Part I of our series defined what verbal abuse and harassment is in a co-parenting relationship. Divorce can sometimes be challenging long after the parties have walked out of a courtroom. When you’re still tied together with minor children, it can become more complicated, if your ex-partner continues to be verbally hostile towards you.
Many forms of harassment can be used by an ex-spouse who wants to hurt you due to their own lingering hurt or anger. Some of them are easily identifiable and punishable by law, while others might be trickier to recognize and technically legal. The latter is more insidious.
No Abuse is OK
Verbal Abuse and/or Domestic Harassment are forms of Domestic Violence. If either or both parents cannot put aside anger, confusion, pain, or frustration that they have about their ex-partner, the people who ultimately pay the price are the kid(s) – even if it isn’t obvious. It doesn’t matter if your kids are straight A students, excel at athletics, have friends or are the star of their local theater. They feel it, see it, absorb it. They always know more than you believe.
Similarly, no matter how “fine” you feel, you absorb it also. You’re worth more than that.
Six Tools for Handling Harassment
Not every abusive behavior from an ex-spouse is punishable by law. Ultimately, an attorney is your best resource to assess your options. However, initially, here are six tools you can use to set up a safer emotional space for yourself during your co-parenting years:
Establish Firm Boundaries
Create firm boundaries for yourself by determining what is not acceptable. This requires some pre-planning and forethought but is worth doing. Important boundaries include hours of communication, methods of communication between parents, and clear instructions on communicating with the child when in the other parent’s care. Define acceptable language and behavior. Then, you can lean on these formal boundaries down the road, if necessary.
You cannot rely that things will work themselves out or that you will figure it out later. Don’t try to rationalize with your ex. They must seek professional help for their behavior.
Save all hostile voice messages, texts (via screenshot) and emails. Organize them by date, event, format – whichever system works well for you. This creates a pattern and history of abusive behavior which can help support a future restraining order and/or cease and desist letter, if necessary. It also is useful for your own empowerment to realize that you are not imaging his/her behavior, and there is abuse. It will be useful if you reach out for therapeutic support, as well.
Send a Cease-and-Desist Letter
This is an often effective and easier way to address continued verbal abuse and harassment more formally. A cease-and-desist letter is not filed in court, although a lawyer should write and send it. This serves as a “stop harassment” demand. It puts your ex-partner on notice that her/she is engaging in some sort of activity that you believe harms you and lets them know that if they do not stop, you may pursue legal action. These letters serve as harsh warnings. Your lawyer can use it, if needed, as evidence that you gave notice to the other party of the alleged harassment.
File a Formal Complaint
After a cease-and-desist letter – or if you feel in immediate danger – contact the police if your ex-partner is continuing to harass or threaten you. If it continues, you can file for a restraining order. Verbal abuse can escalate into physical abuse. If you need someone to talk to, always seek out a support group for victims of abuse, as they can provide localized resources and recommendations.
Be Empowered with Options
A cease-and-desist letter should do the trick to stop the harassment from your ex-husband or ex-wife. As additional protection, ensure that some trusted friends and family are informed and that you do not retaliate no matter how hard you are provoked. Avoid engaging with their attempts to bait you into an interaction via text, email or verbally. Keep all communication solely related to details about your kids. Finally, live your best life; continuing to life a full life for yourself is the best empowerment of all!
Reach out to Local Resources
You are not alone and do not have to tolerate someone treating you this way. Below are some resources that are specific to NH or the Seacoast area. Many more can be found here. All of them are here for you 24/7.
While it may prove challenging, it is not impossible to remain emotionally safe while co-parenting with a verbally harassing ex-spouse. We hope that these tips will help as you navigate this troubling time. You are not alone.