotional abuse.
Seek professional help for your mental and emotional health. You may be isolated from your extended family or other loved ones. In any event, it is helpful to meet with a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or other health professional to guide you through this difficult time.
Seek professional help for your children. Don’t become in an emotional tug of war over your vulnerable children. Even if they are not subjected to manipulation, they may feel torn between their warring parents and worried about the future. An experienced professional can support them and listen to their concerns.
Consider a protective order. Your attorney may seek a restraining order. While the court frequently issues protective orders in response to physical abuse, a court will issue one for emotional abuse under certain circumstances. You can file for a protective order wherever the divorce proceedings are filed, where you live, where your abuser lives, where the emotional abuse occurred, or in the parish where the marital home is located. In a protective order, a judge may:
- Order your abuser to cease all emotional and physical abuse and stay away from you
- Establish temporary visitation. The visitation order may include various types of supervised visitation;
- Order the abuser to pay temporary child support if applicable;
- Order the abuser to pay temporary spousal support;
- Determine who gets possession of a shared home;
- Order the abuser to undergo a medical or mental health evaluation (or both) and attend counseling.
Also, your spouse may not intentionally cause you emotional distress. If this occurs, you may have another legal course of action if the emotional distress continues after the divorce is finalized.
Your attorney can help you deal with emotional abuse
Emotional abuse is often a factor in separation and divorce proceedings. In addition to guiding you through the legal process, your attorney can suggest resources to help you and your children with the trauma of emotional abuse.
Consulting a family law attorney is an essential first step in ending emotional abuse during a divorce. For more information, call experienced, compassionate family law attorney Betsy A. Fischer at 504-780-8232 or contact us online.