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Post Separation Abuse: Harassment and Stalking

As promised, we're going to take a closer look at some of the components of Post Separation Abuse, starting with one of the most pervasive: harassment and stalking. It's safe to assume that you know what harassment and stalking means in general, but we're going to look at it through the lens of a high conflict divorce--what it looks like and the problems that it can create in family court.

Harassment and Stalking in a divorce where abuse is present generally presents in the form of excessive emails, texts, even phone calls. These communications are often lengthy, filled with everything from attempts to reconcile, false (wildly absurd even) allegations, to threats--of personal harm, financial ruin, or in many cases--"taking the children" from the healthy parent with insinuations about what that could mean that leave the healthy parent reeling.

The challenge for a healthy parent in this situation is that they are still very much operating in a trauma response. They are still so close to the abuse and the relationship that they cannot separate themselves from the emotional response that the communications trigger. They feel obligated to respond to every accusation, refute any lies, or give detailed explanations that "prove" their side of the story. They also often feel like they have to respond in a particular time frame, or there will be more emails, demands, or accusations that they are not communicating or coparenting appropriately.

It's also common to believe that simply printing out those crazy emails and physically showing a judge or mediator, would clearly demonstrate that this person is unhealthy, but that is also not the case. The reality is that our Family Court system is very broken. And people--judges, mediators, etc.--are humans, who get jaded over time as they see case after case before them. As a collective, they are not educated about the damage that emotional and psychological abuse can have on a person, or how that abuse affects the children. All they see before them is two people who are unable to cooperate enough to come to an agreement. They don't know who the "problem" is. Handing them a stack of email exchanges and expecting them to sort through the mess and see this person for who they are is ineffective at the least and can even be harmful to your case in some instances.

Learning how to effectively communicate appropriate information during a high conflict divorce can be the biggest hurdle for those facing the challenge. Does this email/text need a response? Is this communication necessary for our coparenting relationship and does it keep the best interests of the children at heart? Won't the judge believe these things are true if I don't provide a response that refutes them? All valid concerns. That's where a high conflict or post separation abuse divorce coach comes in.

In my coaching business, I have quickly come to see that providing strategy and guidance around communication is one of my strengths. In order to communicate effectively through the process, you have to understand that you're communicating not so much with the other parent, but you're communicating for the court. I can help you determine whether an email or text even needs to be responded to (you'd be surprised how often they don't), and if they do, how to respond in a way that clearly separates you from the "conflict" and demonstrates healthy parent behaviors. I also help my clients present this type of evidence to the court in a way that allows the judge to see patterns of behavior and come to their own conclusions about who is unhealthy in the equation.

I also know the crippling feeling that you get in your chest when you get a text or email notification from your abuser. I know that when you're in the middle of it, you don't really even know what you're in the middle of. You're so focused on the next step in front of you that you can't see the bigger picture. And when that email or text comes through, your brain puts that to the front of the line as the "next thing" because that's the way it's always been with this person. That's part of the value that I bring to my role as a divorce coach.

I got a little sidetracked on the communication part of harassment and I certainly don't want to gloss over some of the other pieces that can include: online/social media stalking, spyware installed on electronic devices, monitoring your home, comings and goings, guests, etc. In most cases, none of this harassment will rise to the level of law enforcement involvement. The person doing it knows just where the line is and will flirt with it, but carefully never cross it. If law enforcement ever is called or involved, they often dismiss claims or jurisdiction as a domestic dispute.

Post Separation Abuse is real and it's nice to see it getting more public attention. Harassment and stalking are abuse. Full stop. Please go check out the Post Separation Abuse Wheel over at One Mom's Battle for the full list. Most abusers will pick a few from the playlist that they focus on or that fit their abuser profile. I haven't done any scientific studies, but I'd be willing to wager that harassment and stalking are one of the most predominant ones and often are used hand-in-hand with other spokes on the wheel.

If you're finding yourself in the throes of post separation abuse during a divorce and would like to know more about how I can help you strategize and communicate with your abuser through the process, please contact me and let's schedule a free 20 min consultation.

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