Divorce inevitably creates heartbreak. That’s an irreducible part of the process. But the extent of the mental and emotional suffering depends sensitively not just on the divorce process but also on what happened in the relationship itself.

If your spouse abused you emotionally—by demeaning your career ambitions, yelling at you for small offenses, jealously spying on you, or engaging in other horrific behavior—your road to recovery will be greatly complicated. How do you pick up the pieces? How do reclaim your self-esteem, begin to forgive, take care of yourself, and identify the patterns in your own behavior that enabled the abuse?

These aren’t just theoretical questions. They also could have significant bearing on your divorce case. Depending on the nature and extent of the abuse, your spouse’s access to your children could be limited, or you may need the court to protect you in the future.

Special Considerations

Choosing to leave an abusive spouse is a brave, scary step. The legal system is designed to give you some protection and ensure justice. As a victim, you may be entitled to significant custody rights (and potentially even sole custody of children if the abuse was egregious); alimony and child support payments; and court orders that limit the abuser’s ability to contact, harass or intimidate you.

Nevertheless, be aware of the psychology potentially at work. For instance, it’s normal to want to make up excuses for an abuser’s bad actions and to feel guilty or sad (instead of relieved) when justice is done. In a compelling blog post, Dr. Joseph Carver writes: “In clinical practice, some of the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in controlling and abusive relationships. When the relationship ends, they offer comments such as “I know what he’s done to me, but I still love him”, “I don’t know why, but I want him back”, or “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her”. Recently I’ve heard “This doesn’t make sense. He’s got a new girlfriend and he’s abusing her too…but I’m jealous!” Friends and relatives are even more amazed and shocked when they hear these comments or witness their loved one returning to an abusive relationship. While the situation doesn’t make sense from a social standpoint, does it make sense from a psychological viewpoint? The answer is — Yes!”

Don’t expect this journey to be emotionally linear. There will be ups and downs as you adjust to being out of the relationship. A caring, intelligent counselor can help you work through these challenges, while your qualified family law attorney can assist you on the legal end of things.

Resources For Emotionally Abused Spouses

If you’re enduring emotional abuse or fear for your safety, there are places you can turn. Check out these resources here in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women. This organization has 80 chapters spread throughout the state.
  • The Domestic Abuse Project offers counseling from professional therapists. They may also help you file an order of protection (restraining order) and find shelter away from your abusive spouse.
  • Minnesota Day One Crisis Hotline. By calling this hotline, victims can get the help they need from “day one”–not just when it’s too little, too late. Call 866-233-1111.

Filing for divorce after an abusive relationship may force you to leave your comfort zone, but we’re here to help. Please call our experienced, compassionate Minnesota family law attorneys to schedule a private call about your next steps at 763-323-6555.

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Photo of Cynthia J. Brown Cynthia J. Brown

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting…

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting matters settled fairly and cost-effectively. We’re certainly ready to litigate, but favor empowering clients to control the outcome of their case.”

Cynthia is a founding partner with the Brown Law Offices, P.A. She is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. She publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues.

Cynthia Brown was admitted to practice in 1998. After graduating from law school, Cynthia served as the law clerk to the Honorable Timothy R. Bloomquist, retired Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District. Upon completing her clerkship, Cynthia practiced family law with a well-known firm in Cambridge, Minnesota. She founded the Brown Law Offices, P.A., in 2003.

Early in her career, Cynthia served as a prosecutor and public defender. In the last decade, however, Cynthia’s practice has focused primarily on family law. She has handled a wide variety of matters throughout the Twin Cities, and greater Minnesota, including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, paternity, step-parent adoption, harassment and grandparent rights.

Cynthia publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues. She is a contributing author to the Family Law Forum, the quarterly publication of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association. Cynthia also writes a bi-monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and monthly articles for Divorce Magazine.

Cynthia obtained her Bachelor’s Degree, magna cum laude, from the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and her Juris Doctorate from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

Cynthia founded the Amigos de Guatemala Foundation in 2007. She is a former Board Member and President of the Foundation, which provided educational, health and financial resources to underprivileged Guatemalan citizens. Her interest in serving the impoverished began with a medical mission trip to Honduras in 1994.

When she is not practicing law, Cynthia enjoys scrap-booking, soap-making, beading and spending time with family. She and her husband, Jason, also an attorney, have two children.