How to Document and Protect Yourself in a High-Conflict Divorce  

(This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of the book, The Life-Saving Divorce: Hope For People Leaving Destructive Relationships.)

 

In very troubled divorces where one parent lies frequently and refuses to play fair or follow the divorce agreement, it is important to document everything, starting right away. This article gives examples of 12 incidents and 12 financial issues to document.

 

Some people record all conversations, if that is legal in their state. Some people never speak with the other spouse on the phone, choosing to do everything via email and text message so there is proof of what was said and agreed to.

 

Once you file for divorce, you may want to communicate with your spouse only in writing. You may want to ask the court to require the use of a co-parenting app. Look at the OurFamilyWizard, or AppClose, or TalkingParents apps online and become familiar with how they work. These apps are lifesavers, and are admissible in court in many states. These app records make it very difficult for people to change dates, wording, and pretend they did or didn’t open or respond to an email. Often the court requires the divorcing parties split the cost of these apps. (Prices vary: OurFamilyWizard is about $6 per month.)

 

What Should You Document? When?

 

Start documenting immediately. Don’t hit “delete” when a nasty text or threatening voicemail is left. I know you feel like you’re finally free and can breathe for the first time in years, but from day one, you need to start documenting all threats, name calling, and other incidents.

 

The main goal of documenting is to be able to “paint a picture” for the legal authorities over the case. See examples here and here. It needs to illuminate the pattern of behaviors that are abusive without calling it by name. It’s telling the complete story, not just listing them. The more details you have, the better, because they will show the patterns (even if you can’t see them at the time you’re documenting them). You want to have enough details to be able to easily remember that incident from other similar incidents. This might include: exactly what all parties said and did; how this made you feel; and what thoughts or actions you or others took because of it; what your children witnessed or reported to you, and their feelings, actions, or words in response.

 

Both facts and feelings are important to document! If he punched the wall beside you and you were afraid he was going to hit you, document that. If your child was upset that their parent didn’t pick them up for parenting time, again, document your child’s verbal, physical, and emotional response. This is a journal, with the specific purpose of keeping a record (not a bullet-point list of behaviors).

 

Trying to survive blinds you to the fact that you must protect yourself. You’re so broken down after years of mind-games, deception, and lies, you don’t realize you have to be on your toes. When your spouse realizes they can no longer control you, a lightbulb turns on, and they try a wide variety of tactics to threaten or punish you.

 

 

Here is an example of some legal phrases that pertain to emotional abuse.

 

12 Incidents to Document for Your Divorce

These are examples of the types of incidents you may want to document. When listing the dates and times, you may want to use the phrase "on or about this date."

  • Threats against you. “If you divorce, I’ll get custody of our daughter.” “You’ll never get a dime from me.” “I’ll destroy you in court.” “I’ll ruin you.”
  • Anger about the divorce. Trying to stop or delay the divorce: Not responding to letters, changing addresses without telling you so they can’t be served, calling your friends/family and telling them he (or she) wants to save the marriage and suggesting they pressure you.
  • Vitriol or hate mail. Calling you names, trying to ruin your reputation, accusing you of sleeping with everyone, accusing you of doing the very things they are doing. Saying, “if you were any kind of parent, you’d do this…” Or “you’re an awful parent, your child is better off without you.”
  • Stalking behavior. Driving by your house, standing outside your workplace, calling your boss, trying to get you fired, creating a crisis so you have to leave work early, bothering your coworkers. (Get coworkers’ statements in writing right away. Save their emails/texts and print them out. If you let time pass, they may not want to get involved.)
  • Not following court orders about visitation. Coming too early, coming more than 15 minutes late, not showing up at the scheduled time and place, picking kids up at school early and demanding the teacher let the kids out.
  • Hacking your phone or computer. (This is why it may not be best to document everything on your phone. Hacking is also illegal.)
  • False allegations with no proof. (Your attorney will ask them in court if they have proof. But it also helps to use a co-parenting app that documents your conversations and gives GPS location and time/date stamps to provide evidence about custody exchanges. See more below.)
  • Withholding child support. This is especially to be noted if your ex is also demanding you pay to get kids into expensive sports/lessons.
  • Financial abuse. Taking money out of joint accounts, refusing to pay support in a timely fashion (yet demanding you pay for the kids’ camp, sports, or activities by the deadline).
  • Constant litigation. Note this especially if it is happening over small things, such as not making a phone call at exactly 5:00 pm.
  • Disparaging comments. These can be about your family, your sex life, accusing you of having sex partners coming in and out of your house (which, incidentally, proves they are stalking you).
  • Claiming that something is true when it’s not. Denying something that turns out to be true. Saying the kids finished and turned in their report, claiming they had spent a certain amount of money on the kids’ sports uniforms, claiming they gave you items that belonged to you.
  • Not picking up or dropping off the kids within 15 minutes of the specified court-approved time. Not dropping them off at the agreed upon location. Cancelling visitation or vacation plans without reasonable notice.
  • Demanding leniency from you, but refusing the same leniency when you request it.
  • Setting appointments and standing you up. For example, if your ex insists on having a contractor come look at the house and sets a date and asks you to block out time, yet fails to show up and fails to cancel in advance.

 

12 Financial Issues to Document for Your Divorce

There are many simple financial apps for tracking childcare expenses and tracking the date and amount of the child and spousal support payments you pay or receive. In order to understand what the court requires, read your divorce judgment to review the deadlines and requirements.

  • Missed child support payment, late payment, or reduced payment. Know what dates and amounts your judgment requires. Write down date and amount expected, and date and amount received.
  • Reason the payment was not made or received.
  • Be prepared to give a report to your attorney of how much you paid and how much you are owed: in child support, spousal support, childcare expenses (clothing, daycare costs, unreimbursed medical, child counseling), and home repairs (if you are both responsible for the home), and other expenses (medical and life insurance premiums, for example).
  • Your ex is a grown up and has a copy of the judgment and they are required to follow the support agreement, not relying on reminders or demands from you. However...
  • It may help your case to send a regular written (emailed) reminder that your ex is in arrears. “According to my records, child support payments are behind by $_____. Please come current.”
  • If your spouse does not pay, you may want to contact your attorney or the court. The court may require you to fill out an application to determine arrearages. In some counties you can contact the DA’s office (the district attorney).
  • If you agreed to split the cost of unreimbursed medical costs for your children, let the other parent know the amount as soon as you know or as soon as you receive the explanation of benefits from the insurance company.
  • If your agreement includes a requirement to split the cost of home repairs, keep receipts for those repairs, and send a photo or PDF copy to them as soon as possible.
  • Larger home repairs may have to be agreed upon in writing in advance. Send via email or co-parenting app a photo of the problem and 2-3 repair estimates from a qualified person to your spouse in advance.
  • Document evidence that your spouse has more money than they claim. Do this if your spouse is behind in support payments yet seems to be able to buy new vehicles or expensive items, travel for leisure, or participate in expensive sports.
  • Document any promises your ex makes to pay for half or reimburse you, yet doesn’t follow through. Having this is writing is helpful.

 

From a mother who's been through it:

 

Start documenting now. Don’t just delete those hate-filled accusations, the name calling, and the threats. You’ll need them as evidence later. It will not get better. It will get worse. You may be hoping it will settle down and they get involved with a new romance, but don’t let your guard down. But the Lord is with you. Just keep being the best parent you can be.

 

From a father who’s been through it:

 

"My advice is usually for the women, because they have it so much worse than I did. Think of your kids. Custody is an issue. That’s why I stayed. I was afraid that I would lose my kids, and that was her first counter to me filing for divorce. She said, “You know, you’re gonna lose all parental rights,” and my attorney said, “No way. This guy has been a schoolteacher for 20 years. He’s loved. He has a tight relationship with his kids. There’s no way in hell that his kids should be totally taken away from him.” And she had to bring that up once, and it was never mentioned again. Take care of your kids. Don’t fear that a broken home is going to break your kids. Because keeping your kids in an abusive relationship will break them more."

 

From mother who has been through it. Here's how she handled interrogatories about her abuse allegations:

 

I had saved all texts messages he sent and used an app to download them all into a PDF with 300 pages and about 2,000 texts! I then also downloaded them into a spreadsheet and created filters and highlighted all the texts where he called me a "victim," "liar," or accused me falsely. The texts threads in the PDF clearly showed I did nothing to warrant this treatment. It provided evidence that he was demanding that I pay him money or he would take me back to court (this is "legal harassment"). So when his attorney asked for evidence (that thinking I had nothing to produce), it blew him away! It took hours of preparation on my part. I used dictionary terms and legal definitions of harassment, emotional distress and "intent to intimidate and annoy." Then I laid out a list of every derogatory name and inappropriate phrase, followed by dates. I numbered them each and explained the situation.

 

 

From Brenda Linn, a mother who says a co-parenting app helped protect her in court from her ex's false allegations.

 

"I document EVERYTHING. My divorce is final but I still have to coparent with my ex. Only about 5% I’ve actually used in court to counteract my ex’s false allegations but I can’t tell you what a blessing that was!

I use AppClose for communications with my ex about coparenting and save individual “topical” conversations about important issues and also export the entire month of conversations and save them to a secure back up space online.

AppClose now offers a GPS check-in feature for drop off and pick ups so there’s absolutely so question about the times of arrival. I document and export all of these too which saved me in the court room when my ex falsely accused me of always running late when in fact many times I was 5-10 mins early. (Editor's note: Other apps also have GPS check-ins.)

I use an app called Alimentor 2 which documents custody notes, all parenting time. You can enter the custody schedule and then the actual parenting time spent, cancelled visitations, phone calls, finances, and more. You can then export a PDF report which is accepted in most court rooms which will show overnights spent with each parent as well as the custody notes and percentage of time spent with each child. 100% worth the time investment to document!"

 

It’s normal for the divorce process and recovery to take time, and your best bet is keeping the kids out of the gory details, validating their feelings and process, getting your emotional needs met by other adults rather than expecting your kids to do that for you, and calmly and continually modelling and requesting kind, respectful treatment from each member of the family to all the others—including you!

 

A Final Word of Comfort

 

Though you may feel you’re walking a lonely path, there are others who’ve been where you are.

 

Though the waters may be rough at first, there are calmer seas ahead. Get support for yourself, and maintain protective boundaries for your children as best you can; many kids, as they grow up, come to see the truth about how dangerous the marriage was.

 

Nearly everyone I interviewed for this book wanted readers to know that they are grateful for their divorce and are doing better. Many started this path feeling confused, discouraged, and fearful. They felt they would never survive.

 

But they did—with God’s help.

 

They talked about the peace they’ve found and freedom from being trapped in an unworkable situation.

 

Even those who are in tough court battles are glad they made the decision to leave. They no longer have to live with their ex-spouse 24 hours a day, and it makes a positive difference in their children’s lives.

 

God cares about you, and about your children, as you are going through a life-saving divorce, and you can cling to his promises of love and his presence with you every step of the way.

As a father shows compassion to his children, 

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

—Psalm 103:13 (ESV)

 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

—Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)


For more books, free videos, and support groups on the topic of high-conflict divorces and/or parental alienation, see Section 10 in my recommended books list.


Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians. Also, sign up for my email list below.

 

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