Domestic violence comes in many forms, but the sad reality is that non-physical abuse, i.e., emotional abuse, is often overlooked by the general public. In most cases, it's not so much a matter of ignoring or letting things slide, as it is a failure to recognize certain behaviors as abuse. After all, most spouses periodically say and do things that are immature, or deeply hurtful. While isolated incidents of such behavior is not necessarily abuse, a pattern of behavior inflicted with the intention of coercing, manipulating or debasing another individual would be considered abusive by most mental health professionals.
If the description above sounds rather vague to you, you're not alone. The fact that there's no definitive definition for emotional abuse is a significant legal hurdle for abused spouses. Another challenge is the lack of physical evidence, such as photos of injuries or police reports. Proving emotional abuse is no easy task, but the following tips can help you put together a strong and compelling case.
- Do find professional counseling.
Aside to helping you heal, seeing a counselor will help you document incidents of abuse, and the effects that they have on your life. Evidence in the form of expert advice, or records of a stay at a hospital or psychiatric unit can help strengthen your case.
- Do consider filing a restraining order.
A restraining order isn't just for protecting yourself against physical violence. Any pattern of behavior that is threatening or harassing can be grounds for a restraining order. While a restraining order is not a requirement for abuse victims, avoiding contact with your spouse for at least the duration of the divorce can help you stay sane and focused.
- Don't settle for the sake of getting it over with.
You should leave your abuser as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean that you should rush through a divorce. Agreeing to less than favorable terms for things like alimony and property division can cost you dearly in the long run. Waiting out a contentious divorce is enough to try anyone's patience, but it's important to fight for a fair and reasonable settlement.
- Don't get defensive or deny your own mistakes.
Although there's no acceptable reason for abuse, your spouse does have the right to explain his or her side of the story in court. When confronted with your mistakes, don't get defensive or attempt to shift the blame on someone else. Hostility and the inability to accept responsibility will not get you anywhere with the judge hearing your case.
- Do obtain legal representation.
Because emotional abuse is a highly sensitive and often misunderstood issue, it's imperative that you retain representation from an experienced attorney. Approaching an abuse-related case without an attorney will likely cause you to lose out in areas such as custody, domestic support and property division. If you are in an emotionally abusive marriage, please find out about your rights and legal options from the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.