In the context of family law, especially in a divorce, some individuals may find that their former partner transforms into a divorce bully. A divorce bully is a spouse who exhibits bullying behavior during the process of divorce. This person may not have previously displayed bullying behavior during the marriage. This behavior may not rise to the level of domestic violence, but instead is more subtle. Bullying behavior may include: lying about past incidents in order to make the other partner look bad; threatening to take full custody of the parties’ children or withholding the children from the other party; isolating the other party from friends and family; withholding money or refusing to pay bills; removing the other person from or canceling insurance; cancelling cell phone service; or attempting to intimidate the other partner from hiring a lawyer. While being a victim to a divorce bully adds another dimension of stress to the divorce process, it is not necessarily dangerous or constitutes domestic abuse. Therefore, it may be difficult to deal with.
Another tactic of a divorce bully that can be especially damaging is to attempt to rush the divorce proceeding. This can often result in an inequitable agreement at the expense of the victim. Most parties to want the divorce to be over as quickly as possible. At the same time, it is also important to take the time to ensure that all marital assets and debts are divided equitably, that maintenance is considered when appropriate, and that custody, placement and child support are determined accurately, and in the best interest of the children.
If you find yourself the victim of divorce bullying, there are some important steps to take to protect yourself and to minimize the damaging consequences. One step may simply be to take care of your own health, both physically and mentally. Seeking counseling is a good way to help you find ways to deal with this type of behavior and get you through your divorce. Another step may be to set firm boundaries with the divorce bully. For example, inform the bullying partner in person and in writing to refrain from specific abusive behavior, such as showing up uninvited to your home, or involving your children in the details of the divorce. It can also be helpful to document specific incidents of bullying, including when the incident occurred, and the details of what happened.
Hiring an attorney can be the most effective way of stopping a divorce bully. An attorney can intervene on your behalf – either with your spouse, the opposing attorney or by filing a motion with the court. Also, an attorney can intervene on your behalf with third parties, if necessary (as in the case of insurance or creditors). Lastly, an attorney can reassure you as to what may or may not happen (i.e. you will not lose your children!) and give you advice as to how to best deal with this behavior.
Mediation may also be a helpful option in diffusing the situation. Mediators are specially trained to help control tense and emotional situations of divorce without involving litigation. However, if the bullying has existed throughout the marriage, then mediation may be ineffective because of the lack of trust between the parties, and may legitimize an abusive viewpoint of the bullying partner. Your attorney can discuss various options with you.
The law requires that each party enters into a settlement agreement freely, voluntarily, knowingly, and without threat or coercion. It is ok to slow down the divorce process in order to understand your agreement, seek the advice of an attorney, and to come to a final agreement that you can successfully follow. If you find yourself the victim of a divorce bully, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your case.