Dealing with a Manipulative Spouse During a Divorce Case

At some point during their divorce case, many people will encounter attempts at manipulation from their spouse.  This manipulation can center around just about any of the matters that exist in a divorce case, and is important to handle correctly as the outcome of a divorce case will affect a person’s life for years and years.

As an attorney who firm handles many divorce cases in the states of Illinois and Iowa, I have seen a great many different attempts at manipulation employed during divorce cases.  The goals of such manipulation are quite diverse, and can include everything from influencing the outcome of a case, to trying to turn children against a person, or sometimes just to create misery for a soon-to-be-ex spouse. Some of the more common ones are as follows:

Interfering with child visitation.  Children are close to their parent’s hearts, and so interference with a person’s ability to see their children is a sadly common approach to manipulation that is used in divorce cases.  Sometimes this will take the form of an outright denial of the ability to see a child, and other times it is more subtle (e.g. scheduling other activities so that a person’s plans with their child are blocked).  In the most extreme cases, parental kidnapping can prevent a person from even knowing where their child is located.

Parental Alienation. In divorce cases that involve children, one parent may (quite sadly) try to turn the children against the other parent.  This is such a common problem that there are classed (e.g. the “children in the middle” class in Iowa) that many courts mandate that parents take in divorce or custody cases, with the hope that the classes will prevent such action on the part of a parent.

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Hiding or withholding money. Just about everything in life costs money, from food, to housing, to gas for a car.  Meeting those everyday needs is important for everyone, and in cases where one spouse has controlled the finances during the marriage, money is often a tool of manipulation.  Sometimes a spouse will simply withhold access to money by emptying out a bank account or refusing to pay marital expenses.  In other cases, the manipulation is more subtle as attempts are made to condition the payment of expenses upon the other spouse doing (or not doing) something of the spouse’s choosing.

Destroying, threatening, or hiding property. Personal property is important to people for both practical and sentimental reasons.  A person’s car, cell phone, computer, and related belongings are often essential to get through the day.  Other property, such as pictures of relatives, stuffed animals, and other items are irreplaceable for their own reasons.  In many divorce cases, a spouse threaten, hide, or destroy such property as part of a campaign of manipulation.

Being cruel towards a spouse. Even with a divorce case pending, words from one spouse to another can still be very hurtful.  That is especially true in cases where the power balance in the relationship has been one which favored one spouse over the other.  Verbal cruelty from one spouse to another is sadly commonplace in some divorce cases.

Having a pity party. In some cases where a manipulative spouse is more subtle, they will attempt to make the other spouse feel sorry for them, as a means of getting the other spouse to take (or refrain from taking) some action.  Depending upon the dynamics of the relationship between the spouses, this approach can be very troubling for the manipulated spouse.

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Clients often ask what to do about a spouse’s attempts at manipulation.  Some manipulation can be addressed through an injunction, a temporary matters hearing, or a protective order.  In other cases, there is manipulation that the legal system does not truly address, in which case I find it best to talk with my client about what they can do (and what they can refrain from doing) to remedy the matter while the case is pending.  Above all else, we want to avoid a situation where that sort of manipulation causes lasting harm to a client’s case or life.