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California Divorce Law and Coping with Verbal Abuse and Harassment

Divorce does not tend to bring out the best in people. In many cases, when a couple makes the decision to end their marriage, they do so because they have been fighting, have felt a sense of betrayal, or simply do not agree on how they should be living their lives. The process of divorce is stressful and feelings of hostility towards the other party are common.

While it might be unreasonable to expect couples going through a divorce to be friendly with each other, verbal abuse or harassment is not legally permitted. The law protects against abuse, and that protection is not limited to physical abuse. This is important because verbal abuse often escalates into physical abuse, and because verbal abuse alone has the potential to be psychologically damaging.  It is possible to acquire a restraining order against the spouse who is carrying a verbal form of domestic violence.

What constitutes verbal abuse?

Not every insult or instance of rude language is considered abuse. Under California’s laws, domestic abuse includes harassing, threatening, or disturbing someone’s peace. Harassment occurs when a person engages “unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.” The “course of conduct” is not limited to threats that are made in person but can include telephone calls and correspondence such as emails and even text messages.

In determining whether harassment has occurred, the court will look at whether the course of conduct would cause “substantial emotional distress” to a reasonable person. Additionally, the conduct must have actually caused substantial emotional distress to the person who wishes to be protected.

This means that if the other person is simply irritating you, you will not be able to claim harassment and get a restraining order against your spouse or former spouse. However, if the other party threatens you, threatens your children, threatens to take your children, intimidates you during phone calls, sends intimidating or threatening emails, is name calling or bullying you, or is stalking you, then you could potentially be granted an injunction that would prevent further harassment or a restraining order.

What can a restraining order do for me?

A restraining order can force an abusive person to keep a distance from you and from your family and children. The order can also help in cases where an abusive spouse refuses to leave the home. In most cases, filing for a divorce will not mean that your spouse must leave the marital residence. However, in cases of abuse, the abuser can be forced to leave the home.

Abuse factors into custody determinations

One of the most contested issues in a divorce is custody of minor children. If one party is shown to be abusive, a judge typically is not permitted to give custody to that person, although he or she can grant the abusing spouse visitation.

If you are going through a divorce and experiencing abuse or harassment, you should contact an experienced family law attorney. The attorneys at Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox LLP are ready to listen and to help guide you through this difficult time. Contact us today at (909) 894-0812for a free consultation.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.