If you are ready to break the cycle of abuse for yourself and your children, divorce may be the right decision for you.
But do you feel overwhelmed at the thought of hiring a lawyer? Going to court? Fighting for custody? Don’t worry – you can do this. Wendy Hernandez joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR podcast to share the basics that you need to know about divorcing an abuser. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
Divorcing An Abuser 101: Hiring Your Lawyer
Abuse and betrayal victims may feel daunted and overwhelmed at the idea of interviewing and hiring an attorney.
Wendy Hernandez gives helpful tips to women in the process of selecting an attorney:
- Don’t be afraid to interview more than one attorney
- Make sure that your attorney understands narcissism and abuse
- Choose an attorney that will fight for you, but not stir the pot
- Make sure that you understand your attorneys fees from the get-go
- Select an attorney that you feel comfortable and safe with
Victims can enlist trusted friends to help them in the attorney selection process. This is not a decision that needs to be rushed and women can trust their intuition through the process.
Divorcing An Abuser 101: Find Healthy Ways To Work Through The Trauma
Get the emotional help that you need so your attorney can help you.Wendy Hernandez
When women try to navigate the legal system while carrying heavy burdens of trauma and living in constant fight-or-flight mode, they may have trouble making logical decisions. Emotionally-based decisions tend to muddy the waters and make it difficult for victims to think strategically.
Victims can choose to process their trauma and express their emotions in safe and consistent ways by joining support groups, like the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, so that when it’s time to focus on the legal aspect of their situation, they can give it their full attention.
Divorcing An Abuser 101: Understand “Best Interest Factors”
When working through a custody battle, it’s important that victims understand the concept of “best interest factors” – or, what the courts will be considering as the important issues that determine who the children should be spending their time with.
Wendy Hernandez has provided a free download of the Best Interest Factors Checklist Here. As women become more familiar with courtroom language and what judges and magistrates are looking for, they are more confident and better prepared to present their authentic selves in the courtroom.
BTR Is Here For You
Wherever you are in your journey to healing, Betrayal Trauma Recovery is here for you.
Custody battles, divorce, and discovering a partner’s infidelity are all life-altering, traumatic experiences. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group offers the support that you need as you navigate this trying time. Join today and find the community that you deserve.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Wendy Hernandez back on today’s episode. If you didn’t hear last week, go back there first and listen to that conversation and then join us here.
So those of you who are in Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, thank you, thank you, thank you. When you join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, we are here for you. You never have to wait for an appointment. You can join when you need to join.
Review The BTR Podcast
For those of you who have reviewed the podcast, thank you so much. I love reading these reviews, especially on days that are really hard. I just appreciate you reaching out. I’m just so thankful that you listen and that we’re a community together. Here’s a five-star review we recently received. It says: “Thank you, Anne. I’m so thankful for these podcasts and hearing Anne’s story, which is exactly what I’m going through with my husband and his years of porn addiction, gaslighting, and screaming in my face. I just got done listening to the podcast ‘Is He Really In Recovery’. It spoke right to my heart and validated my instincts. My husband isn’t doing any of the recovery work.
I ordered the book Anne recommended, Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft, and love the checklists you read on what real recovery looks like. I know God led me to BTR and all your excellent resources. Thank you for what you do for all of us woman’s suffering. You’ve empowered us and given us hope for a better life ahead.”
Now we’re going to continue the conversation with Wendy Hernandez.
What You Need To Know About Divorcing An Abuser
Is there anything else for women who are considering divorce? Like things that you see them do sort of in the beginning that maybe do not set them up for success in the long run? That maybe they don’t realize this is a trap that’s not going to hurt me right now, but it might hurt me in five years or 10 years.
Wendy: The main thing is denying or saying, avowing that there was no abuse in the relationship. That could potentially hurt down the road, that’s the biggest thing. And the second thing is getting the help that they need from somebody like you and the people on your team. Often as an attorney, I see women making decisions based on emotion or they can’t make decisions because they are so emotional. And so it makes the case really hard to move forward for me as an attorney. I’m not a trained professional in the area of mental health. I do my best. I think most attorneys are probably not trained that way.
Divorcing An Abuser Is Easier When Victims Are Not In Fight-Or-Flight Mode
And it would be amazing if all of my clients who are emotional abuse victims could get the help that they need because I think once they take care of those emotional needs then the legal aspect of it flows a lot better because they are clearing themselves and they’re able to see the options available to them and make a decision that’s based on reason versus just pure emotion. They’re not in the fight or flight state of mind all the time which really, it makes things foggy. So, get the emotional help that you need so your attorney can help you and if you don’t have an attorney helping you, so you can, you know, see what’s available see what’s at stake, and make a decision based on reason.
Navigating Post-Divorce Legal Issues
Anne: Now let’s talk to this other group of women who have divorced. Perhaps they didn’t have an attorney who understood abuse, kind of like the one that you talked about, and now it’s after the fact. So, they can’t go back in time, right, and make a decision, so maybe now they’re looking for a modification or they’re looking to solve some of their post-divorce problems. What are some of the things that you see women having trouble with when they’re trying to navigate post-divorce legal issues with an abuser?
Wendy: One thing that I see frequently, and I’ve just had a string of cases where my clients dealt with this was the client and the children continued to have the same issues that they were experiencing during the marriage. So, we brought this to the attention of the judge, and what the judge said is, this is no different than what you told me two years ago. There’s not been a change in circumstances. So because of that I’m leaving things as they are. So, you have to be mindful of the changes, the differences between what you went through when the divorce happened and now fast forward to three, four, or five years from now.
“You Have To Be Able To Distinguish What Is Happening Now”
You have to be able to distinguish what is happening now, from what happened when the divorce was final because the judge is going to be looking at what changed. And even though the claims may be the same that you made during the divorce, if you can point to hey the kids are having trouble in school or hey the kids his pediatrician thinks that maybe they need some sort of mental health counseling because of XYZ. You know, if there are changes in health, even though the base issues are the same if you have some third parties saying, these issues are causing some real effects, that would be helpful. Does that make sense?
Anne: So, basically if nothing has changed, then you don’t really have anything to point to in court is what you’re saying?
Documentation Is Key To Divorcing An Abuser
Wendy: Yes, but, but if there’s like a change in the education. The kids are having problems in school or, you know if some other person or group saying, yeah, this is causing a problem for the kids and you didn’t have that during the divorce, that is something that potentially the judge could grasp onto and hang on to. So, in one of the cases that I had you know where the judge said there was no change in circumstances the judge was looking hard for something. And one of the kids was having difficulties in school, but the records didn’t really reflect what the judge wanted to see.
So, you know, I think that the judge would have latched on to it if there was something more definitive in the records and I’m not saying go in and try to sway the doctors or try to sway the teachers or administrators or the Kung Fu coach, but if there’s documentation that’s going to be helpful. But you’ve got to work with your attorney, you’ve got to look at the rules in your jurisdiction to see what the guidelines are as far as modifying custody, decision making, or parenting time. If there’s a change in circumstances, be sure that you can prove it, otherwise, at best the judge will dismiss the case at worst the judge could make you pay the other party’s attorney’s fees and costs, which is never good.
What Are “Best Interest Factors”?
People should be really aware of these factors that are called the best interest factors. And these are the things that the judge looks at to make decisions on custody and parenting time and each state has its own set of Best Interest Factors and they may not be called Best Interest Factors in all states. They may be called Child Custody factors, but the court looks at all of these factors, and abuse, and domestic violence. Those are a couple of the factors, but there are a lot of factors, so you know when you’re going back post-divorce if there are other factors that are implicated, that may be enough to get you over the hump even if you don’t feel like there’s a change as clear as we would like to have. If the other factors are implicated, the court may go in your favor. So, you have to be aware of the factors.
The Best Interest Checklist
I developed a checklist, it’s called the Best Interest Checklist, you can download it for free at commandthecourtroom.com. So, several years ago I went through, and I compiled a list of all the factors from all 50 States. I list all the factors in the checklist, along with questions that you should be asking yourself about each factor. So, in addition to the abuse, be looking at all the other factors. You know the children’s relationships with other significant people in their lives. For example, is there a stepparent that’s in the picture? And what is the children’s relationship with the stepparent? What are the children’s relationships with other people in your life? Are they close, you know, to your parents or to their aunts and uncles or to their cousins?
Another factor that the court has to look at is the wishes of the children. So as long as the kids are of sufficient maturity to express their wishes that’s something that the court can consider and that’s a really powerful factor when the kids can articulate that the abuse is happening, and it’s really powerful because it’s coming from the kids. Just so people don’t get afraid, I don’t know of any court in the nation that is going to sit a kid on the stand during a divorce trial and ask the kid what’s happening at Mom’s, what’s happening at dad’s, what do you want?
Decisions Are Made By A “Combination of Several Factors”
Usually what the courts do is that they order interviews of the children to be done by a trained mental health professional. You know, this person builds rapport with the children they, try not to make the child feel pressured, but they try to find out what’s happening in each parent’s home, how the kids are feeling, what the kids would like. There are a few select judges who actually interviewed the children themselves. They don’t do it in a public forum, but they take the kids back to their chambers and talk to them about what’s going on.
So, a lot of times, you know, this factor, along with a couple of other factors that are going in your favor or enough to sway the judge that you should get the custody orders that you want. And those are just a few of the factors Anne, there is a ton of factors, so people should not just be focused on the abuse factors, they should be focused on all of the factors because decisions are made not usually just on one factor but on a combination of several factors. I hope that helps.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: We’re going to take a break here for just a second. It’s so hard to find professionals who really understand this type of abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual coercion. Many of you may have found an attorney that you feel good about, but they don’t really get it. One option is to give them a copy of my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. It has infographics in the back. It really helps professionals and other people understand this type of abuse in a really quick way because it’s a picture book so it’s not like some big thing and they’re way more likely to read a picture book than they are Why Does He Do That. Unfortunately, I think everyone should read Why Does He Do That, but if they’re not going to, Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a quick awesome read that will really help bring them up to speed. There are infographics at the back. You can get it on Amazon.
Go check out the list of all the curated books that we have. The most important ones on that curated list of course I say over and over again are Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft and The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans and Trauma Mama Husband Drama which is just a different way of processing your trauma and helping other people understand it.
Now back to our conversation.
Finding The Right Attorney To Divorce Your Abuser
One of the things that I’ve seen with victims, is they get so overwhelmed, right. They’re overwhelmed with like what am I going do for money and they’re overwhelmed with childcare and they’re overwhelmed because they’re still being manipulated by their abuser and they’re confused and also they’ve got maybe other people in their life saying you need to forgive him, why are you doing this, you know other things like that. They just feel so overwhelmed that even considering some of these legal issues, even calling several different attorneys to set up appointments for consultations to see which attorney would be good for me. It’s really, really hard for a victim, so I want to see if we can help them with a couple of clear things.
Number one, what questions should they be asking when they do have the strength to start calling around to find an attorney that’s going to work for them? Do you have any tips on that?
Wendy: Yes. So, first of all, referrals are a great source and oftentimes my clients come to me because they were referred by a friend or family member or by somebody down the line who used me in the past. So I would say, if you feel comfortable, talk to other people, ask people in the community, and if you don’t want people to know that you’re asking for yourself have somebody ask for you. Get an attorney who understands abuse and narcissism.
“Ask The Right Questions”
There are a lot of attorneys out there in the world, and there are many who advertise about abuse but that doesn’t mean that they know about it. So, I would talk to them about cases that they’ve had in the past, whether they’ve handled cases where there’s no physical abuse and there’s just emotional abuse, you know, whether they’ve dealt with narcissists before. So, ask the right questions. Come up with the questions before you go in and meet with the attorney.
You should have an understanding and also of the financial arrangement with the attorney because I think a lot of times people aren’t clear on that and they run out of money quickly and they don’t know what happened, and then they’re left without an attorney at a critical part of the proceeding. So, you need to get an expectation of what the finances are going to look like, how long the case could potentially last, and how much money it could potentially cost just so you’re prepared.
Divorcing An Abuser Means Selecting The Right Attorney For You
I feel like people really have to get quiet and centered and feel what kind of person the attorney is. There are many attorneys out there who generate conflict because it means they’re going to make more money. The more conflicts, the more attorney’s fees there are and the longer the case will last. Not all attorneys are that way. So, I’m not saying that you want an attorney who’s just going to lay down and be a rug. You want an attorney who’s going to fight for you, but not an attorney who’s going to intentionally stir the pot and jack up the fees and create more conflict and make you look bad in front of the judge because they are creating conflict.
So again, it’s a balance between the attorney who will fight for you but one who is mindful of resources that are almost always limited. You know, just really feel whether that person is a match for you. There are people who come to me sometimes and they say, “I need a junkyard dog,” and I know right off that’s not a match for me because that’s not the kind of attorney I am.
“Don’t Be Afraid To Interview More Than One Attorney”
It doesn’t mean that I’m not, you know, assertive when I need to be which is in the courtroom and when I’m standing up for my client, but I’m just not a junkyard dog. I’m not hostile, I’m not aggressive. There are some people who want that, and who needs that. If you want and need that and you go to an attorney who’s not that, then your relationship is not going to go smoothly. I can tell you that from experience. So, get clear on who you want from a personal quality and value standpoint, and look for that attorney. That attorney is out there and be patient. Don’t be afraid to interview more than one attorney. You don’t have to go with the first attorney that you interview. So hopefully those tips help.
Anne: Yeah, they help a lot. My final question is related to what I talked about before asking that question, which is if they’re really stressed out, and they’re having a hard time processing information, and they just kind of want to avoid this. Do you have any tips for women in that scenario? And before you say that I would recommend Wendy’s online courses and I would love for you to talk about that because it’s just a small thing they can do every day that’s sort of not as overwhelming. So, I’d like you to talk about that and then any other tips you have.
Just Take One Step
Wendy: Yes, so I think all of us get overwhelmed at various points during our lives, for different reasons and I’ve found myself in places of overwhelm and I do at times. There are times when I have felt like I can’t talk or make a move. Like I’m just paralyzed by overwhelm. What I have found to help me when I’m overwhelmed is just to stop and think about okay what is my goal? What needs to be done in this situation? What is the long-term thing? You know, short-term and long-term goals. Then I just turn out a few steps towards that goal, and then I take one step.
One step in the direction of that goal, and it could be picking up the phone, you know, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an attorney, but it could be to the friend or their family member who’s going to help you feel brave and make the call to the attorney, eventually tomorrow or next week. But take one step, and all these little steps are going to add up if you can commit to taking a step every day or a couple of steps every day. So that’s what helps me with overwhelm is just breaking it down and taking a step and not worrying about other steps that need to be taken or thinking, if I don’t take this step then this is going to happen, then this is going to happen, then this is going to happen and it’s all going to crumble.
The 21 Day Child Custody Challenge
Don’t think about that. Just to think about the step in front of you. So, that does lead to this course I developed. It’s called the 21 Day Child Custody Challenge, and it’s for people who are going through child custody battles. What I did is I broke down the process into a series of 21 days, and a person can go in, and they listen to day one and I gave them a little homework assignment, give a video on the topic for that day, and usually, a download.
They can go in and look at what they need to do and you do this for 21 days, and you’ve made a lot of progress towards understanding what this child custody case is going to involve, what you need to know about, what you need to gather, and what you need to focus upon. So I would encourage people, even if they’re represented by an attorney to take a look at that because, you know, understanding really helps people feel calmer about what’s going to happen when they don’t know what’s going to happen in the courtroom or what their judge or, you know, what the judge is going to be looking at to decide on. You know, that’s what causes panic is the unknown.
Command The Courtroom
Anne: Thank you so much. I cannot recommend Wendy’s YouTube channel more. It’s called Command the Courtroom. I know that our listeners are super overwhelmed, but I do want them to realize that they need more education about this so that they can avoid some of these long-term problems that many of the women in my community have run into because they weren’t quite prepared and you’re always going to run into unavoidable problems. So having an understanding of the lay of the land with these legal issues is really important. Her YouTube channel is Command the Courtroom, and her website is commandthecourtroom.com.
Thank you, Wendy, for being on today’s episode.
Wendy: Thank you, Anne.
Anne: If this podcast was helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.