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Post-separation Legal Abuse. What is it and how do you know if you’re a victim?

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Often when domestic abusers or batterers are no longer able to exercise their coercive control through physical threats and fear tactics within the home, these same abusers began attempting to exert or show their control through the litigation process. Post-separation legal abuse can take as much of a toll on a victim as the physical abuse he or she has endured for years and is attempting to leave and free himself or herself from. In many situations, the courts will simply view the situation as a “high conflict” custody case or high conflict divorce, however, it is important that the professionals in the legal system clearly view this continued behavior for what it is, the newest form of coercive control.

It is important that people working in the legal system, including guardian ad litems, custody evaluators and judges, become educated about this type of legal maneuver. A high conflict divorce implies that both parties are difficult and contributing to the problem, rather than looking at the individual that is truly creating the difficulty. Post-separation legal abuse is defined by one party being a high conflict litigant and such a person exerts power or control by dragging their ex spouse or partner through the court process repeatedly and excessively. Essentially, they will engage in behaviors or legal maneuvers to either return to court or to refuse to resolve the litigation or court process. Often, the person engaging in post-separation legal abuse will even manipulatively appear that he or she is trying to find solutions, but always finds an impediment that prevents the legal conflict from actually being brought to a conclusion. The abusive spouse or partner is intimately aware that continuing the litigation and bringing it seemingly close to a conclusion adds added stress and emotional turmoil to the suffering spouse.

Over the years, this type of litigation behavior has also been known as and named legal abuse, vexatious litigation, procedural abuse, judicial terrorism and custody stalking. The abusive individual plays the role of a loving, involved, interested and caring parent who is trying to get significant parenting time with the children or even custody of the children due to their “care and concern” however, their actual intention is to continue a pattern of abuse and harassment directed toward their former partner. The abusive spouse will often gaslight by creating false narratives including that the other parent reacting poorly to the abusive behavior has mental illness, is mentally unstable or incapable of focusing and completing his or her parenting role. Frequently, even when children recognize what is occurring and become disillusioned with the situation and the abusive parent, the abusive parent will begin to claim parental alienation. While a parent protecting children from abuse is a legitimate goal for litigation, the parent or spouse engaging in legal abuse begins false narratives to defend his or her litigation conduct. A victim is revictimized by the lost wages, attorney fees and mental anguish and stress of being in court repeatedly. Frequently victims of ongoing abuse are already isolated, drained financially and emotionally and they are only beginning the next stage of abuse as they attempt to leave and free themselves of their abuse. In the worst situations, victims return to their abusers because they see no other alternative to getting out of or through the abuse they believe they will sustain through the litigation.

Domestic abusers are often masters at manipulating the situation. The abuser (or more importantly, the victim who requires protection) who appears to be engaging in litigation abuse needs the court to take swift and substantial action in response to the behavior. Such action should include the court sanctioning abusers who file frivolous or unnecessary motions, requiring the abusers to cover the attorney fees of the victim party, punishing the abuser who fails to timely pay child support although the situation makes clear that he or she has the ability to comply with a court order. Additionally, it is crucial to the process that the mediator involved is knowledgeable and will be able to help protect the victim spouse from the litigation tactics that the abusive spouse may engage in. Additionally, when parenting time is granted, it is important that the abusive spouse is granted specifically defined periods which require as little interaction with the victim spouse as possible.

Are you a victim of post-separation legal abuse? Identify this early on to legal counsel and develop a strategy to combat this abuse. Schedule a consultation with Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to discuss your situation and determine how we might be able to help you find hope and a path forward.