By Danielle Walle
People often believe that their divorce will be the most difficult part of their marriage. Oftentimes, they are wrong. Sometimes, it’s the aftermath that can make things so much worse. Perhaps you relate to the story of a woman named Hazel.
When Hazel was first dating Alexander, he was charming and charismatic, however, after their marriage, Alexander was an abusive partner. When Hazel found the courage to leave Alexander, it became clear Alexander was not going to let her go without a fight. He subjected Hazel to post-separation abuse, which included harassment, stalking, financial, and emotional abuse.
Hazel didn’t recognize Alexander’s behavior as abusive at first; she thought he was trying to cope with the divorce and would eventually “get over” it. But Alexander’s behavior escalated over time. He sent Hazel countless text messages, called her at all hours, and followed her around town. He refused to provide support for the parties’ 3 children and would often use exchanges of the children as opportunities to insult Hazel and tell her how she had destroyed their family.
What Hazel was experiencing was post-separation abuse, which is a form of domestic violence that occurs after a relationship has ended. It can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and financial abuse. It can occur even if a couple was never married and even if they have been separated for a long time. The abuser may use a variety of tactics to control and intimidate the victim, including harassing/stalking, threatening/intimidating, withholding financial resources, and can use the legal system, social media, and other methods to effectuate the abuse.
Separation and divorce is difficult and it is natural to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, and grief. Unfortunately, in some cases, the end of a relationship can lead to post-separation abuse. Understanding post-separation abuse is important and if you or someone you know is experiencing post-separation abuse, it is important to seek help.
Hazel felt increasingly anxious and fearful, always looking over her shoulder and living in a constant state of terror. She struggled to sleep at night and had difficulty concentrating during the day. She felt like she was failing at her job, she felt isolated from her friends, and her quality of life had plummeted. Hazel contacted a therapist. She was questioning her own sanity (Alexander called her crazy), she was tioning her ability as a parent (Alexander said she had destroyed the children and was a terrible mother), and she could not figure out how to just feel better.
In speaking with her therapist, Hazel realized that Alexander’s behavior was a form of abuse and that Hazel needed to take immediate action to protect herself. Hazel started by requesting a Domestic Violence Restraining Order against him, and then she contacted Safe Alliance, Mecklenburg County’s resource for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. She also participated in Second Saturday with Marcellino & Tyson, a free resource where she learned about divorce from the legal perspective, financial perspective, and mental health perspective.
It can be difficult to identify Post-Separation Abuse as it can be very subtle. It can also be difficult to prove, as it often takes place in private or just in front of young children. Some ways post separation abuse occurs can be if your ex-partner is constantly contacting you, showing up at your workplace or home uninvited, or following you. Sometimes there are excuses, like someone wanting to retrieve items from the former marital residence. Sometimes they say that they were meeting neighborhood friends, or dropping off mail. Another manifestation of post separation abuse is threatening to harm you, your children, or your pets. Sometimes that’s through the legal system (reporting you to DSS, filing for Emergency Custody based on false allegations), or sometimes it is done without the legal system (simply not bringing the children to see you, insisting they be present for the children’s safety, etc.) Even if your ex is not interfering with your seeing your children or keeping your dog or other property, they may be withholding child support, refusing to pay bills, or refusing to divide property to which you are entitled but over which they maintain control. This financial abuse is another form of post-separation support.
Something our divorce attorneys have frequently witnessed at Marcellino and Tyson is when someone attempts to abuse our clients by filing frivolous lawsuits or making false accusations. The legal process can be onerous at the most simple times, but if someone wants to make it costly and slow, there are methods they can employ that are financially burdensome, emotionally exhausting, and mentally taxing to say the least.
While physical assault is a clear sign of post separation abuse, social media harassment is less obvious. It can be where someone simply presents themselves as a victim and you as the abuser on Facebook, or can be someone chasing you across multiple social media platforms to harass and harangue you. It is important to trust your instincts and seek help if you feel that you are being abused.
Eventually, Hazel was able to move to a home where she felt safe and secure. She was able to improve her performance at work and found her coworkers as another form of support. Although she still struggled with fear and anxiety, she was rebuilding her mental health, and life, with the support of the team she had created – her therapist and her family law attorney at Marcellino & Tyson.
As Hazel was able to resolve most of her legal matters, she continued to heal. She became an advocate for survivors of domestic violence where she shared her journey. At first, she had felt like she was merely surviving through her traumatic experience, but eventually, she felt that she was thriving and was in a much better place than she had been since she first met Alexander.
Post-separation abuse can have a profound impact on the victim’s mental and physical health, as well as their ability to move on with their life. Victims of post-separation abuse may experience:
- Anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Physical injuries, including bruises, broken bones, and head injuries;
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating;
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness;
- Financial insecurity; and/or
- Fear for their safety and the safety of their children
It can be incredibly difficult to feel normal or reconnected after experiencing post-separation abuse. It can make it hard to trust again or form relationships with others. It’s important to surround yourself with support, including people who are experienced in helping overcome and push through post-separation abuse. Post-separation abuse is not something every therapist has seen, but our attorneys at Marcellino & Tyson work closely with a number of therapists experienced and skilled at helping clients overcome these traumas.
Hazel had really come a long way, yet her journey was not over. She could not change her abuser, but she would continue to work on her own healing and lean on her therapist and family law attorney to help her. At the same time, Hazel connected with others with similar experiences and learned to trust herself and her instincts. Alexander continued with his barrage in the courts – criticizing Hazel and pointing his finger at her as the source for all of his troubles. His behavior drove away his children, but Alexander blamed Hazel. Alexander always paid his child support late, or underpaid by a few dollars. Alexander fought and fought against releasing funds to Hazel that were rightfully hers (and ordered to be hers by the Court). But Hazel had recognized the importance of knowing this was not her fault, not what she deserved, but was Alexander’s attempts to hurt her. With the help of her attorneys, she was able to navigate the Mecklenburg County Courts and calm the chaos he attempted to create around her.
Recovering from post-separation abuse is a process that takes time, effort, and support, particularly when you are forced to have contact with your abuser while navigating the legal system. Here are some steps that you can take to begin the recovery process:
- Seek help: The first step in recovering from post-separation abuse is to seek help. This may include reaching out to a therapist or counselor, contacting a domestic violence hotline, or seeking support from family and friends.
- Create a safety plan: If you are still in contact with your abuser, it is important to create a safety plan. This may include changing your phone number, getting a restraining order, or relocating.
- Practice self-care: It is important to take care of yourself during the recovery process. This may include getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in activities that you enjoy.
- Join a support group: Joining a support group can be a helpful way to connect with others who have experienced post-separation abuse. It can be comforting to know that you are not alone and that others understand what you are going through.
- Consider legal action: If your abuser is breaking the law or violating a restraining order, it may be necessary to take legal action. Consider contacting a lawyer or seeking help from a legal aid organization.
- Focus on healing: It is important to focus on healing and moving forward with your life. This may involve setting goals for the future, developing new hobbies, and other positive changes.
Hazel’s experience showed her that abuse can take many forms, and that it’s not always easy to recognize. She learned that seeking help is crucial and that there are resources and people available to assist people targeted by abusers. Hazel came through her experience with a newfound sense of strength and resilience. She had overcome a difficult situation and was now using her voice to make a difference in the life of others. Despite the challenges that lay ahead, she was confident she could handle whatever came her way. With the support of those around her, she knew she never had to face those challenges alone.
Remember, post-separation abuse is a serious issue that can have a lasting impact on the victim’s mental, physical, and emotional health. It is important to recognize the warning signs of post-separation abuse, seek help, and take steps to recover and move forward with your life. There are resources available to help survivors of post-separation abuse, and it is important to reach out for support when needed.
Separation and divorce can be difficult, emotional, and stressful. When a relationship ends, it is natural to experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, and grief. Unfortunately, in some cases, the end of a relationship can lead to post-separation abuse. This can take many forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, and financial abuse. It is important to understand post-separation abuse, recognize it, and seek help if you or someone you know is a victim.