What Is Considered Verbal Abuse & Harassment From a Divorced Spouse?

By Ciele Edwards

Businessman yelling at woman

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In a perfect world, all divorces would be amiable. Separating couples would divide assets and set child custody arrangements peacefully before beginning new lives as single individuals. Unfortunately, a divorce is an emotionally-charged event that can drive either party to behave inappropriately. This includes verbally abusing or harassing children or a former spouse. It's crucial that divorced individuals recognize and take action against verbal harassment and abuse following a divorce to ensure that the behavior does not continue.

Verbal Abuse

According to HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers recognize and put a stop to domestic abuse and violence, verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse. Yelling, insulting or belittling are all forms of verbal abuse you may suffer from your former spouse. While disagreements following a divorce are common, there are differences between a heated argument and genuine verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is a direct attack on the victim's self-esteem and gives the abuser a way of gaining control over a disagreement.


While verbal abuse is a form of harassment, harassment takes many different forms as well. Harassment occurs when the abuser sets out to intentionally cause the victim emotional harm on a regular basis. Examples of harassment include calling repeatedly with no purpose other than to verbally abuse the victim, threatening to hurt or destroy people or items the victim cares about or posting derogatory claims about the victim online.

While all states define harassment differently, the practice is illegal and victims have the right to press charges. In November of 2011, a judge sentenced a Missouri man to four years in prison for harassment after he posted intimate photographs of his ex-wife online.

Abuse and Custody

Showing that your spouse is verbally abusing or harassing you can cause him to lose custody of your children following a divorce. One of the custody regulations set by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law notes that, when determining custody, a judge must consider which parent is most likely to help a child maintain a relationship with the other parent. This “best interests” standard for determining child custody applies in all 50 states.

Stop the Abuse

If you or your child are a victim of harassment or verbal abuse from your former spouse, you can seek the court's aid in rectifying the problem. State laws vary, but abused former spouses can often apply for a civil order or protection preventing the abuser from contacting them or their children. In some states, such as Ohio, a judge may order the abuser to seek counseling for anger management as part of the protection order.