How Does Emotional Abuse Impact a Divorce?
Whenever abuse is involved in a marriage, the divorce invariably becomes more complicated – emotionally and legally. In marriages where some type of abuse transpired, it is very likely that the abuse was also one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, for the divorce. This can make the divorce more difficult in a variety of ways. Legally, the abusive party is not considered more responsible for the divorce than the abused party, though abuse can affect details in the final divorce settlement. If you were emotionally abused during your marriage, make sure you know how it may impact your divorce.
Defining Emotional Abuse
Although emotional abuse does not leave visible marks like physical abuse can, it is still extremely hurtful and damaging. An emotional abuser may seek to tear down or belittle their spouse, usually because of a need to feel powerful or in control of the situation. The abuser may be verbally abusive and insulting, could isolate their victim, manipulate them to do their bidding, or may use the victim’s children as pawns. Sometimes emotional abuse can lead to other types of abuse, like financial or sexual abuse, but it doesn’t always. Your spouse may be perfectly good to you when he or she is in a good mood but could become accusatory, demeaning, controlling, or derisive at the flip of a switch.
If you or someone you know is being emotionally abused by their spouse, it is important to seek help immediately. Emotional abuse usually causes strong feelings of shame, helplessness, and fear and can result in serious emotional distress and psychiatric damage.
For immediate help, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online, or call (800) 799-7233.
When you are divorcing someone who previously was, or continues to be, emotionally abusive, the divorce process will probably be even more demanding than the typical divorce. You might be extremely angry, hurt, frightened, or confused by the actions of your spouse or the divorce process in general. One of the best ways to handle these problems is to get as much control of the situation as you can. You can do this by keeping a record of the abuse you suffered and using it to your advantage.
Make sure you track any proof of abuse during the time you were married and throughout the divorce process. You may have a restraining order against your abuser, in which case he or she is forbidden from contacting you. If he or she continues to contact you, keep a record of these restraining order violations and report them.
Even if you do not have a restraining order against your abusive spouse, make sure you are keeping copies of any emotionally abusive text messages, emails, letters, or phone calls. This information could help you later in court.
Property Division and Spousal Support
Washington State is a no-fault divorce state, which means one partner in a marriage cannot be held responsible for the divorce. However, the court will take the record of abuse into account when dividing assets and considering a spousal support arrangement.
If you and your spouse shared any children in your marriage, the divorce process will also address the custody of your children. In cases where there is a record of abuse by one parent, the other parent typically has a substantial advantage if he or she wishes to obtain for primary or sole custody. A judge will consider the best interest of the children and the behavior of each parent is an extremely important factor. Again, the records you keep of any abusive behavior your spouse exhibits, either towards you or your children, can be used to help you obtain the custody you seek.For questions about divorce, contact McKinley Irvin at our Washington office.