A stressed woman sits at kitchen table while her partner stands in the background

Does Emotional Abuse Impact a Divorce?

Does Emotional Abuse Affect My Divorce?

When it comes to ending a marriage, “stressful” is often an understatement. Considering that nearly half of U.S. marriages end in divorce, many Americans have been impacted by the “ripple effect” of divorce at some point in their lives.

It isn’t surprising that emotions tend to run high during divorce proceedings. After all, people wishing to end their marriage aren’t exactly the epitome of peace and civility (understandably so, considering their life will be forever changed by the court’s decision).

While it’s normal to feel anxious, angry, or distressed during divorce proceedings, there is one thing the law does not tolerate: abuse. Whether you experienced emotional abuse, sexual violence, or another form of domestic violence in your marriage, it’s critical to take appropriate steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.

First, it’s important to know what constitutes emotional abuse, why it’s so harmful, and how it ties into your divorce proceedings.

Is Emotional Abuse Illegal?

The simple answer is yes. Emotional abuse is classified as domestic violence and is punishable by law in many states, California included.

Emotional abuse (also referred to as psychological abuse, mental abuse, or coercive control) is defined as non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. It can be in the form of name-calling, humiliation, threats, jealousy, excessive monitoring, intimidation, dismissiveness, and more. An abusive spouse does not have to physically lay hands on their spouse in order to be held liable for emotional abuse.

Not all emotional abuse claims constitute a criminal case, but this doesn’t mean that nonphysical abuse is okay. Many disputes are tried as civil cases, and offenders can face penalties like fines and jail time. Unfortunately, emotional abuse and physical violence often go hand in hand.

Sadly, emotional abuse is all too common in family law. Nearly half of U.S. men and women will experience some form of psychological aggression in their lifetime. Nonphysical abuse can escalate to physical violence. This is one of many reasons why it’s critical to take all abuse seriously, regardless of how serious it appears on the outside.

What Constitutes Emotional Abuse?

The unfortunate reality is that emotional abuse is often overlooked in intimate partnerships, even by the victims. Abusers have a tendency to gaslight and manipulate their partners, leading their partners to question the validity of their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. As you can imagine, this can make it challenging for survivors to identify abusive behavior in the first place.

Common signs of emotional abuse in marriage include:

  • Feeling like you’re “walking on eggshells” around your spouse.
  • Feeling like you have no control of your decisions and activities. Do you need permission to do things without your spouse? Do they get angry when you don’t text back immediately? Do they keep constant tabs on you, or prevent you from leaving the house?
  • Your spouse isolates you from friends and family. Abusive partners distance you from people outside of the relationship. Friends and loved ones pose a direct threat to an abuser’s power and control over you, as they might recognize warning signs of abuse and take action.
  • Your spouse threatens you. Abusive partners often threaten physical harm or threaten to harm themselves in order to manipulate your behavior.
  • Feeling “trapped” due to limited access to basic resources. This includes access to bank accounts, cars, cell phones, and even the internet.
  • Your partner frequently loses their temper. Even if they don’t touch you directly, emotionally abusive partners are often violent in other ways, such as throwing objects or hitting walls.
  • Your spouse raises their voice at you. Many abusers regularly engage in name-calling, belittling, and humiliation in an effort to control their partners.
  • Tension always escalates into a full-blown fight. Does your partner get angry at the drop of a hat? Do they look for any excuse to start a heated argument?
  • You find yourself missing activities or cancelling plans last minute. Are you regularly late or absent for events because you and your partner “got into a fight” beforehand? Do you miss class or work because of your partner?
  • Your partner gaslights you. Abusers manipulate situations and twist words to unfairly fault you for their own toxic behavior. Does your spouse accuse you of overreacting or misremembering events? Do they excuse harmful acts as “a joke” or accuse you of being “too sensitive?” Do they make you feel crazy for how their actions make you feel?

Effects of Emotional Abuse in Marriage

Emotional abuse occurs when an abusive partner attempts to control, manipulate, or intimidate the other. There is always a risk of emotional abuse escalating to physical violence. Survivors of emotional abuse cam suffer other long-term effects, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic stress and physical pain
  • Paranoia and social anxiety
  • An inability to trust themselves or others
  • Losing the support of friends and loved ones

While the wounds sustained from emotional abuse are often invisible, they can be equally detrimental to a survivor’s quality of life and wellbeing. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 95% of physically abusive men in the U.S. also abuse their partners emotionally. In some cases, survivors stated that they suffered more from a partner’s emotional abuse than their physical abuse.

Proving Emotional Abuse in Court

Whether you intend to file for divorce or you already have, it’s natural to feel on edge after deciding to end an abusive marriage. If you’ve suffered emotional abuse at the hands of your spouse or partner, you’re not alone. Adults, college students, and children alike are impacted by emotional abuse. In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of domestic violence.

It can be overwhelming to consider next steps, especially when you’re consumed with fear of your partner’s reaction or retaliation. Survivors experience their partner’s persuasive lies and manipulation firsthand, often giving them cause to fear their abuser’s potential influence in the courtroom. Rest assured that the court has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. It’s very likely that your case isn’t the first instance of abuse the judge has reviewed in their courtroom.

Proving abuse is a doable but challenging task. To succeed, it’s crucial to secure reliable legal representation from an experienced divorce attorney, as they can help determine the best steps to reveal your spouse’s true colors. With the help of your divorce lawyer, here are some potential ways you can prove emotional abuse to the court:

  1. Reach out to potential witnesses of your spouse’s abuse. Your attorney can help determine which witnesses, if any, could help your case by testifying.
  2. Seek support from experts, advocates, and fellow survivors. It’s important to prioritize your mental wellbeing, even in the turmoil of divorce proceedings. Exploring support groups, finding a therapist who specializes in marital abuse, or reaching out to a domestic violence advocate from a shelter or non-profit can not only benefit you personally, but a third-party expert may be willing to testify on your behalf and share their expertise with the court.
  3. Save any digital evidence of the abuse. Call logs, audio, voicemails, text messages, emails, social media activity, and instant messaging can prove useful when it comes to proving emotional abuse.
  4. Document a timeline of events. If you feel up to it, it may be helpful to jot down relevant dates that highlight when abuse occurred—the night your spouse refused to let you leave the house to celebrate a friend’s birthday, for example, or the morning you called your landlord to repair a wall after your spouse punched it in anger.

How Can Emotional Abuse Affect My Divorce Settlement?

While the outcome of your divorce is ultimately dependent on personal circumstances, emotional abuse can affect the court’s ruling. Here are some possible scenarios in which abuse impacts the final divorce settlement:

  • Property and debt distribution. If the abused partner can show that an abusive partner’s behavior resulted in financial loss or loss of earning capacity, the abusive partner may receive a smaller share of assets.
  • Protective order. In some cases, judges find it necessary to issue a protective order that requires an abusive spouse to stay away from their partner. There are other variations of this court order, including an emergency protective order (EPO), a temporary restraining order (TRO), or a permanent restraining order.
  • Alimony. Judges can award spousal support to partners who need financial aid during or after the divorce. However, a court-mandated alimony payment isn’t ordered as a punishment. In the state of California, an abusive spouse is disqualified from alimony rewards if convicted of domestic violence.
  • Child custody. Judges will certainly take abusive behavior and domestic violence into account when determining visitation schedules, child support payments, and child custody arrangements.

How a Trusted Divorce Attorney Can Help You

Divorce is often a nightmare for many people, but an abusive spouse heightens the stakes considerably. If you are ending an abusive marriage, your safety is of paramount importance. It’s important to seek legal representation you can trust to keep you and your loved ones safe, and advocate on your behalf in the courtroom.

Proving emotional abuse can be tricky and complex. Don’t risk an abusive partner walking away with what is rightfully yours. You deserve compensation for damages sustained in your marriage, which is why our Newport Beach attorneys at Burch Shepard Family Law Group are here to fight for you.

Take back your power by asserting your rights today. Call our firm at (949) 565-4158 for a consultation.

If you are suffering emotional abuse or any type of domestic violence, take action immediately. Please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline to text or chat today, or call the confidential hotline at 800-799-7233.