What Is Considered Verbal Abuse & Harassment From a Divorced Spouse?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

What Is Considered Verbal Abuse & Harassment From a Divorced Spouse?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Divorce is stressful on everyone—before and after the court proceedings. Emotions run high, stress escalates, and anxiety hits peak levels. It's understandable that couples may still argue after the marriage has ended. However, when does it cross over from arguments to verbal abuse and harassment?

Yelling man sitting on a couch with a crying woman

Recognizing Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is difficult to prove, since it doesn't cause external bruises, broken bones, or other physical impairments. However, verbal abuse is a form of abuse, creating significant damage to former spouses and families.

Verbal abuse includes controlling your words or actions, belittling you, scaring you, threatening you, and frightening you. Verbal abusers often insult you, accuse you of being unfaithful, threaten to hurt you or those you love, and isolate you from your friends and family. Verbal abusers often say things such as “If I can't have you, no one else can either" or “You're crazy. That's not what happened."

Verbal abuse does significant damage to your self-esteem and your ability to function at work or home. Often, verbal abuse leads to physical abuse.

Although fights between divorced couples is common, these heated discussions should not cross the line to verbal abuse. You can reach out to the court to obtain a restraining order against your ex-spouse, preventing him or her from contacting you or your children. You can also call the local authorities and file a police report against your ex-spouse.

Recognizing Harassment

Harassment includes broader actions, which include verbal abuse. Generally, harassment is when one person intentionally causes emotional harm to another person. For example, in addition to verbal abuse, harassment includes posting derogatory comments about you online, spreading rumors to your friends or at your children's school, or stalking you.

Like with verbal abuse, in harassment cases, you can petition the court for a restraining order against your ex-spouse, call your local authorities, or both. If harassment or verbal abuse leads to physical abuse, contact the authorities immediately as well as a qualified family law attorney. Both the police and your attorney can advise you of your options, such as protecting yourself and your children from your ex-spouse.

In abusive and harassing situations, don't try to rationalize with your ex-spouse. They must seek professional help for their behavior. Harassment and verbal abuse can affect your ex-spouse's visitation rights with your children. Your ex-spouse may lose their right to spend time with the children or may have to do so under supervised visitation.

Additionally, don't retaliate by bad-mouthing your ex-spouse because they did so to you. If you need to petition the court for a restraining order or a change in visitation, you want to walk in with “clean hands."

If you are being verbally abused or harassed before, during, or after a divorce, seek help. Consider hiring a qualified family law attorney to help you navigate legal options and other protective resources for you and your children.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help.

Learn more