What to Do If You’ve Been Emotionally Abused During Your Divorce

Hossein Berenji, Mar 31, 2021

Chances are that you will experience stress during a divorce. On the Rahe stress scale, divorce is rated as the second most stressful event that you can endure during your life. Divorce combines the sorrow of ending a relationship with the uncertainty of major social and financial changes.

However, you don’t need to endure emotional abuse. California adopted no-fault divorce options to lower the emotional temperature of divorce proceedings. Without litigating who was “at fault” for the marital breakdown, couples can focus on the less charged issues of property division and child visitation.

But some spouses cannot leave their emotions to the side. They may antagonize their partner to the point of triggering mental health crises or fear for their lives.

Here are some things to know about emotional abuse during divorce and the steps that you can take to stop it.

Emotional Abuse During a Divorce

Emotional abuse goes beyond simple digs or nasty comments. Emotional abuse occurs when your spouse uses your emotions to control you.

Some of the emotions that an abuser might try to use to manipulate your behavior include:

  • Fear
  • Pity
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional pain
  • Confusion
  • Shame

By provoking you into feeling certain emotions and acting on them, the abuser gains the upper hand.

During an emotionally charged event like a divorce, some spouses will use every available means to gain an advantage. Some people will even employ emotional abuse and manipulation.

Battling Emotional Abuse

You can take a multi-pronged approach to overcome emotional abuse during a divorce.

Recognize and Treat Emotional Abuse

One vital aspect of your battle against emotional abuse will be recognizing that your spouse emotionally abuses you. Once you recognize the abuse, you can seek treatment from a therapist or counselor. That therapist or counselor will help you develop the tools you need to identify the abuser’s tactics and counteract them.

This might include limiting direct communication and only communicating through your lawyers. If you have children, you might further reduce communication by using intermediaries — such as friends, siblings, or parents — to hand off the children for visits.

If you must speak to your spouse, you can set boundaries about what you will or will not discuss.

Involve the Judge in Your Divorce Case

Judges can issue orders in a pending case to set the legal boundaries that each spouse should observe. You should document your spouse’s acts of emotional abuse so that you can request an order from the judge.

Some examples of behavior that a judge can prohibit include:

  • Stalking
  • Threatening
  • Impersonating
  • Harassing
  • Communicating
  • Destroying property
  • Disturbing your peace

An order prohibiting your spouse from disturbing your peace can provide a powerful tool that you can use to combat emotional abuse. “Disturbing your peace” means that your spouse is destroying your mental or emotional calm. It can include lying about you to isolate you from friends and family members. It can even include hacking your phone or email to monitor your communications.

File a Lawsuit

If your spouse’s actions amount to “outrageous behavior,” you may have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. This cannot stop your spouse from obnoxious behavior, but it can stop extreme and outrageous acts. By definition, these acts go beyond all possible bounds of decency so that any reasonable person would find them intolerable.

Overcoming Emotional Abuse During a Divorce

You do not need to tolerate emotional abuse. If your spouse crosses every boundary you set, the court can provide remedies for continued abuse. A judge can even include protective orders in the divorce decree that will continue after you finalize the divorce. Seek out these remedies so you can move forward during and after the divorce.