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Tips For Staying The Course When Divorcing A Controlling Spouse

Cynthia M. Fox

Adult abuse laws were not designed just to protect women. Several years ago, I represented a man divorcing his wife when he gradually began having problems focusing on the issues at hand. He was late for appointments and failed to provide the documents he had promised. I asked if there was something wrong.

After first denying any problems, he confessed to being very distracted because his wife, from whom he had separated, wouldn't stop calling him. I was skeptical that some unwanted pestering could be the problem until he showed me a log documenting she had called him 700 times the last 30 days! She called every hour, sometimes more than once, at his work and at the home of the friend where he was staying, day after day. When he didn't take the call, or wasn't available, she would berate whoever took the message for "keeping her from her husband", and then began calling his family and other friends to track him down.

I recommended an adult abuse order to halt this harassment, but he wouldn't hear of it. As a man, and a Vietnam veteran, he couldn't admit to being abused by a 99-pound woman. But, when she continued despite his best efforts to get her to stop, he authorized me to obtain a court order restraining his wife from contacting him. Under the threat of being jailed and monetary damages, she stopped calling.

What happened to this man is not that unusual for someone divorcing a controlling and abusive spouse. Like a really bad cold, they hold on fiercely until the very end, using every weapon in their arsenal to stay in control of the person they consider as "their property". Some of my best work in these situations goes beyond the practice of law to include counseling and supporting my clients on how to stay the course.

I remind them not to rely on what they hear from their spouse. It is likely being said with one overriding motive: to get them back under their spouse's control. Often, they will be told that their spouse, and the children, are miserable without them and that everything will be fine if they would just come back. The conflict for the abused spouse is that some of the information may be true, or at least be what they want to hear, but that most of the communication is for manipulation only. They really can't give this "information" any more credibility than something said to them by a stranger on the street.

The pressure to quit can be enormous on someone reasserting themselves after years of abusive control. I tell my clients to pretend that getting this divorce is like playing a role in a movie. They and their spouse are just actors with parts to play. They are the hero yearning to break free, with their husband/wife playing the villain. This is not their real life. Don't take the part home or to work, and keep in mind that this movie, and their part, will be finished when the divorce is completed. Every day they stay the course brings them one day closer to the finish line, and one day farther from their life in prison.

Finally, I tell my clients to do something special for themselves everyday. Put themselves first with a bouquet of flowers, a long walk or just an extra long shower.

For over 25 years Cynthia M. Fox has focused her practice in family law, with a particular emphasis on matters relating to the dissolution of marriage: divorce representation and mediation, child custody and child support. She is a native St. Louis and a graduate of the Washington University School of Law, Class of '73.

Cynthia M. Fox can be contacted by phone at (314)727-4880 or
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