There is a fable about a scorpion trying to cross a river. He asks a frog if the frog will take him across the river on her back. The frog initially protests, claiming that the scorpion will only sting her once the scorpion is on her back. “Why would I do that?” replies the scorpion. “Then we will both drown.” The frog, seeing the reasoning in the scorpion’s response, agrees to take the scorpion across the river. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog and they both begin to drown. The frog cried out, “Why did you sting me, knowing that we would both drown?” “Because it is my nature,” replied the scorpion.
Despite common depictions in the media, most divorces are amicable. This is not to say that divorce is not emotionally traumatic, but most people have the emotional maturity and the support systems in place to move through a period of emotional turmoil without resorting to violence or bad behavior. However, if you are in a relationship with someone who has significant mental health issues that are already causing you concern for your own mental health or physical well-being, separation from this person will likely increase these troubling behaviors. It is important to understand that separating from an already abusive spouse is not like a typical divorce.
Divorce Terrorism often ends with both parties drowning.
What Is Divorce Terrorism?
Divorce Terrorism is a tactic often used by individuals suffering from extreme mental illness or substance abuse. Divorce Terrorism typically involves excessive, meritless litigation, gaslighting, refusal to disclose information, withholding of financial support, hiding money, and attempts to alienate the children from the other parent. It is not uncommon to be in court multiple times per year for the first few years with little, if any real resolution being reached.
One root cause of Divorce Terrorism lies in the firmly entrenched belief held by the abuser that the abuser was the victim in the relationship. The abuser may legitimately believe that they have been taken advantage of financially and emotionally, and because of this belief, the position often taken by the abusive spouse is that their perceived abuser deserves nothing in divorce, and that allowing their “abuser” any support, portion of assets or custody of the children is further victimization.
Another root cause of Divorce Terrorism stems from a deeply held insecurity that creates a destructive instinct in many abusive spouses. This insecurity, most often a fear of abandonment, often causes the abusive spouse to maintain control over their partner during the relationship to limit their partner’s options – typically by limiting their access to funds, prohibiting work outside of the home, and eliminating their partner’s support network to ensure that their partner has neither the means nor support to abandon them. When their partner does leave, the abusive spouse often resorts to “scorched earth” tactics – cutting off or hiding funds, canceling credit cards, refusing to allow the children to leave the house, etc. They would rather spend all of the marital assets on attorney’s fees than see the spouse who has abandoned them get anything at all – even if this means that the abuser themselves ends up losing financial stability and their relationships with the children and other family members.
The most difficult cases involve younger children since there are lingering custody issues that force the parties to continue to be intertwined in each other’s lives for many years.
Divorce Terrorism is a different type of Domestic Violence.
While narcissists are often the focal point for their use of these types of tactics, not all narcissists engage in this type of protracted litigation, and not all individuals with extreme mental health issues resort to this type of behavior. Understanding what drives the behavior of an ex who is engaged in Divorce Terrorism is the first step in mitigating the behavior and, most important, modifying your reaction to that behavior to lessen the emotional and financial impact that this behavior has on you individually and as a family.
The term “Divorce Terrorism” first appeared in an especially contentious divorce between Google founder Scott Hassan and his wife, Allison Huynh. Mr. Hassan and Ms. Huynh separated in 2014, and have been in some sort of litigation, it appears, since then. According to sources with varying degrees of reliability, Mr. Hassan initiated the separation by text message, created a revenge website to post court documents and unfavorable information about his ex, and has engaged in the sort of protracted and costly litigation that is the hallmark of a nasty divorce.
The interactions between Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West are another example of Divorce Terrorism. This couple has been saved from the protracted litigation over assets largely due to a prenuptial agreement. However, a prenuptial agreement can’t dictate child custody (custody is determined under a “best interests of the children” standard, which can’t be defined in a prenuptial agreement). A prenuptial agreement also cannot limit the behavior of a spouse who feels wronged, abandoned, or betrayed. Kanye’s harassment of Kim through social media is an attempt, however destructive and misguided, to continue his control of her behavior or remain relevant to her life. The use of public shaming, while by no means novel, is likely only the tip of the iceberg of what he is saying and doing behind closed doors. For those who do not understand that using social media is not a viable way to manage their relationships, attempting to explain that this is not acceptable behavior is likely to fall on deaf ears because this type of harassment eventually gets a response from the victim, even if it is almost always negative. This kind of harassment is very common in situations where one party is not ready to move on from the ended relationship.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have engaged in another type of Divorce Terrorism. Their divorce includes public allegations of mental health and substance abuse issues, which has ultimately turned into more of a public relations campaign for both parties than a separation of two deeply hurt individuals struggling to move on with their lives. These dirt throwing campaigns are exhausting for the parties both financially and emotionally and only serves to make everyone look terrible.
At Hart Ginney, we know that every divorce is different, and every divorce requires a different approach to resolution. Most attorneys are not prepared for a divorce terrorism case. We strongly feel that no one should be forced to remain in a relationship because they are afraid of what the other party may do. If you are afraid of the next step, start by talking to someone who understands what you are facing and what options are available to you. We are happy to set up a consultation with you or your current legal team to discuss options. Click here to contact us.