Dealing with an abusive husband during Virginia divorce

I rarely have an opportunity to see a husband abuse his wife – my client – first hand. Obviously, most of these abusers lawyer up pretty quickly, and they’re often pretty good at putting on a good face in public. After all, isn’t that characteristic abusive spouse behavior?

Awhile back, though, I witnessed – first hand – the abuse that my client had described from her husband. My client, the breadwinner, was stressed to the max financially, and had let slip a particular service that her husband had enjoyed her paying for during the course of their marriage. He freaked out. He called his attorney, who called me. I was talking with my client – there were a couple, confidential, case-related reasons why we wanted her to resume the service, but only temporarily – and she was working behind the scenes to get everything done.

At one point, his attorney emailed me, and copied my client’s husband on the email. So, then, he had my email – and he used and abused it. He emailed my client probably fifteen times over the course of a single day – and copied me and his attorney on each and every one.

Ethically, attorneys aren’t supposed to communicate with people who are represented by counsel. It’s all supposed to go through that person’s attorney. So, I didn’t read the emails, I forwarded them to his attorney, and asked her to do something about the situation. She said she would, and then confirmed that she had – but he kept emailing, over and over and over.

At first, I chalked it up to him not knowing any better. And, anyway, his attorney was copied on the thread, so it’s not like I was communicating with him without her knowledge. In fact, I never communicated with him at all. But after I asked her to reach out to him, it continued to happen. I reached out to her again, and she apologized, and told me she’d talk to him. Again.

And it continued to happen.

It’s abusive, and it’s unnecessary. He continued to email, repeatedly, to force her to do what he wanted her to do as quickly as he wanted her to do it. He probably thought that he’d drive my client’s bill up by repeatedly interacting with me (though I didn’t charge, since I didn’t read the emails, and simply forwarded them back to his attorney), and also that she’d feel even more pressure because of all the people who were involved. It’s true – she did. She was so overwhelmed, and practically near tears when I talked to her at the end of the afternoon. Even I was overwhelmed by the volume of the correspondence; frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it! Obviously, it happens – it happens every single day – but it doesn’t often happen right under the nose of the attorney.

I was glad it did, of course. My client was very upset, but it gave me the chance to step in and do something about it. It also gives me an idea for what to do in the case moving forward, so my client isn’t continually put in a position where her husband can batter and abuse her.

So, what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? (Though, probably, it won’t happen right in front of your attorney.)

If you don’t have kids together

Easy! Stop talking to him. Don’t respond. Block his phone number, block him on Facebook, block his emails – whatever you gotta do so that you don’t have to hear from him. There’s no reason the two of you need to communicate, if it’s abusive or otherwise unproductive, why continue it? It’s not vitally necessary. Any communication that takes place can take place through the attorneys. There’s no need at all for you to communicate with him.

Why talk to him? Give me ONE good reason.

Oh, you do have kids together? That’s a good reason.

If you have kids together, you can discuss the kids – but don’t discuss anything else. If the conversation takes an abusive turn, end it. Immediately.

Preferably, if you correspond, you should do so in a written medium. That way, if anything goes wrong, we’ll have a written record – and, also, he’ll know why you’re asking to correspond in written form, and he’s less likely to show his true colors when he knows everyone can see what he’s written.

None of these discussions should take place in front of the children, either. You have a responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen. Again, if the conversation takes an abusive turn, end the conversation. That should be true regardless of whether the children are present, but certainly if they are present, you should stop the discussion immediately.

You hire an attorney to help you navigate these tricky areas, and you should let your attorney do it. If your husband is abusive and continues to attack you, you have a responsibility to put an end to the conversation. If you can’t, or if you’re wondering what to do or whether your husband’s behavior rises to this level, have a discussion about it with your attorney.

In this particular case, I had to tell my client to do it. Honestly, I think she has just so brow beaten over the years with this guy that she didn’t know what to do. That’s pretty common among battered spouses, of course. She kept working diligently to make what he wanted happen, thinking that it would end the continual harassment – when, really, for abusers, its kind of the opposite. If you continue to try to smooth the way to keep things on an even keel, he’ll just end up wanting more and more, and demanding it from you. Talk to your attorney, and make a plan for how to move forward – but be prepared to execute the plan your attorney outlines. If she tells you not to have any future communication with your spouse, give it a try. I think you’ll find freedom in that decision, and it’s part of taking off the harness and getting out from under your husband’s control.

He may buck at first, but if he doesn’t get a reaction out of you, he’ll eventually learn to cope. After all, he might as well learn it now, since after the divorce is finalized he’ll really be on his own.

I know it’s difficult to be abused, and after years of this behavior, it can be hard to think straight and make good decisions. Your judgment probably feels pretty rattled, and you’re not sure what to do to make things run smoothly. That’s okay. It’s worthwhile to have a real discussion with your attorney about your options and choices moving forward, and then go from there.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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