Proving Harassment in a Divorce

by Jim Thomas

Divorce isn't pleasant under the best of circumstances. However, when you are being harassed by your soon-to-be ex-spouse, it can be truly frightening. Harassment can take many forms. Your spouse might threaten, stalk or assault you. He might even harass your children. In order to protect yourself and perhaps your kids as well, you can petition the court for a Harassment Restraining Order, or HRO, to protect you from such behavior and threats while the divorce proceeds.

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Harassment vs Protective Orders

If you are the victim of domestic abuse during your divorce, you can file for a protective order to keep you spouse away from you. Such a protective order can include temporary custody and child support. However, you need to demonstrate to the court that your spouse has physically harmed you, inflicted imminent fear of physical harm or committed sexual misconduct. The standard for proving harassment is not as strict. One act of physical violence or sexual assault is sufficient grounds for a harassment order. So are any acts, words or gestures that occur on two separate days, actions that cause or are intended to cause a substantial adverse effect upon your safety, security or privacy. So if your husband shows up at your doorstep on two occasions and makes vile threats against you, it might be sufficient for an HRO.

Usefulness

An HRO can be both a tactical and practical tool during a divorce. As a practical tool, it can give you and your children some peace of mind and protection from a spouse who exhibits threatening behavior toward you, especially since you can file for an HRO on behalf of the children if your spouse has been harassing them too. As a tactical matter, an HRO can be used as evidence that your spouse has harassed or been a threat to you or the children. This can bolster your divorce case if you are attempting to obtain sole custody of the children.

Filing for an HRO

You must file for an HRO where you reside or where the harassing incidents occurred. Usually, this will be at the same county court where you filed for divorce. Your petition must detail the grounds for harassment. For example, if your spouse has posted provocative pictures of you on the Internet to embarrass you, include the incident in your petition. If your spouse accosts you at public events in a menacing manner, include this incident in your petition. If your spouse threatens to wreck your car, destroy your child's new bike or repeatedly calls in the middle of the night to curse at you, all of these incidents should be included.

Judicial Process

If you file an HRO in Minnesota, for example, a judge will read your petition and either dismiss the petition, deny a temporary approval of the HRO but allow you to request a hearing on the matter, or grant the HRO, which takes effect immediately and lasts for two years. In California, a judge will look at your HRO request within 24 hours and decide whether to issue a temporary restraining order. If so, a court hearing will be held in about three weeks to hear evidence and rule on the petition. If the HRO is granted, it remains in effect for up to five years.