Fighting an Abusive Spouse in a Contested Divorce
Unfortunately, as a divorce lawyer who has represented hundreds of men and women across Oakland County, Clarkston & Waterford, I have seen my fair share of very “nasty” divorces. In many cases one spouse is being perfectly reasonable, while the other spouse is being vengeful, manipulative, verbally abusive, and/or using the children as pawns. And, unfortunately, it is the children who suffer most in these type of situations.
Child psychology experts agree that negative words and gestures have a lasting effect on children. What a parent does and how they say things can hurt and even psychologically damage a child. It is not only what is said, but the way it is said – including tone of voice and gestures – that can impact a child. Fighting, yelling, screaming, arguing and berating in front of children can cause lasting damage.
Dealing with a Verbally Abusive Spouse in a Divorce
So how does a spouse deal with a verbally abusive spouse in a contested, high-conflict divorce or custody situation?
One of the problems with verbal and psychological abuse is that it is much harder to prove than actual physical abuse. There is no broken bone, no visible bruises and likely no police report to document the effects and impacts of negative verbal or psychological behavior.
And a court hearing is often not a simple or effective answer to an abusive spouse or parent. Time is very limited during a Court hearing – and the other parent is likely to be on their “best behavior” for the short period of time that they are before the judge. Additionally, his or her attorney will do most of the talking, and paint a very different picture than the abuse you are enduring. In the hearing or trial in court, most cases just become a “he-said-she-said” scenario- without the Judge getting a true picture of the actual abuse.
Based upon my many years as a divorce attorney dealing with abusive situations in Clarkston and Waterford, I have learned that there are some things you can do to help your case in a nasty or abusive divorce or child custody situation.
Things to Do in a Nasty or Abusive Divorce
- Keep careful records of the abusive behavior
Keep a journal documenting abusive behavior, including dates, times, locations, and specifically what was said or done, and to whom. (Be sure to keep this journal in a safe and well-hidden place to avoid a discovery that could upset the abuser).
This will help you recall and provide helpful exact details in a hearing or court case that may take place many months after the incidents.
- Keep a list of witnesses to the abusive behavior
Neighbors, friends, teachers, relatives, etc. may have observed some uncomfortable or abusive encounters – and can provide statements or even testify as to the abusive behavior.
- Collect school records of children who are victims of abusive behavior
Your children’s school records, including reports from school counselors or teachers, can be helpful to document the effects of the abusive behavior on your children.
- Get copies of police reports, if any.
Evidence such as police incident reports can be valuable in confirming the extent of the spouse’s behavior.
- Keep and print text or email records showing abusive behavior
Emails, text messages, and even social media posts are increasingly being accepted as evidence in divorce and custody cases. Print abusive email, and take screenshots and print text messages evidencing abusive behavior. (Again, keep them safely hidden to avoid triggering explosive behavior.)
- Obtain psychological therapy for your children
If your child has been the victim of verbal or emotional abuse he or she will benefit greatly from seeing a skilled and caring therapist. Additionally, child therapist’s reports, statements or assessments can be helpful evidence if the situation goes to a hearing or trial.
- Obtain counselling or psychological therapy for your children
Similarly, if you have been the victim of verbal or emotional abuse you will benefit greatly from seeing an experienced counsellor therapist. Additionally, your therapist’s reports, statements or assessments can be used as evidence, if the case results in a hearing or trial.
- Document issues involving alcohol, drugs or even road rage
Alcohol abuse, drug usage, and even road rage are important markers of your abusive spouse’s problems. Document any specific evidence of these issues, in order to help portray the extent of your spouse’s issues.
- Hire a Lawyer who is Experienced with Difficult Divorces
Going before a Judge without an experienced lawyer means you will lose control of your lives and your children’s lives – and everything will be decided by a Judge who only has a “snapshot” of your true situation. An experienced attorney can be your best ally – helping you avoid trial and looking for ways to resolve the situation in a constructive fashion.
Because of the complexity of Michigan law, only an experienced divorce lawyer can fully protect your legal rights -when dealing with an abusive or manipulative spouse in an acrimonious divorce or custody case. If you have a divorce or child custody matter in Oakland County, call lawyer Starla Zehr today. She is an understanding, aggressive and experienced family law attorney – and she will fight to ensure that you are able to escape from the abuse and get the results that you deserve.