When you hear the words “emotional” and “abuse” what comes to mind? I’m willing to bet that if you were being completely honest the image of a raised eyebrow may have appeared in your mind’s eye signifying that you may be a little skeptical of the concept of emotional abuse.
What exactly does emotional abuse anyway? How can we be sure that abuse has actually occurred and it's not just being made up or exaggerated by an aggrieved spouse?
If you are a spouse or you have children who have suffered any form of emotional abuse then I’m sure you could have quite the conversation with anyone who is skeptical as to whether or not emotional abuse is real and significant.
The seriousness of emotional abuse, whether suffered by the husband or wife in a marriage, cannot be understated. While there are no physical marks of the kind left by physical abuse, emotional abuse can leave significant damage to a person’s mental faculties and, yes, even their physical person.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC we will discuss the topic of emotional abuse in the context of a divorce. If you are going through a divorce or contemplating one this is a subject that while not easy to talk about can be incredibly relevant to you and your family. Let’s get into the subject matter right now.
Courts view emotional abuse as extremely serious in Texas
Parental rights (conservatorship), as well as possession and access to your child, can be greatly affected by a history of emotional violence and abuse in your marriage and family life. In extreme cases, the rights that your spouse has to your children can be put into jeopardy if their conduct is viewed as extreme enough by a judge.
A hypothetical example of emotional abuse and how it can be viewed by a family court judge
Suppose that you and your spouse married some years ago and had two children with one another. A few years after your youngest child was born you and your spouse began divorce proceedings. During the divorce, your spouse accused you of physically abusing your children with absolutely no evidence to substantiate such allegations.
Child Protective Services (CPS) was brought in to investigate you and the allegations made against you. On each occasion, the investigation yielded no findings against you for abuse and the investigations were closed without further action taken by CPS.
Due to the multiple complaints to CPS by your spouse and the failure of CPS to turn up any evidence that could be considered to be dispositive of abuse, your spouse could actually be investigated by CPS him or herself for emotional abuse against your children.
What can happen is that interviews can be conducted of your children where any ulterior motive of your spouse can be discovered. What if your spouse coached your son to tell people that you had been abusive towards him? How would this behavior look in terms of evidence to be submitted to a judge?
Emotional abuse and its effect on your divorce
There is a legal presumption that naming both parents in a divorce as joint managing conservators are in the best interests of the child. This is due to the fact that both parents ought to have a stake in raising their children and contributing financially to the raising of their children as well. Of course, evidence to the contrary showing why this would not be in the best interest of the children may be introduced in a divorce as well.
While you and your spouse may ultimately share in the rights and duties in raising your children, your spouse may have their possession and access to your children restricted to a degree due to their emotionally abusive tactics during the divorce.
Judges can order your spouse to attend counseling or therapy to get to the root of the problem that caused the outlandish and harmful behavior. Attendance at pre-determined counseling sessions could be mandatory and proof would need to be submitted to the judge and your attorney throughout the divorce in order for your spouse to have unsupervised visits with your children.
Stair-step visitation and possession
If your spouse can prove that their attendance with the therapist has been satisfactory and up to the orders presented by the judge it would be possible for him or her to gain additional periods of unsupervised visitation.
This is otherwise known as “stair stepping” in the context of child visitation during and after a divorce. Your spouse would be walking up the stairs of having more and more visitation that is not either supervised by you or at a certified supervised visitation facility in your area.
The fact that your spouse may have to earn the right to have unsupervised periods of possession with his or her children speaks to the seriousness with which emotional abuse is viewed by judges in Texas family law cases.
Termination of a parent’s rights to their children
What if the emotional abuse suffered by you and your children during the divorce did not stop and persisted on into post-divorce life? What recourse could you have towards your spouse?
An extreme, but possibly justified, response to this continued emotional abuse would be to request that a court terminate the parental rights of your spouse towards your children. Obviously, the behavior would need to be extreme to justify such a request.
Your children would have had to suffer greatly, both physically and mentally, at the hands of your spouse. This is not something that courts take lightly and obviously to be successful you would have to stack your evidence as high as the ceiling.
If your children are seeing a counselor or therapist because of the abuse by your spouse what the children tell their counselor, as well as what your ex-spouse tells the counselor, can have a huge impact on what a court decides to do as far as termination of parental rights is concerned.
If your spouse does not seem remorseful or speaks about acting destructively towards you and your children again this could be seen as grounds to consider a complete termination of parental rights.
Grounds for termination of parental rights connected to emotional abuse
When it comes to behavior that is seen as emotionally abusive, just what types of behavior rise to the level of justifying the termination of your spouse’s parental rights? If your spouse were to knowingly leave your children in a place where their physical and mental well being was in danger or if your spouse engaged in conduct that harmed the well being of your children these are two ways that the Texas Family Code state justify the termination of your spouse’s parental rights.
For your own sake, it is important to keep an eye on what your children say about what your spouse tells them both during and after a divorce. If you believe that your children are being abused emotionally it is your duty to respond by either discussing it with your attorney or addressing it through the legal system.
Though emotional abuse does not leave physical scars in many cases, the emotional residue is harmful and long lasting as well.
Questions about emotional abuse and family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC today
Whether your question relates to a child custody or divorce case, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC are here to assist you with answering questions related to emotional abuse. We work only with clients whose problems relate to family law and offer experience and advocacy skills that are unparalleled in southeast Texas.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.