Domestic Violence & Neglect Law

Emotional Spousal Abuse

Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence that’s also known as mental abuse or psychological abuse.

Unlike physical abuse, the scars and trauma from emotional abuse are not as clear and can sometimes be hard to spot. That means it is often hard to define and even harder to prove in court. But when proven, it can have long-term legal effects for the abuser such as restraining orders and the loss of custody rights.

If you are facing any kind of abuse, you should contact an attorney near you for help.

What Counts as Emotional Abuse?

Some forms of emotional abuse may include:

  • Verbal abuse, such as name-calling and put-downs
  • Gaslighting, or manipulating someone so they don’t trust themself
  • Giving intimidating looks that give a threat of physical harm

It is important to distinguish emotional abuse from constructive criticism, which is giving feedback to help a person do something better.

For example, telling your spouse that they were mean, rude, and “acting like a Karen” to a waiter can be a bit derogatory, but it is unlikely to be considered emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is also different than financial abuse, but both are often found in abusive relationships, whether there is also physical abuse.

Often, if an abusive partner is physically abusive, they are also likely emotionally abusive. However, the reverse is not always the case. An emotionally abusive loved one is not necessarily physically abusive.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Just as emotional abuse is hard to define or pinpoint, signs that someone is emotionally abused are often hard to spot. The survivor may not always realize or know that the abuse is taking place. Loved ones, co-workers, friends (both in person or online), and family members should be aware of potential signs that someone is in an emotionally abusive situation. Some signs could be:

  • Having sudden, unexplained self-esteem issues, depression, or anxiety
  • Acting withdrawn from others
  • Constantly questioning themselves
  • Suddenly noting a lot of criticism from their partner

These also sound like symptoms of other mental health concerns, such as stress or depression. Just because a person exhibits these signs does not mean they are being emotionally abused (or abused at all). But, all of these are reasons to reach out to that person. And if you’re experiencing these signs, you should reach out to a professional and get help.

Can such emotionally abusive behaviors have legal consequences? The short answer is yes. Emotional abuse is considered domestic violence the same as physical abuse, economic abuse, or sexual abuse. Unlike sexual abuse and physical abuse, an emotional abuser is unlikely to face criminal charges for just emotional abuse. However, one could face civil legal consequences, particularly with regard to custody and possibly in a divorce.

In a divorce, the court may take proof of emotional abuse into consideration when talking about the amount of spousal support that one spouse will have to pay to the other. The family court judge could even reduce the amount or order no support for the abusive partner, even if they were otherwise entitled to it.

A court could also order a civil restraining order, such as a domestic violence order, if there is proof of emotional abuse and a judge feels it is a necessary solution to get the abusive behavior to stop.

Consequences for Emotional Child Abuse

An abusive parent, if the abuse is toward a child, could lose custody or have restricted parenting time with their child as well.

Even if the emotional abuse is toward the other parent, the family court judge could use that as a reason to grant the non-abusive parent sole custody, since legal custody is about making decisions on behalf of the child. If one parent cannot communicate in a polite manner with the other parent and continues to berate the other parent, then the court may take away legal custody and grant the other parent sole legal custody.

Get an Attorney’s Help

If you have more questions about whether emotional abuse can or would create an issue in your divorce or child custody case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney near you. An attorney can help protect you and guide you through the process of seeking a restraining order and beginning divorce proceedings.

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