One of the hardest situations to deal with during a divorce is an overly aggressive ex. It can be frustrating, intimidating, and frightening to deal with an ex who turns out to be a bully. Here are a few tips to help better handle these situations.
Dealing with an ex who is a bully during a divorce can place you in an impossible situation because often you are forced to either give in or have the arguments keep escalating until they get to dangerous levels. People usually take one of three approaches. They (1) give in over and over trying to keep the peace; (2) shut down and hide from the bully; or (3) they get even more aggressive themselves in response to the bullying behavior. These are not great options, we have a few suggestions in order to help prevent these situations.
When dealing with an ex who is a bully during divorce, keep it in writing.
First, and probably most importantly in dealing with the bully, keep your dialog in writing. It is perfectly OK to insist that all your discussions occur over email or in text form. That way, it takes some of the intimidation out of you being yelled at. Perhaps more importantly, it creates a clear paper trail you can show the judge of the type of abuse you experience at their hands.
Remember your correspondence has an audience.
Secondly, when you do have the paper trail of texts and emails going, remember it goes both ways. Before you send any text or say anything to the bully, remember you are writing the email to the judge, not to your ex. If you don’t think it will look good to a judge, then don’t send your thoughts.
Take time before responding, and don’t engage in the fight.
The third piece of advice, take a breath. Reacting quickly is rarely productive. What I mean by this is your best defense is to not try and win the argument. For example, when your bully “tells you” how they are going to do things, recognize you don’t have to try and convince them they’re wrong. Often the bully wants, as much as anything, to keep fighting with you.
They want to keep that argument going in circles until you give up and admit you’re wrong, giving them the emotional victory. Sometimes the best way to handle this is to not engage. This doesn’t mean don’t state your position, but recognize you don’t need to explain yourself and try to persuade him to see it your way.
Often bullies are maddeningly frustrating because they are unreasonable and just plain wrong. It’s natural to think “if he’d only listen, we could get past this stupid argument”. The problem is, bullies are bullies because they have no intention of actually listening to you or having a discussion. If they were willing to do that, you wouldn’t be so frustrated with them.
If you or your kids are in danger, seek a protective order.
Sometimes, the bully is so aggressive that you need to protect yourself physically. If you are in danger of abuse, look into getting a restraining order immediately.
There are a lot of options available under the law to obtain court orders to stop bullying by an ex. You can get a no-contact order. You can establish fairly quickly a detailed parenting plan that outlines the rules everyone has to follow. When your bully breaks the rules, you can hold them in contempt of court and have them sanctioned by the judge until they get the message. The best thing to do when dealing with a bully for an ex is to talk to a family law attorney and discuss what options might be best suited to protect you and help regain some sanity to your situation.
You may also find our article about Finding Resolutions in High-conflict Divorce to be helpful.
Tom Brasier is an experienced divorce and custody attorney serving the greater Portland, Oregon and Southwest Washington area. Please remember this article is not meant to replace the advice of a family law attorney, please seek your attorney’s advice about your particular situation. You can contact Tom at 1 (503) 855-4777 or by using the contact form below.
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