Tactics Vindictive Spouses Use During Divorce and How to Defeat Them
This is how you defeat a vindictive spouse during divorce
Your vindictive spouse does not want you to read this guide. That is because your greatest powers against a vindictive spouse are knowledge of the law and knowing how to use it.
Let's go through tactics vindictive spouses use during divorce, how to defend against it, and how to defeat it.
10 Tactics by Vindictive Spouses During Divorce
There are different reasons a spouse is vindictive against the other spouse during a divorce. Adultery is a common reason, and that vindictiveness may come from the spouse who committed infidelity or the other spouse.
One spouse's decision to end the marriage because they no longer love the other person is another common reason for the slighted spouse to become vindictive. This falls into, "how dare you leave me, I will make your life miserable" type of vindictiveness.
Ending a marriage over financial issues sometimes leads to one spouse feeling scorned and desiring revenge.
The list goes on regarding different reasons spouses may become vindictive during divorce. To learn more about that topic, you can read our article on breakups that lead to high conflict divorces.
Unfortunately, that vindictiveness can blow up during a divorce, where the bitter spouse engages in unreasonable and even unlawful tactics to get their version of revenge.
The good news is you do not have to tolerate it or let it hurt you.
Taking unreasonable positions on straightforward issues
This comes in many forms. Vindictive spouses often take unreasonable positions because they think they "deserve" more than they are legally entitled to receive. This immature self-entitlement may dictate their entire decision making process.
During divorce, a vindictive spouse may ask for significantly more child support or spousal support than the law requires to be paid. They may also ask for spousal support for a longer duration than what the law requires.
We have seen this the other way as well where the vindictive spouse refuses to agree to pay guideline child support or makes unreasonably low offers on spousal support.
Vindictive spouses sometimes do the same thing on straightforward property issues. For example, they may refuse to acknowledge a property is community property and ask for more than their equal share.
Sometimes, a vindictive spouse may refuse to acknowledge the other spouse's legal separate property claims. We sometimes see this regarding separate property claims to a house, retirement or accounts with financial institutions. This is especially common when a spouse refuses to acknowledge the other spouse's inheritance is not community property.
No matter what the issue may be, a vindictive spouse's approach is the same. Their approach is to refuse reasonable settlement communications and refuse to resolve issues that should be resolved without court intervention.
How do you defeat the vindictive spouse when they take unreasonable positions?
The most effective way to defeat this tactic is to document reasonable settlement offers and put the vindictive spouse on notice that a failure to accept it will result in court intervention and a request for fees against him or her.
California Family code 271 is especially powerful on this issue. Here is a quote from one portion of it:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, the court may base an award of attorney's fees and costs on the extent to which the conduct of each party or attorney furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between the parties and attorneys…"
As you can read, this section is designed to punish bad behavior such as refusing to engage in reasonable settlement communications.
Therefore, the vindictive spouse's unreasonable positions on simple issues can blow back against them by now requiring them to spend money defending the fee request you bring and being exposed to the liability of the court hopefully and likely ordering fees against them for those unreasonable positions.
Causing unreasonable delays in the divorce
Causing unreasonable delays is another tactic vindictive spouse use during divorce. There are different ways to cause delays. And since vindictive spouses like to drag the process out to make it more expensive for the other side and, overall, just cause more stress, they use this tactic quite often.
Asking for continuances of court hearings without a good reason is one common tactic.
Changing attorneys repeatedly is another tactic vindictive spouses use. This often happens because eventually the attorney they hired realizes the spouse is hyper emotional about the divorce and will be unreasonable. That means the attorney asks to be taken off the case or the spouse removes them only to hire the next lawyer they hope will do their bidding.
Vindictive spouses, especially those who are the higher earning spouses and have access to more financial documents, often cause delays by not producing documents they are required to produce.
It may also be a refusal to produce documents requested by a spouse during the discovery process.
These refusals can cause significant delays in the case because the information that should be accessible quickly and easily is not, which then delays having a complete picture of the financial situation and being able to make reasonable settlement offers.
Vindictive spouses can also cause delays by pushing issues to court that do not need to go to court. We discussed this above when we wrote about making unreasonable settlement offers.
How can you combat unreasonable delays by a vindictive spouse?
While these are not the only ways, they are the most common. You probably will not be surprised that the most effective tactic against such vindictive spouses is the same Family Code 271 we cited earlier.
Another tactic against these unreasonable delays may be a breach of fiduciary duty action if the delays caused harm to community property.
For example, if a home is at risk of foreclosure and these unreasonable delays actually caused the foreclosure of the home because a sale was delayed, the victimized spouse can potentially proceed against the vindictive spouse for the lost equity. That is one of several examples victimized spouses can use against vindictive spouses who cause unreasonable delays that adversely affect community property interests.
Harassment or intimidation tactics during divorce
If there is one thing vindictive spouse love is to harass and intimidate the other spouse. This comes in many forms. The list is too long to discuss here. But the common theme among the harassment and intimidation is to anger, frustrate, scare, or otherwise emotionally unbalance the other spouse.
The higher earnings spouses harass and intimidate by making threats to not meet financial obligations, not comply with support orders or make threats to leave the other spouse financially destitute.
The lower earning spouses often use children as leverage and harass or attempt to intimidate the other spouse and parent by claiming they will harm the other parent's relationship with the children.
How do you respond to threats and intimidation tactics?
Since these vindictive spouses are often foolish enough to document their threats and intimidation, you should consult with a family law attorney as to whether such threats amount to abuse so that you can seek a domestic violence restraining order against the vindictive spouse.
Even if they do not, your family law attorney can contact your vindictive spouse or your vindictive spouse's lawyer if he or she is represented and set forth the nature and extent of the harassment and intimidation tactics, respond to them and create a paper trail that will become useful if the vindictive spouse follows through on the threats.
Family law judges do not like seeing harassment and intimidation during a divorce, regardless of whether the person follows through on it. And creating that paper trail can be effective in discrediting the vindictive spouse's credibility or seeks orders against them.
Use of children as leverage in the divorce
Children are not supposed to be leverage in a divorce. However, vindictive spouses often use children as leverage because they know that will hurt their spouse the most. After all, what is more important to a parent than their kids.
Vindictive spouses use children as leverage during a divorce in different ways but each of these ways has one thing in common. The vindictive spouse demands the other spouse agree to their unreasonable financial terms in exchange for the vindictive spouse agreeing to certain custody terms.
For example, a vindictive spouse who is entitled to child support may demand a much greater child support amount in exchange for agreeing to share parenting time, even though that sharing of parenting time is what the court would likely order anyway. A vindictive spouse may also do this with spousal support or even division of assets.
You can go beyond Family Code 271 when combatting the vindictive spouse
The same methods set forth earlier are effective at defeating such vindictive spouses.
However, there is another one that works well if the vindictive spouse also frustrates your parenting time.
California law gives judges the ability to consider frustration of parenting time, also called restrictive gatekeeping, as a specific factor when the judge makes orders on child custody issues.
That means if you can show the vindictive parent has frustrated your parenting time as part of his or her attempt to use the children as leverage, you can ask the court to limit the vindictive parent's parenting time as a result.
Be careful and do not give into outrageous demands. You may be setting a precedent so the vindictive spouse believes he or she can keep making such demands because that vindictive spouse will believe you will keep surrendering to them.
Refusing to co-parent regarding children
Refusing to coparent can be minor or serious. How vindictive a spouse is during a divorce dictate how unreasonable that same spouse is with coparenting issues.
This is one of those situations where you should carefully pick your battles.
If the vindictiveness is on minor issues that do not have a significant impact on the children's best interest, you probably do not need court intervention.
But if the issues are significant and therefore impact the children's health, education or safety, then court intervention may be inevitable.
We discuss one of the most serious examples of refusing to coparent on serious issues in the next section. We also encourage you to read our guide on parallel parenting.
Refusal to follow court orders
Let's assume you and your spouse have joint legal custody orders. Let's also assume your vindictive spouse is angry enough where he or she refuses to follow the joint legal custody orders and instead makes unilateral decisions in violation of the order.
This is an extreme example of refusing to coparent but it is more than that. Violating joint legal custody orders or for that matter any court order can you carry with it fines, community service and even jail as part of a contempt action.
Vindictive spouses refuse to follow court orders when they are so angry at their spouse that they do not care what the judge ordered. They are willing to disregard court orders just to continue frustrating the divorce process.
Consider filing a contempt action against your spouse
There is no reasoning with spouses like this. The decision you must make is whether you will proceed with a family law contempt action against your spouse.
We encourage you to read the article we just linked regarding contempt actions in Family Court. If your spouse is held in contempt of court, as we wrote earlier, he or she may face fine, community service in jail.
On custody issues, it may go even deeper than that. The vindictive spouse may have some or all custody taken away from them, especially if the violations are serious.
False allegations of domestic violence
False allegations, in general, are common with vindictive spouses.
One of the types of false allegations vindictive spouses utilize is false domestic violence allegations.
These spouses often learn how significant a finding of domestic violence can be on custody, support and more, and decide to manufacture false allegations with a hope that one of two things will happen. You should read our article on domestic violence's affect on divorce.
First, they hope their spouse will be so concerned about having a finding made against them that their spouse gives in to their unreasonable requests. It is not unusual for a spouse who did not commit domestic violence to still be afraid of a court making a finding against them especially since there is a lot of urban legend out there that judges freely give out domestic violence restraining orders.
Second, the vindictive spouse may actually believe their lies are so convincing that they can persuade a court domestic violence actually occurred.
Agreeing to a finding of domestic violence when you did not commit domestic violence is one of the worst mistakes you can make in a divorce case. There is little to no chance of undoing the damage caused by such agreements.
Put on a strong defense and go after your spouse for fees
Hiring an experienced family law attorney, gathering evidence of the false allegations and putting on a strong defense should get you out of the situation, but you do not stop there.
Hopefully, after prevailing on the domestic violence restraining order against your spouse, you should go after him or her for the attorney's fees you incurred as the California Family Court specifically gives you the ability to do so if you prevail in the domestic violence case.
False allegations of child abuse
False allegations of child abuse is also another common tactic of vindictive spouses, especially those who are on the extreme end of the vindictiveness.
False allegations of child abuse carry significant punishments.
Family Code section 3027.1 reads
"(a) If a court determines, based on the investigation described in Section 3027 or other evidence presented to it, that an accusation of child abuse or neglect made during a child custody proceeding is false and the person making the accusation knew it to be false at the time the accusation was made, the court may impose reasonable money sanctions, not to exceed all costs incurred by the party accused as a direct result of defending the accusation, and reasonable attorney's fees incurred in recovering the sanctions, against the person making the accusation. For the purposes of this section, "person" includes a witness, a party, or a party's attorney.
(b) On motion by any person requesting sanctions under this section, the court shall issue its order to show cause why the requested sanctions should not be imposed. The order to show cause shall be served on the person against whom the sanctions are sought and a hearing thereon shall be scheduled by the court to be conducted at least 15 days after the order is served.
(c) The remedy provided by this section is in addition to any other remedy provided by law.
Family Code section 3027.5(b) reads:
"(b) The court may order supervised visitation or limit a parent's custody or visitation if the court finds substantial evidence that the parent, with the intent to interfere with the other parent's lawful contact with the child, made a report of child sexual abuse, during a child custody proceeding or at any other time, that the reporting parent knew was false at the time it was made. A limitation of custody or visitation, including an order for supervised visitation, pursuant to this subdivision, or a statute regarding the making of a false child abuse report, shall be imposed only after the court has determined that the limitation is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the child, and the court has considered the state's policy of ensuring that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents as declared in subdivision (b) of Section 3020."
Lying about income available to pay support
We provide you with a great article on this topic and there is not much more we can write here that the article does not cover.
We strongly encourage you to read our article about lying on an income and expense declaration.
Hiding or lying about assets
We also wrote a helpful article on the penalty for hiding assets in a divorce. Please check it out so you understand how to combat the vindictive spouse who hides or lies about assets.