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Emotional Abuse & Divorce


Emotional abuse can affect your divorce case as it relates to child custody, property division, and spousal support, which we will go into further detail below. We will also discuss how California courts view emotional abuse—as an act of domestic violence.

What Is Considered Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, encompasses non-physical behaviors aimed at controlling, isolating, or intimidating another person. This can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Verbal abuse, which can include insults, put-downs, threats, yelling, and humiliation.
  • Isolation, which can involve controlling who the victim sees or speaks to and monitoring their activities.
  • Gaslighting, which can involve envying or twisting reality to confuse and manipulate the victim.
  • Financial abuse, which can involve withholding money, controlling finances, and sabotaging the victim's financial independence.
  • Intimidation, which can involve making threats of physical harm and manipulation through fear.

Emotional Abuse Is a Form of Domestic Violence

While domestic violence often conjures images of physical harm, California law recognizes the insidious reality of emotional abuse, a form of violence that leaves unseen scars but nonetheless shatters lives.

California's landmark legislation on coercive control, enacted in 2020, marked a significant shift in recognizing the nuanced dynamics of emotional abuse. This law acknowledges that a pattern of controlling behaviors, designed to isolate, intimidate, and subjugate a partner, constitutes domestic violence even absent physical contact.

Beyond the broader framework of coercive control, California law also recognizes specific acts of emotional abuse as criminal threats. Uttering threats of violence, harm, or property damage against a partner or their loved ones can constitute a misdemeanor or even a felony, depending on the severity and context of the threat. For instance, threatening physical harm to the victim, their children, or pets or threatening to destroy their belongings can all be prosecuted as criminal threats.

Impact of Emotional Abuse on Divorce Proceedings

In California, emotional abuse can significantly impact divorce proceedings. For instance, property and debt distribution may be influenced if the abused partner can prove that the abusive behavior resulted in financial loss or loss of earning capacity. In such cases, the abusive partner may receive a smaller share of assets.

Judges may issue a protective order that requires the abusive spouse to stay away from their partner. Furthermore, judges can award spousal support to partners who need financial aid during or after the divorce. However, an abusive spouse may be disqualified from receiving alimony if convicted of domestic violence.

Child custody is another area where abusive behavior plays a significant role. Domestic violence, including emotional abuse, is taken into account when determining visitation schedules, child support payments, and child custody arrangements.

Proving Emotional Abuse in Court

Proving emotional abuse in court can be challenging, but it's not impossible. Some ways to establish emotional abuse include seeking support from experts, advocates, and fellow survivors. Documenting a timeline of events, saving any digital evidence of the abuse, and reaching out to potential witnesses can significantly help in proving emotional abuse.

Let our team help you. Call (949) 577-7935 to schedule a case consultation and discuss your case with our divorce team.

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