Going through a relationship break-up is emotionally difficult for most people. However, this experience can trigger unusual behavior in a few who act out in bizarre and sometimes frightening ways. It is often easy to lose perspective on what is or is not appropriate behavior in these situations.
Though the specific legal definitions of harassment, stalking or threatening conduct varies from state to state, any repeated, unwanted contact that frightens you or makes you feel threatened most likely constitutes stalking. At first, stalking may seem harmless, involving actions that are perfectly legal under ordinary circumstances, like calling you or sending emails, text messages, or even gifts. It may be tempting to ignore this behavior or go along with it in an effort to avoid a confrontation. However, what may seem innocent in the beginning can cross the line into stalking when the behavior escalates and makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable. Usually, the stalker is attempting to force an unwanted relationship or action from you, even after you have said “no.”
If your spouse or ex is engaging in any of the following behaviors, inform your attorney immediately, because you may be a victim of stalking:
- calling when you ask them not to
- sending you unwanted letters, emails, or text messages
- giving you gifts that you don’t want
- following you or showing up where you are without good reason
- gathering information about you
- spreading rumors or posting personal information about you
- using family court filings to manipulate your behavior
- refusing to leave you alone, even after you ask.
If you do not respond the way the stalker wants you to, the situation may get worse. Your spouse or ex may try to force you to stop the divorce proceedings, or to reconcile the relationship through intimidation or threats. When thwarted, some stalkers become violent. For this reason, it is very important that you do not downplay your fears. Take action to protect yourself and your children.
Here are some steps to take to protect yourself:
- If you and your spouse or ex have children, make it clear that your only contact with each other should be to communicate about them and their welfare. Use email or text messaging to discuss child matters to ensure a paper trail and keep things impersonal. Meet in a public place in order to facilitate visitations.
- Keep written records of all correspondence with this person, along with the purpose and outcomes of your conversations. It is also wise to keep a journal of key events, pertinent dates, and names and phone numbers of witnesses to any unusual incidents. Consider making copies of these records and giving them to family and friends for safekeeping.
- Once you have made your wishes clear, do not reply to any follow-up efforts to contact you. The harasser is not entitled to an explanation or an apology. You are not obligated to respond to any inquiry. Do not be baited into arguments, and do not try to appease this person.
- Tell trusted family and friends about the situation. Ask them not to give your spouse or ex your contact information or whereabouts, no matter how innocent it may seem. Prepare a safety plan with them for added security.
- Avoid encountering this person whenever possible, especially when alone. Carry your cell phone with you and program emergency numbers into your contact list.
- It is generally a good idea to stay off social media while going through a divorce and for some time after, depending on your situation. You may want to simply delete or deactivate these accounts for a while. It is also good practice to open a new email account and to open a post office box if you believe your mail could be stolen or read. Change passwords on key accounts often. If possible, purchase a new computer, phone, or tablet in order to communicate with your attorney, family, and friends during this process.
- Contact a domestic violence agency or a therapist to help you and your family during this time.
- Always keep your attorney updated on this aspect of your divorce. If encounters start escalating, you may want to file a petition for a restraining order against this individual. This measure can also be included in a Temporary Orders document created by your attorney and filed with the court. Please consult with your attorney before filing a police report, unless it would be unsafe to take the extra time to do so. As COVID-19 has affected how courts and domestic violence organizations function, working together with your attorney can make it easier to navigate these changes, thereby keeping you and your loved ones safe.
Sam M. “Trey” Yates, III is a Houston-based Board Certified Family Law Attorney and creator of The Guide to Good Divorce℠ seminars for women. If you have questions about your Texas divorce, please contact The Law Office of Sam M. “Trey” Yates, III, P.C. for a consultation. If you would like more information about Trey Yates’ 2021 The Guide to Good Divorce℠ seminars, please visit www.GuideToGoodDivorce.com or call 713.742.6606.