Looking back on my experience, I was fairly naive. When I filed the paperwork for divorce from my ex-husband 14 years ago, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, getting a divorce was non-negotiable given what he had put me through, but I didn’t know that throughout the divorce process, and LONG after, he would continue to harass me.
What I learned is that the legal system is slow and flawed, but in the end harassment is a crime that should not be tolerated under any circumstances, and following the law is the only way to go if you want lasting results in ending the madness. While all divorces (and ex-husbands) are different, and have their own circumstances and characteristics, I was lucky to have a good legal team early on to help me along the way through the minutiae.
As always, I am no attorney, but I learned a ton that first year. If you are being harassed, my hope is that you will be able to take away some assistance from my words here.
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What Is Harassment?
The first step in this process is to find out what the legal definition of harassment is in your state. A quick google search can usually do the trick. Generally, the legal definition is as follows:
Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a reasonable person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.
Your attorney can tell you what the harassment from ex husband laws are in your state. In my case, I actually had better luck dealing with the DA’s office and the police. They were the ones who moved everything through the system for me and gave me the headway I needed. Also, when I went through the DA’s office, they supplied me an attorney and helped me fill out the paperwork right there in the help center of the courthouse.
The second step is to buy a spiral notebook to keep with you at all times (or someplace handy) to document EVERY SINGLE interaction with your ex good or bad. I had a notebook in my car as well, just in case. If you are dealing with harassment, you are going to have to be on the ball, at the beginning especially, but really FOREVER. You will need to be diligent when recording what has happened. It will help the police and ultimately the attorneys who represent you in the future.
Why Does Harassment Happen?
My ex-husband is a narcissist, which pretty much ensures other areas of concern, but like narcissism, harassment is all about CONTROL.
For many victims of domestic violence and abuse, harassment and stalking can be a particular problem post-separation, as ex-partners try to maintain their control. This is why leaving can be so dangerous.
I had to be very careful when I divorced my ex-husband, and I met with my attorney in secret while my ex was at work. I knew he would not take me leaving him well.
Many women (including myself) describe their partners seeking them out after the relationship had ended, continuing to pester and intimidate them with threats, turning up at their workplace or cruising up and down their neighbourhood in a car, watching out for them. I left my husband after a brief abusive marriage but endured years of hell as he frequently harassed me. I sometimes felt like a prisoner of war and knew he was trying to break my spirit. I refused to let him take away my joy of life!
If you are being harassed, there are a few ways you could try to address the situation before going to the police, however, that being said, you should still be diligent with your documentation and record how he responds. None of these ways were effective in my case, but I felt like it was good for the police, the DA’s office, and our judges to see that I tried to be clear before I moved forward with legal intervention.
- For minor incidents, you might try talking to your ex. There’s a possibility that he might not be considering the true effects of his actions. Once informed, he might change his ways.
- If the harassment is focused on you, establish firmer modes of communication. For example, you can tell your ex-spouse that you will only communicate over email or text messages, which will both provide a permanent record of your exchanges (evidence that you might need in court).
- If a spouse is using the children as tools of harassment, you can write a list of subjects that you don’t wish him to discuss with the children.
If the harassment doesn’t cease, or if it is potentially illegal, then you should speak with an attorney and file a report with the police. As to whether you can sue your ex husband for harassment, ask your attorney.
Talk To Someone About It
Dealing with harassment is exhausting and mentally draining (not to mention terrifying). It helps if you have someone to talk to.
In my case, I had most of my family who knew the particulars of the situation and were a source of support for me. I would caution you to choose who you tell everything to wisely. I lost a few friends along the way who were unable to wrap their minds around the situation. One friend told me to just leave the state to get away from him, and had no understanding or appreciation of the legal fallout for me had I done something like that (charges of kidnapping, neglecting father’s rights, etc.). Let those friends all go. You have no time for additional drama in your life.
Talk To Your Ex: Set Boundaries
My ex-husband began some pretty serious harassment from the get-go, but it did not take me long to clarify my boundaries. I just straight up told him that any time he broke the law and harassed me, I would be filing a report with the police. And that is what I did. I had the numbers of four different city police departments in my phone (and still do just in case) in order to call if and when I needed to.
You have to file a report in the city in which the crime occurs, so it depended on where we were as to which department I needed to go to. YOU MUST FILE A REPORT EVERY SINGLE TIME HARASSMENT OCCURS. I cannot stress this enough. You must follow through, because you will need a paper trail as your case moves forward. If you do not, there will be questions as to why you did not file. File as soon as you can after the harassment occurs.
Some of the best pieces of advice I ever received regarding my divorce and the aftermath was from a fantastic attorney in the DA’s office: (1) file the report every time, and (2) document every interaction. I was helped enormously in court by both when the time came to move forward. Your ex-husband needs to understand that you will not play. Set boundaries as early as you can.
A police officer told me once that to move forward, what they need to hear is that you have asked for the behavior to stop and then they need to see the behavior continue.
Once you have a few reports filed, and the behavior continues or gets worse, you should go to the DA’s office and get a restraining order or a protection from abuse order. In my case, I went up to the DA’s office and they had people (angels) who helped me with every step of the process.
With the police reports filed, and copies of my journal entries for them, they helped me move toward a hearing and ultimately four guilty convictions. Securing a protection from abuse order was instrumental in making a case against him. If you are dealing with someone who harasses you repeatedly, it is hard for them not to break that court order.
Have that court order with you at all times. Make copies of it and have one in your car, your purse, and anywhere else you might need it. I made and gave copies of the divorce decree and all court orders to my kids’ schools as well. Don’t take any chances. Having your documents ready to go when the police have to be called will make your life much easier.
I also memorized my ex-husband’s social security number (not on purpose, but because I was filling reports so often) and if you give their SSN to the police, they can just look him up. The bottom line is, again, DO NOT PLAY. If you are serious about making the behavior stop, you will need to be vigilant from the beginning.
Document The Harassment
I smile when I think about it, even though it is awful, but I was on a first name basis with the employees at the RadioShack near my house. I was in there all the time. They helped me figure out a way to prove that harassment was occurring. I also had a subscription to a catalog specializing in surveillance equipment and was always on the lookout for ways to prove what was happening.
ALWAYS find out what you can do LEGALLY. You will lose credibility if you are seen as not being aboveboard. There are laws about recording people, but you are allowed to tape yourself and your own phone calls. My ex would deny everything, and one of the reasons why documentation is so so so important is that when you get divorced your judges, attorneys, the police, don’t know anything about the situation, or who to believe. And rest assured, they have seen everything. People lie in court. Women lie about harassment.
If you do get something on audio, it is very important to take it to the police and let them listen to it, as well as take it to a court approved transcriptionist who will legally transcribe it into a document for the judge to see. Same with video. Take it to the police and ask them what your options are. Once I had audio documentation, and it was used at the hearing, there was nothing my ex could do, and his lies were exposed.
Call The Police
Remember to treat your police officers with respect. They are your friends and you will need their help. They want to help you. Tell them early that you have been instructed by your attorney to report every single incidence of harassment, and that you wish it was different, but you are determined to get justice and only want to live your life free from harassment and fear.
Also, once your protection from abuse order goes through, the police department in the city where you live will be notified. An officer came over to my house and checked all areas of entry (windows, doors, garage, etc.) and asked if I had any questions or concerns. The police are the best! Go to them if you are being harassed and enlist their help!
Get A Lawyer
I had a divorce attorney to deal with the civil dealings, but I was also represented by the DA’s office for the criminal side. While I was speaking with my divorce attorney throughout, the DA’s office was dealing with the harassment case, yet it was related to and tied with my divorce proceedings.
My advice to you is to ask the help center at the DA’s office to guide you through the process. You will need legal counsel because it can be confusing. Make sure you trust your divorce attorney and that they have experience with divorces accompanied by harassment, or in my case, with divorcing a narcissist. Your divorce attorney should bring up the criminal charges to your judge.
Take the high road every time. This motto has worked for me. The only way to deal with someone who is abusive is to play it straight. I cannot stress this enough. You need to be above board at all times. Also, get it into your head that you “don’t play.” You will not “win” if you try to retaliate or take revenge. The only way out is to take the proper steps legally.
For many women, harassment begins or intensifies after they leave the marriage. Being prepared for the manipulative tactics used by ex-partners could help to lessen the impact. Anticipate what you need to do before it happens, and you will be one step ahead of the game.
Despite ongoing harassment from my ex-husband (he still tries almost 15 years later), the impact of leaving him brought me such a sense of relief (I still say every morning is like Christmas morning since the day I filed). The start of a new, healthy, independent life was worth every struggle.
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