You did it. You left your abuser. But the abuse doesn’t seem to be letting up. In fact, the abuse is getting worse, from a legal standpoint. You’re being dragged through the legal system because your abuser is filing motion after motion, or contesting custody, or even because of a false protection order filed against you.
Abusers sometimes use the legal system to continue to abuse their victims, even after the victim leaves the relationship. Abusers do this to assert power and control over their victim in the only way they know how – by continuing with the threats, bullying tactics, intimidation, and legal maneuvers.
These legal maneuvers are considered legal abuse, a type of emotional abuse, and can spell a very real danger to victims.
What is Legal Abuse?
Legal abuse can take on several forms, but for the context of this blog, it refers to the abuser’s wrongful use of the court system to file frivolous actions against their victims, which will inevitably drag out the already abusive situation.
They will file for joint custody (or in some cases, full custody). They will file protection orders, claiming that you are abusing them. If they have full custody, they will even file for more child support from you–anything to keep abusing you and to maintain that power and control over you.
If there are children involved, it can make the situation exponentially more excruciating for the victims. It can make the victims feel like the abuse will never end. Victims may even feel like they have to prove to the courts that they are the ones being abused. The abusers may even go so far as to seek full physical and legal custody of the children just to further harm the victim. If they win custody, they can sometimes keep the children as far away from the victim as possible, including geographically.
Even more disturbing is the notion that abusers will press the courts for joint custody, which is something that the abusers will use to their full advantage to continue the abuse. It can range from testing the boundaries of the parenting time the abuser gets to “forgetting” their scheduled parenting time and then wanting to make it up conveniently during the victim’s parenting time. If the victim says no, the abuser claims parental alienation or that the victim is abusing them. Sometimes, the abusers will even state that they want more and more time, just so that it infringes upon the victim’s time with the children.
As mentioned above, the abusers can also file frivolous actions against the victim. This can include false allegations of child abuse, filing a motion to delay a custody hearing, and purposely filing court applications incorrectly so that they’d have to delay a particular hearing. They might file paperwork at a different court in an attempt to overturn a previous decision. There have even been instances where the abuser will file motion after motion after motion to claim parental alienation (despite it being the abuser’s fault they haven’t seen the children in months or years).
Abusers can also threaten legal action, too. This is solely with the purpose of getting the victim to comply with their demands.
Despite escaping abusive situations, many survivors still feel fear when it comes to the legal system. This fear is very real and can exacerbate the situation because the abuser will use the courts to maintain contact with the victim.
This is why it is so vital for survivors to continue to speak out and speak the truth – in hopes that one day, the abusers will be seen for what they are. Become a domestic violence advocate in your town. Speak up. More people need to be aware that legal abuse exists, especially those in the legal system! The more that victims speak up, the more they will be believed and the abusers will be held accountable.