We’ve all been bullied at one stage in our lives. The experience is similar to breaking one’s arm on the last day of school, receiving an appendectomy, having your wisdom teeth extracted, or taking the Bar Exam – all painful life events that I’ve encountered.
Unfortunately, bullying isn’t limited to oversized, grade school sociopaths slithering across the hallowed halls of New Mexico schools and playgrounds. At times bullying extends to our adult lives and involves people that we once loved.
I commonly speak with people that are being bullied by their ex. Generally this bullying happens during divorce, or when unwed parents separate and are forced to resolve issues such as custody, timesharing, and child support.
Here are three tell tale signs that your ex is bullying you:
3. Excessive litigation based on a desire to continue a pattern of control.
Not all relationships are stable and emotionally healthy. Some partners have a “Drill Sergeant Mentality” and a corresponding need to control every aspect of the other person’s life. The desire to control every aspect of the other person’s life often hits a high water mark of possessiveness that eventually spills over into a breakup or divorce.
The controlling person is left reeling from the breakup — grasping at straws for a sense of normalcy and a way to stay in the other person’s life while perpetuating the pattern of control.
In situations where the couple is married, the parties are unable to reach an agreement on the necessary divorce paperwork. Alternatively, for unwed couples, the parties are unable to agree on the requisite Parenting Plan issues such as custody, timesharing and child support. The case becomes “contested” and the parties are forced to open a court case, with the issues drifting through the necessary legal channels.
The controlling party now uses the domestic case as a means to continue the pattern of control. Possibly the party requests excessive and unnecessary documents. Potentially, the controlling person files frivolous motions and makes unreasonable requests. Occasionally, the controlling person uses a passive aggressive strategy of actively avoiding service of process, refusing to respond to discovery requests, or otherwise dragging out the process. In other situations the controlling party refuses to accept settlement offers that align with New Mexico law, based on a desire to stretch out the case in order to remain in the other person’s mind and emotions indefinitely.
It has been said that the opposite of love is indifference. Some controlling partners pursue litigation with the mindset that it is better to trigger the negative emotions of fear and loathing in a former lover’s mind, rather than permit the once controlled person to drift away towards indifference and a healthy and stable relationship.
2. Emotional Manipulation.
Hollywood loves to portray bullies as supersized, dim-witted brutes that lumber around playgrounds torturing undersized victims with “wedgies,” bathroom swirlies, and then menacingly stealing their coveted lunch money. In reality, bullying can be accomplished through both physical and mental acts.
Mental bullying often occurs when one party uses guilt manipulation to push the other side towards a desired goal. At times this goal is to waive or reduce child support. In this situation the manipulating person makes the other side feel bad with claims such as “you’ve changed,” “you’re all about money,” “I always knew that you were a gold digger,” “you know that I don’t make enough money to pay THAT MUCH child support and to also support myself,” and so on, etc., etc., etc.
In other situations, one side makes the other party feel guilty based on the breakup, or because the other side refuses to reconcile. These statements are made with the intent to manipulate the other person towards an outcome that they otherwise would not have made. For unwed parents this outcome could be giving the other party more time with the child than supported by the Suggested Visitation/Time-Sharing Guidelines that are typically used by New Mexico courts. This outcome could also include agreeing to less child support than one is entitled to under the New Mexico Child Support Guidelines.
For married couples facing a divorce, guilt manipulation can be used to push the other side towards accepting a smaller share of the community property, a greater slice of the community debt, waiving alimony, or any other lopsided agreement that does not reflect New Mexico law.
In many situations the emotional bully wants the other party to reach a quick and uniformed decision, without “wasting money on lawyers.” Is your ex rushing you into a decision that you intuitively feel is against your best interests? Does your ex want you to quickly sign court documents that could affect the rest of your life? Are you about to sign court documents without first talking to an experienced attorney? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may be the unsuspecting victim of emotional bullying.
1. Threats, taunts, insults.
Fear is a powerful emotion that paralyzes positive action. Threats are fear based tools that bullies use to keep victims suspended in an undesirable place, based on the hypothetical threat of an even less desirable result.
Here are some common threats that bullies use to keep the other side from moving forward for a divorce, custody, timesharing, child support, or any other necessary legal action:
You don’t want to take legal action against me — I have the Michael Jordan of lawyers:
This is a common threat used to scare a parent/party from filing a potential claim, or pursuing one’s legal rights – such as custody, timesharing or child support. Basically this threat is used to demoralize the other person by either suggesting or outright stating that their claim will be rejected, leaving the party in a worse position.
I will be the first to admit that all lawyers are not created equally. In particular, some lawyers dive into areas of law where they are not well versed and are unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of that area of law, based on courtroom trial and error (i.e. real world experience). Nevertheless, more often than not when I hear this threat relayed from my client, it turns out that the other side is pro se (unrepresented), and probably has never even consulted with an experienced attorney. Additionally, most of the time, the threats and fuzzy statements of law relayed by the other side do not remotely reflect the reality of New Mexico law. Long story short, don’t let your ex’s threats scare you into non-action. Put your ex’s fuzzy and self-serving regurgitations of New Mexico law on mute and instead speak and listen to an experienced attorney on the facts involved with your particular case.
My family is politically connected and knows every judge in New Mexico:
I hear this threat all the time, especially in small towns across New Mexico. The first problem with this threat is that a judge must recuse herself from cases involving family and friends. The next glaring problem with this threat is the clear ethical considerations that it triggers. In addition to these major hurdles, the threat also conveniently fails to mention that with most issues, Judges’ are shackled by New Mexico law – particularly issues such as child support that are governed by clear guidelines.
I will crush you and get sole custody if you file against me:
In lieu of ruminating on this fear-based threat, provide an experienced attorney with the answer to the following questions: What is the current status quo with visitation? How long has this status quo been in place? Who is the primary care-giver of the child? How old is the child? What are the child’s desires? Are there any other issues that affect the “best interests of the child?” Is a court order in place? Has CYFD ever been involved with you and your child? Are there any physical or mental issues affecting either parent?
Ultimately, the moral of this story is to have an intelligent conversation with an experienced attorney rather than paralyzing non-action because of baseless, uninformed, and self-serving threats. In the end, bullies are empowered through helpless non-action. Take the power into your own hands to see how your particular facts align with New Mexico law.