Monday, August 20, 2012

Manipulation During Divorce Proceedings

"An abuser focuses on being charming and persuasive during a custody dispute, with an effect that can be highly misleading to Guardians ad Litem, court mediators, judges, police officers, therapists, family members, and friends. He can be skilled at discussing his hurt feelings and at characterizing the relationship as mutually destructive. He will often admit to some milder acts of violence, such as shoving or throwing things, in order to increase his own credibility and create the impression that the victim is exaggerating. He may discuss errors he has made in the past and emphasize the efforts he is making to change, in order to make his partner seem vindictive and unwilling to let go of the past."

--Lundy Bancroft, "Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes"

My former husband did precisely as Lundy Bancroft describes. He used his skill in manipulation to try to give professionals false impressions during the divorce process. I hadn't known to expect this and was shocked and frightened. I felt sure that everyone would believe him and that it would harm my children during the divorce process.

He called social services to self-report accidently grabbing his son's neck to protect him from cars in the car rental area of the airport. He made this call after I left him and I was filing for divorce. In reality, he choked his five year old son after telling him that he was going to spank him. He did this behind the rental van in the airport when no cars were driving by. His report was done to misdirect authorities, giving the impression that he was an overly sensitive guy who felt unnecessary guilt. He misreported to protect himself from any accusations I might make. He used social services and a well-thought out lie to manipulate the system.

He told the lawyers that he had willingly gone to marriage counseling and had even offered to do so again. In reality, we went to couples counseling but he ended the sessions as soon as the counselor understood that he had anger issues. And the last time he had offered, I had just let him know that I was going to a domestic violence shelter for help. He didn't want to fix the marital issues of his abuse; he wanted to gain sympathy and goodwill for himself by claiming that he was willing to try and implying that I was not.

He admitted to the lawyer that he had blocked my exit from rooms when he was mad, and that I had pushed him out of the way. Sounds mutual, but I never pushed him. And the one time I tried to squeeze by him, he hit the wall next to my head and gave me a warning that he wouldn't be so nice next time I did that. His purpose was to intimidate me.

He told friends that we had fought and he was worried about my safety when he was trying to find me when I left. There hadn't been a two-way fight. I left when I could feel the escalation of tension that signaled that more abuse was coming. His real reason for his words was to elicite information on where I had gone to.

He signed up for classes at the domestic violence shelter when he realized that I had gone and had reported the abuse. This really impressed the workers who were used to dealing almost exclusively with court-ordered offenders. The problem was that he went to look conscientious and to give altered versions of what had been going on in the home.

He told the judge that there were divorce proceedings going on and that I asked for a restraining order as an emotional ploy. In reality, I got a restraining order before I had decided to file for divorce. I got it to protect the children, at urging from workers at the domestic violence shelter. I also hadn't yet served him with any divorce papers at the time of that hearing. He wanted the judge to believe his side so that she would not reinstate the restraining order.

He told the therapist I took our children to after I left that he felt bad that he was too impatient with the kids sometimes. He didn't mention the bruises and other injuries. He didn't mention the threats. His words were about getting to give a friendly report to the court.

He told friends that he didn't understand why I was divorcing him and that he wanted to reconcile. He expressed how heart-broken he was. He told friends and our children that I was divorcing him because I had found another man. It was a lie. When I left to protect the whole family from his abuse that was escalating. I wore my wedding ring during the divorce process and never even went on a date until half a year after the divorce was final. He was projecting his own issues onto me and trying to gain sympathy and pity.

He changed the arrangements for one of our neutral-party witness (for the children to be dropped off by me and picked up by him), and then claimed that I abondoned the children and he rescued them. He told me that the neutral party had called him saying that he couldn't supervise on that particular day. He asked me to take the kids to church and leave the kids in the care of a kind elderly babysitter and he would pick them up from her. I did as asked without thinking to check with the usual neutral party. He picked them up as he told me he would. Two days later my lawyer and I got letters from his lawyer declaring that I had abandoned the children at a different location than we had previously agreed to. His purpose was to sway my lawyer into believing that I wasn't psychologically balanced and I was irresponsible.

Abusers aren't honest. They're experts at mixing part truth with deception and manipulation. While we were married, my abuser's manipulation often worked with me. I was confused and pliable. I was upset each time that he told lies during the divorce process. I had believed everything he said for so long that I feared everyone else would believe him too. But it didn't work out that way. The shelter and the judge for the temporary restraining order believed me and helped me. He didn't find out from friends where the children and I were hiding. The false report to the social services was listened to by the judge during a second hearing for the restraining order, but despite the false report she turned the temporary restraining order into a permanent restraining order and added me under its protection (I had only asked for the children to be protected). I don't know how much sympathy he got from his given reason for the divorce, but it didn't have any long term impact on me or on the children. His show with the change of the neutral witness ended up making him look bad when the former witness consented to write a letter to the court, verifying that my husband had planned the switch and gave her the week off. His tricks didn't work during the divorce process.

Repeatedly during the separation and divorce period, I prayed asking God to help people see the truth and to aid the children and I in staying safe. I asked him to be the final judge. And God faithfully did all of this and more.


Anonymous said...

It was so good to hear about the manipulation. My husband never appeared during the divorce proceedings. But I can definitely relate to this by looking back at how he manipulated me during our dating process. And then, of course, at our honeymoon was the first time he assaulted me. Thank you for your post!!!

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Dear Anonymous Annie,

Thank you for leaving a comment. It is encouraging to hear back from readers and hearing each other's stories helps us all to see things more clearly about abuse and how it works.

Abusers do manipulate during the dating period--but most victims do not recognize the manipulation at the time. They are smooth, practiced, charming, and have quick answers and plausible sounding explanations to any questions. They are also great at changing the subject or misdirecting your attention. It is easy to beat ourselves up afterwards for not seeing the warning signs while dating--but the truth is the abuser is good at what he or she does and he or she is very invested in keeping you from realizing how manipulative and uncaring they are.

The honeymoon is, unfortunately, a common time for the first abuse. Most manipulative/abusive people keep the relationship time short--months of dating and weeks or months of engagement. Most abusers arrange for the wedding to be less than a year after the relationship begins.

My abusive spouse let loose with his first blatant emotional abuse as we drove away from the wedding reception. By the end of the first week of marriage I was in great physical pain due to his heavy insistance on lots and lots of sex, even after I told him about the pain. I felt confused by his lack of compassion and made up excuses for him. I had thought while we were dating that he was kind...although how exactly I got that impression was hard to say. Now I know that he manipulated me to believe a list of things about himself that were not true.

athena1953 said...


You were extremely fortunate that the system worked in your favor - I was not so lucky. My ex got away with everything he did to me. On top of that, he had me brought up on some bogus charges (he had promised to get revenge). It took me nearly 2 years to get out from under it. Everyone believed him - I guess because he had money and came from a prominent family - and I didn't.

Tanya T. Warrington said...


It is difficult when others don't believe you about the abuse. I was fortunate and grateful.

Hang in there. He may have won the battle but you won overall, because you don't have to live with abuse any more.

May God bless you as you walk through recovering from the damage done by a revengeful former spouse.

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft