How to Document and Protect Yourself   

(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.

 

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, if possible. Look at the OurFamilyWizard app or the AppClose app 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 receive or respond to an email. Often the court requires the divorcing parties split the cost of these apps. (OurFamilyWizard is $5 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. 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). As best you can, document the time and date.

 

Trying to survive blinds you to the fact that you must protect yourself. You’re so broken down after years of mind-games, 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.

 

12 Incidents to Document

 

  • 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 wants to save the marriage.
  • 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.)
  • False allegations with no proof. (Your attorney will ask them in court if they have proof.)
  • 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.
  • Not paying child support, or not paying on time, or not paying the specified amount. 
  • Demanding leniency from you, but refusing the same leniency when you request it.

 

From a mother who’s been through it:

 

Start documenting now. Don’t just delete his 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.

 

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.


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