Emotional Abuse In Marriage

Domestic Violence Signs of Abuse North Carolina

Among the most dangerous situations that can be found in a bad marriage is the emotional abuse of one spouse by the other. Emotional abuse may not be recognized by family and friends, but it is usually a long-term, highly damaging form of domestic abuse. Emotional abuse may be used by an abusive partner to maintain control over another partner. It’s common for an abusive spouse to have convinced his or her victim that he or she deserves to be treated badly.

If you are being emotionally abused by your spouse – repeatedly insulted, threatened, mocked, or publicly humiliated – there is help available. Our family law attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh, N.C., can refer you to local resources for help, including the assistance of an experienced emotional abuse divorce attorney from our firm.

One of our compassionate and committed attorneys can meet with you to explain your legal rights and the steps that you can take, including seeking a protective order (also known as a “50B Order”) to keep yourself and your children safe. From our offices in Raleigh, we have assisted numerous clients who were victims of domestic abuse throughout Wake County. We can develop a plan to help you, and assure confidentiality regarding our meeting and discussion. Contact us at (919) 829-1006.

Emotional Abuse, Marriage and North Carolina Law

North Carolina’s domestic violence laws make it illegal to place a spouse or other family member in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment that inflicts substantial emotional distress. Two or more acts constitute harassment.

The law provides an abused spouse the means to obtain a court order requiring the alleged perpetrator to end their abusive treatment and stay away from the victim.

Emotional abuse is often a factor cited in separation and divorce proceedings. The abuse may continue even after the marriage ends.

Emotional abuse takes many forms. A few examples include:

  • Insulting or putting down a spouse or intimate partner
  • Shaming a spouse or ex-spouse
  • Calling a partner derogatory names
  • Cutting off communication
  • Isolating a partner from family or friends
  • Controlling a spouse or partner’s access to money or employment
  • Convincing a spouse or intimate partner that their memories or thoughts are incorrect
  • Threatening a spouse or partner with physical harm
  • Threatening self-harm
  • Harassing or stalking a spouse, partner, or ex.

Actions that create fear of imminent harm or harassment that rise to the level of inflicting emotional distress constitute domestic emotional abuse. These actions against a spouse or an ex-spouse or partner are illegal, whether they occur in person, in writing, over the phone, online, or through a third party.

If you have suffered from emotional abuse, you may have to take steps to protect yourself and stop the abuse. You may need to seek relief through a domestic protection order. Such a request would be considered by a family law judge and would likely be supported by testimony from a domestic violence counselor or friends who witnessed the victim exhibiting fear and/or deference in the presence of his or her spouse.

Emotional Abuse and Child Custody and Visitation

Parental Rights in North Carolina Child Custody CasesUnfortunately, emotional abuse – which is often accompanied by other forms of domestic violence – can continue after a separation or divorce. A separation or divorce may escalate an abuser’s pattern of behavior.

Your ability to demonstrate emotional abuse and/or other forms of domestic violence by your spouse during the marriage or afterward can have a definite impact on plans for custody of your children, as specified in a separation agreement or the final divorce settlement.

If your spouse’s abuse puts your children in danger of serious and immediate injury, an attorney from our office could seek emergency child custody order on your behalf. Under North Carolina law, the standard for issuing an emergency child custody order is a finding that the child is exposed to a substantial risk of bodily injury or sexual abuse or that there is a substantial risk that the child may be abducted or removed from the state.

An emergency child custody order requires only a written affidavit submitted by one party. A judge can issue the order pending a court hearing at which the other spouse has the right to present evidence challenging the allegations of abuse.

For a more permanent solution, your attorney could work to ensure you retain full custody of your children or submit a motion for the court to modify your child custody agreement.

A judge should first address the steps needed to ensure your and your children’s safety. Next, he or she would assess the pattern of emotional or psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and how it affects each family member.

It is unfortunate but valid for a judge to determine that an abused spouse suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome or other symptoms of abuse and therefore may have diminished parenting capacities. In such a case, a judge would inquire about the availability of a support system to handle some parenting responsibilities following the separation.

The judge should focus on the abusive parent and decide to what extent he or she should be involved in parenting. The judge may allow only supervised visits. The judge will rely on expert opinion to determine whether the parent can be rehabilitated.

As your attorneys, we would proceed according to your wishes. Our inclination is to present evidence that makes the judge fully aware of the extent of your spouse’s emotional abuse and the devastating harm you have suffered. We would expect to push to have sole custody of your children awarded to you and for your spouse’s visitation with your children to be closely supervised.

One-to-one visitation, which requires the presence of a supervisor during the entire visit, is the most restrictive visitation arrangement available. Other forms of supervised visitation include:

  • Exchange supervision, which provides supervision during the transfer at the start and end of visits and is appropriate when the risk to child safety is less severe.
  • Multiple family group visitation, in which a supervisor monitors several families at a visitation center and, therefore, likely will not see all interactions or hear all conversations.
  • Therapeutic supervision, in which trained mental health professionals provide supervision and work with the family to promote improvement in family relationships.

In cases that involve domestic violence, including emotional abuse, visitation supervisors are trained community members, such as mental health or child protective services professional or someone from a church, community group, childcare facility or school. The supervisor must be someone who can remain neutral and adequately monitor the visiting parent. It is important that the custodial parent trusts the supervisor and that the visiting parent does not have an antagonistic relationship with the supervisor.

The judge’s order will specifically state the rules of visitation and the responsibilities of the supervisor, who will be instructed as to how to monitor the visitation.

Raleigh Area Resources for Help With Emotional Abuse Domestic Violence

If you have been emotionally abused by your spouse or ex-spouse, it’s important to get the medical and psychological support you need. Here are a couple of good resources to start with:

  • Domestic Violence Shelter Locator. There are more than 100 domestic violence shelters in communities across North Carolina. Some larger urban areas have multiple centers. Many provide emergency shelter and other services 24/7. In addition to a safe place to go, many facilities can help you find long-term solutions to the issues you are facing.

In Raleigh, contact:

See our full page of Domestic Violence Resources in North Carolina.

Contact a Raleigh Emotional Abuse Lawyer

couple meeting with lawyerIf you are being emotionally abused by your spouse, help is available and North Carolina law is on your side. The compassionate divorce attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates are here to help you remove yourself from a dangerous situation. We assist domestic violence victims throughout Wake County from our offices in Raleigh.

Please contact us online or call us at (919) 829-1006 to schedule a consultation.



Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.