Separations are hardly ever clean. However, when a marital relationship has issues of control or domestic violence, a separation can dramatically escalating these issues. New Direction Family Law has helped domestic violence survivors for years, and sadly, we have had clients experience spying and harassment from their former partners when they separate. Some examples of this behavior have included:
- Threatening and incessant phone calls and texts.
- Social media threats or efforts to tarnish the other person’s reputation.
- Releasing or threatening to release intimate photos or videos of the spouse, also called “revenge porn”.
- Calling the other partner’s employer to jeopardize their job.
- Using electronic tracking devices or phone location apps to know the other person’s whereabouts.
- Setting up surveillance in person, or through audio or video devices like security cameras or webcams.
This behavior is serious, scary, and dangerous. If you have been the victim of stalking or harassment, or stand accused of this conduct, it is worth examining the legal consequences when it comes to separation and divorce.
Obtaining a DVPO
Frequent harassment following a separation can lead to a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO). To obtain one, a victim and accused must have a personal relationship, which includes “current and former spouses”. One of the bases of obtaining a DVPO is placing a victim in fear of “continued harassment” “that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress”.
A protective order is a powerful tool against continued harassment, as it orders the accused spouse to stop (1) “Threatening, abusing, or following the other party” and (2) “Harassing the other party, including by telephone, visiting the home or workplace, or other means.” It can also order the removal of the offending person from a residence, award temporary custody of children with limited visitation rights, and order child and spousal support.
Electronic Spying and Harassment are Criminal Offenses
In addition to a protective order, extreme situations of harassment and spying can constitute the crime of cyberstalking. This includes:
- Using email or electronic communication with “any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person or to that person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent, or physical injury to the property of any person”.
- Using email or electronic communication to “repeatedly” communicated “whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of abusing, annoying, threatening, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing any person.”
- Using email or electronic communication to “knowingly make any false statement concerning death, injury, illness, disfigurement, indecent conduct, or criminal conduct of the person electronically mailed or of any member of the person’s family or household with the intent to abuse, annoy, threaten, terrify, harass, or embarrass.”
- Knowingly allowing an electronic communication device to be used for any of the aforementioned purposes.
- Knowingly installing, placing, or using an electronic tracking device without consent to track the location of any person.
People who engage in the aforementioned behavior open themselves to law enforcement seeking criminal charges, to protective orders, jail time, and a criminal record.
Implications on Alimony and Child Custody Issues
Beyond a protective order and the criminal implications of stalking and harassment, the perpetrator of this conduct also faces negative outcomes in their divorce proceedings. For example, courts awarding alimony may consider the “marital misconduct” of a spouse when determining the amount and frequency of alimony payments. Stalking and harassment during the marriage is evidence a court can consider and supports a higher alimony award.
Courts may consider harassment in a child custody determination. With broad discretion to make decisions in a child’s best interest, courts are free to consider unstable or violent behavior by a parent when deciding who gets custody, and restrictions to visitation and access.
Contact New Direction Family Law
Harassment, spying, and stalking are unacceptable behaviors when a relationship ends. If you stand accused of this behavior or are experiencing it, let us help you. New Direction Family Law helps men and women resolve all of the issues that come with a divorce. We have extensive experience when it comes to issues of domestic violence and harassment. Our clients’ safety is our top priority and we want to ensure that these issues are handled in a safe, legal manner. Call us at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or visit us online through our website.