What Is Post-Separation Abuse? What Steps Can Be Taken To Avoid It?

Post-separation abuse refers to a pattern of abusive behavior that occurs after a couple has separated or divorced. It involves one former partner using various tactics to exert control, intimidate, manipulate, or harm the other partner, even though they are no longer together.


Harassment: The abuser may engage in persistent and unwanted contact, such as frequent phone calls and showing up at their ex’s home, workplace, or other locations where they know they will be such as the grocery store, gym, or social events. With today’s online communication options, text messages, emails, or social media messages are growing abusive platforms. This behavior is aimed at causing distress, invading the victim’s privacy, or maintaining control.

Examples of how harassment can manifest in post-separation abuse:

Unwanted Communication: The abuser repeatedly contacts the victim through various means such as phone calls, text messages, emails, or social media messages, despite the victim’s clear indication that they wish to sever all communication. These can include incessant messages, threats, or attempts to provoke a response from the victim.

Following or Tracking: The abuser may virtually and physically follow or stalk the victim, showing up uninvited at their home, workplace, or other locations. They may also use tracking technology or surveillance methods to monitor the victim’s movements and activities.

Online Harassment and Cyberbullying: The abuser engages in online harassment directed at the victim through social media platforms, forums, or other online channels. This can include sending threatening or derogatory messages, posting defamatory content, or spreading rumors to damage the victim’s reputation.

Defamation and False Accusations: The abuser spreads false information or makes baseless accusations about the victim, intending to harm their reputation, relationships, or professional life. They often engage in character assassination, share personal or intimate details without consent, or create false narratives to manipulate public opinion.

Intimidation and Threats: The abuser employs threats or intimidating behavior to instill fear and distress in the victim. This can involve making explicit or implicit threats of physical harm, harm to loved ones, or damage to the victim’s property or possessions.

Interference with Daily Life: The abuser disrupts the victim’s daily activities, routines, or personal life. They may show up unannounced at the victim’s workplace or home, stalk or monitor their movements, or engage in behaviors that prevent the victim from enjoying a sense of safety, privacy, or peace of mind.

Manipulation through Mutual Contacts: The abuser uses mutual friends, family members, or acquaintances to harass or intimidate the victim. They may manipulate these individuals into delivering threatening messages, monitoring the victim’s activities, or spreading false information about the victim.


Stalking: The abuser may engage in stalking behaviors, such as following the victim, monitoring their activities, showing up uninvited at their home or workplace, or using technology to track their movements.

Examples of how stalking can be used in post-separation abuse:

Physical Surveillance: The abuser may engage in stalking by physically following the victim, showing up uninvited at their home, workplace, or social events, and monitoring their activities. This constant presence can be intimidating and cause the victim to feel unsafe.

Tracking Technology: The abuser may use technology, such as GPS tracking devices or spyware, to monitor the victim’s movements and activities remotely. They may install tracking apps on the victim’s phone or vehicle without their knowledge, allowing them to track the victim’s location in real-time.

Cyberstalking: The abuser may engage in virtual stalking by monitoring the victim’s online presence, including their social media profiles, posts, and interactions. They may create fake accounts to gain access to the victim’s information or send harassing messages and threats online.

Cyberbullying: The abuser may engage in online harassment and cyberbullying as a form of stalking. They may post defamatory comments, share private or embarrassing information, or send threatening messages, all with the intention of causing emotional distress and humiliation to the victim.

Monitoring Communication: The abuser may intercept, monitor, or tamper with the victim’s electronic communication channels, such as email accounts, text messages, or phone calls. They may hack into the victim’s accounts or use spyware to gain unauthorized access to their private conversations.

Psychological Intimidation: The abuser may use the knowledge gained from stalking to intimidate and harass the victim. They may mention specific details about the victim’s activities or conversations to create fear and demonstrate that they are constantly watching and monitoring their every move.

Surveillance through Mutual Contacts: The abuser may use mutual friends, family members, or acquaintances to gather information about the victim’s activities, whereabouts, or new relationships. They may manipulate these individuals into providing updates about the victim’s life or coerce them into spying on the victim.

Coercive Control

Coercive Control: The abuser may continue to exert control over the victim’s life by using various tactics such as manipulation, threats, intimidation, or financial control. This can include withholding child support, manipulating custody arrangements, or threatening to harm the victim or their loved ones.

Examples of coercive control in post-separation abuse:

Isolation: The abuser attempts to isolate the victim from their support network, such as friends, family, or professionals, by spreading false information or instigating conflicts. This isolation makes the victim feel alone and vulnerable and more likely to reach out to the abuser for emotional support and guidance.

Monitoring and Surveillance: The abuser may continue to monitor the victim’s activities, whereabouts, and communications even after separation. This can involve tracking their online presence, using spyware or other surveillance techniques, or employing mutual acquaintances to gather information about the victim’s life.

Restricting Communication: The abuser may control and manipulate the victim’s communication channels, such as monitoring their phone calls, reading their emails or text messages, or interfering with their access to the internet and social media. By doing so, they limit the victim’s ability to connect with others and maintain privacy.

Financial Control: The abuser continues to exert control over the victim’s finances, using money as a means of power and manipulation. They may withhold child support, alimony, or financial assets, creating financial instability and dependence. They might also sabotage the victim’s employment or education opportunities to further restrict their financial independence.

Threats and Intimidation: The abuser uses threats, intimidation, or displays of aggression to maintain control over the victim. This can include making threats of physical harm, harming the victim’s loved ones, or spreading false rumors that could damage their reputation or relationships.

Manipulation and Gaslighting: The abuser manipulates the victim’s perception of reality, causing them to doubt their own experiences and feelings. They skillfully distort the truth, deny previous incidents of abuse, or blame the victim for the abuse they endured, making it challenging for the victim to assert their needs or seek support.

Coercion Around Child Custody: The abuser uses child custody arrangements as a means of control. They may threaten to limit or deny access to the children, manipulate visitation schedules, or use the children as pawns to force compliance or submission from the victim.

Psychological and Emotional Abuse

Psychological and Emotional Abuse: This involves the abuser using psychological tactics to undermine the victim’s self-esteem, mental well-being, and sense of security. This can include insults, humiliation, gaslighting, or spreading false rumors about the victim.

Examples of psychological and emotional abuse in post-separation scenarios:

Gaslighting: The abuser manipulates the victim’s perception of reality, making them doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. They may deny past events, distort facts, or blame the victim for the problems in the relationship, causing the victim to question their own experiences.

Constant Criticism: The abuser consistently belittles, insults, or criticizes the victim, attacking their self-esteem and self-worth. They may mock their appearance, intelligence, parenting abilities, or other personal attributes, aiming to erode the victim’s confidence and sense of self.

Manipulation and Guilt-Tripping: The abuser employs manipulative tactics to make the victim feel guilty or responsible for the breakdown of the relationship. They may blame the victim for the separation, use emotional blackmail, or employ guilt-inducing statements to control their behavior and decision-making.

Threats and Intimidation: The abuser uses threats, intimidation, or coercion to instill fear and maintain control over the victim. This can involve threats of physical harm, harm to the children, or damage to the victim’s reputation or personal relationships.

Isolation: The abuser isolates the victim from friends, family, and support networks, creating a sense of dependency and helplessness. They may discourage or prevent the victim from maintaining relationships, controlling their social activities, or spreading false rumors to alienate them from their support system.

Undermining Parenting: The abuser undermines the victim’s role as a parent, seeking to control or manipulate the children’s perception of the victim. They may make derogatory comments about the victim’s parenting abilities, interfere with parenting decisions, or use the children as pawns in the post-separation dynamics.

Emotional Blackmail: The abuser employs emotional blackmail to manipulate the victim’s emotions and actions. They may threaten self-harm, suicide, or withholding access to the children unless the victim complies with their demands or returns to the relationship.

Online Abuse

Online Abuse: With the proliferation of technology and social media, post-separation abuse can extend to the online realm. The abuser may use social media platforms to harass, intimidate, or publicly shame the victim, making derogatory comments or sharing private information.

Examples of online abuse in post-separation scenarios:

Harassment and Stalking: The unhealthy parent engages in relentless harassment by bombarding the healthy parent with an excessive number of emails, phone calls, and messages that are manipulative, threatening or intimidating, and abusive in nature. They go to extreme lengths by monitoring the safe parent’s whereabouts, social interactions, social media activities, electronic devices, online communication tools, or even resorting to spyware. Through these actions, they terrorize and intimidate the safe parent with constant threats, yet their behavior may not reach the threshold of involving law enforcement

Public Shaming and Humiliation: The abuser publicly humiliates or shames the victim online. This can involve posting embarrassing or compromising photos or videos, sharing personal information without consent, or spreading false rumors and lies about the victim.

Online Trolling: The abuser engages in deliberate provocative or inflammatory behavior online with the intention of causing distress and emotional harm to the victim. They may leave abusive comments, engage in arguments, or purposefully provoke the victim to elicit a negative reaction.

Doxing: The abuser searches for and reveals the victim’s personal and private information, such as their home address, phone number, or workplace, without their consent. This puts the victim at risk of physical harm, identity theft, or further harassment.

Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Material (Revenge Porn): The abuser shares explicit or intimate photos or videos of the victim without their consent, often after a relationship ends. This is done to embarrass, humiliate, damage their reputation, or blackmail the victim, causing significant emotional distress and harm.

Impersonation and Identity Theft: The abuser creates fake profiles or impersonates the victim online, spreading false information, making harmful or defamatory statements, or engaging in activities that damage the victim’s reputation or relationships.

Online Threats and Intimidation: The abuser makes threats of violence, harm, or death towards the victim or their loved ones online. This includes sending explicit threats, engaging in doxing, or using online platforms to stalk or monitor the victim’s activities.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse: Within the court setting, the abusive parent engages in widespread financial manipulation and deceit, aimed at causing harm to the healthy parent. They employ various tactics, such as playing financial games, with the intention of creating discord and strife. This may involve restricting access to bank accounts and other financial resources, effectively blocking the healthy parent’s ability to meet their financial needs.

Here are some examples of financial abuse in post-separation scenarios:

Control of Finances: The abusive partner controls all financial decisions, including earning, savings, and spending. They may prevent the victim from having access to bank accounts, credit cards, or important financial documents, leaving them with no financial autonomy.

Withholding Money: The abusive partner intentionally withholds money from the victim, denying them access to funds for basic needs, such as food, clothing, or healthcare. They may also restrict access to transportation or limit the victim’s ability to work or pursue education.

Sabotaging Employment or Education: The abuser may interfere with the victim’s employment or education to maintain control. This can include preventing them from attending work or school, harassing them at their workplace, or sabotaging job opportunities.

Forced Debt: The abusive partner may force the victim into debt by taking out loans or credit cards in their name without their consent or by coercing them to co-sign loans. The victim is then held responsible for the debt, trapping them in a cycle of financial dependence.

Economic Blackmail: The abuser may use financial resources as a form of blackmail, threatening to withhold financial support or expose damaging information if the victim does not comply with their demands or stay in the relationship.

Hiding or Wasting Money: The abusive partner may hide assets, income, or financial resources from the victim, making it difficult for them to access their fair share of the finances during separation or divorce. They may also engage in excessive spending, gambling, or substance abuse, further compromising the victim’s financial stability.

Controlling Documentation: The abusive partner may prevent the victim from accessing important financial documents, such as bank statements, tax returns, or legal documents, making it challenging for them to assert their rights or make informed financial decisions.

Alienation Tactics

Alienation Tactics: In post-separation abuse, alienation tactics are employed to undermine the victim’s relationship with their children. The abuser may manipulate the children’s perception, poisoning their minds against the victim and fostering hostility. This can involve spreading false information, making derogatory remarks, or restricting contact and visitation to erode the parent-child bond. By leveraging alienation tactics, the abuser seeks to maintain control and exert power over the victim’s emotional well-being and parental rights.

Examples of alienation tactics in post-separation scenarios:

Alienation Allegations: In cases where the child displays a clear preference for the safe parent and rejects the abusive parent, false accusations of alienation may arise. These parental alienation claims are lodged against the safe parent as a legal tactic to undermine their credibility. The abusive parent may label valid claims of abuse as alienation in an attempt to defend themselves.

Badmouthing: The abusive parent speaks negatively about the other parent to the children, making derogatory comments, spreading false information, or blaming them for the separation. This aims to influence the children’s perception and create a negative image of the other parent.

Interference with Parent-Child Contact: The abusive parent may actively prevent or obstruct the children’s contact with the other parent. This can involve canceling visitation or custody arrangements, making false allegations of abuse, or creating conflicts during exchanges.

Undermining Authority: The abusive parent disregards the other parent’s authority and undermines their decision-making. They may contradict or override the other parent’s rules, discipline methods, or parenting decisions in front of the children, causing confusion and disrespect for the targeted parent.

Limiting Communication: The abusive parent may restrict or monitor communication between the children and the other parent. They may intercept or block phone calls, messages, or letters, or manipulate the children’s access to technology to prevent contact.

Manipulating Feelings: The abusive parent manipulates the children’s emotions by inducing guilt, fear, or loyalty conflicts. They may pressure the children to choose sides, implying that they will only be loved or accepted if they reject the other parent.

False Allegations: The abusive parent makes false accusations of abuse or neglect against the other parent. These accusations are intended to damage the other parent’s reputation, create legal complications, and undermine their relationship with the children.

Isolation: The toxic parent frequently seeks to undermine the social connections of the healthy parent, including family, friends, teachers, and other community relationships, in an effort to dismantle their entire support network and compromise their well-being

Legal Abuse

Legal Abuse: The abuser cunningly conceals their true intentions behind a facade in the courtroom, deceiving even the most experienced family court professionals, including custody evaluators, therapists, GALs, and judges. Masked with malicious intent, they exploit court proceedings to manipulate, harass, intimidate, coerce, and exhaust the safe parent’s financial and emotional resources. They show disregard for court orders, file false reports, intentionally cause delays in legal proceedings, and make legal threats to assert power and control over the safe parent. Their sole objective in seeking a change in custody is fueled by a desire for revenge, punishment, and ongoing dominance over the safe parent.

Examples of legal abuse in post-separation scenarios:

Misusing Court Proceedings: The abusive individual may manipulate court processes to their advantage, prolonging legal battles unnecessarily and draining the resources of the other party. They may file excessive motions, petitions, or requests, causing the safe parent to incur significant financial and emotional burdens.

Disregarding Court Orders: The abuser may intentionally ignore or violate court orders, such as visitation schedules or child support payments, with the aim of destabilizing the safe parent’s life and provoking emotional distress.

Making False Accusations: They may fabricate allegations of abuse, neglect, or parental alienation against the safe parent, using these false claims as a means to tarnish their reputation and gain leverage in custody or visitation disputes. The abusive parent resorts to contacting child protective services, the police, and the children’s school as a means of exerting control and intimidation.

Causing Delays and Creating Obstacles: The abusive person may intentionally create delays in court proceedings by filing frivolous motions, demanding excessive documentation, or repeatedly changing legal representation. These tactics can prolong the legal process, increase expenses, and wear down the safe parent.

Making Legal Threats: The abuser may utilize threats of further litigation, financial ruin, or public exposure to intimidate and coerce the safe parent into complying with their demands. These threats serve to maintain control and instill fear.

Seeking Revenge and Punishment: The primary motivation behind an abuser’s legal actions may be to seek revenge against the safe parent for ending the relationship or punishing them for perceived wrongdoings. They view the legal system as a tool for exerting power and continuing control over the safe parent’s life.

Weaponizing the Children: The toxic parent engages in a battle for equal parenting time, yet their genuine interest in the children’s well-being is questionable. Once they believe they have achieved a victory in court, they often abandon or neglect the children.

Counter Parenting

Examples of counter parenting in post-separation scenarios:

Planting Toxic Beliefs in the Child’s Mind: The abusive parent prioritizes their own hatred and personal vendetta against the other parent over the well-being of their child. They intentionally sow seeds of falsehoods about the other parent, as well as their own parenting abilities, in an attempt to brainwash the child and foster animosity towards the other parent. They may make statements like, “We are not a family anymore because Daddy wanted a divorce and doesn’t love you kids anymore,” or “It’s Mommy’s fault that Daddy lives far away; she doesn’t care about our time together and doesn’t love you.” These manipulative tactics aim to distort the child’s perception and foster resentment towards the other parent.

Undermining the Safe Parent’s Parenting Abilities and Decisions: The unhealthy parent harbors such intense animosity towards the other parent that it impairs their judgment, leading them to act out of anger and an unwarranted desire for revenge. Their actions are driven by an overwhelming hatred that undermines the safe parent’s ability to parent effectively and makes them question their own decisions. They may deny or trivialize abusive behaviors, causing the targeted parent to question their own experiences.

Medical Counter Parenting: The abusive parent engages in denying or withholding consent for necessary medical or therapeutic care for the child. They may also go to the extent of contacting doctors and making false allegations about the other parent and the child’s medical needs, intentionally sabotaging their healthcare, and creating unnecessary obstacles in obtaining proper treatment.

Disneyland Parenting: The unhealthy parent demonstrates a lack of commitment towards the child’s healthcare, education, and responsibilities. They have no intention of taking the child to necessary medical appointments or ensuring they complete their schoolwork. Instead, they view their time with the child as an opportunity for fun and indulgence, often using it to provide extravagant experiences or material possessions that the other parent may be unable to afford.

Alienation Tactics: The abuser may attempt to alienate the children from the other parent by spreading false information, making derogatory remarks, or undermining the parent-child relationship. This strategy aims to create division and loyalty conflicts within the family.

Manipulation and Guilt-Tripping: The toxic parent employs manipulative tactics to make the other parent feel responsible for the abuse or guilt-ridden for wanting to protect themselves or the children. This can lead to the targeted parent second-guessing their decisions and actions.

Undermining Parenting Decisions: Abusive parents purposefully weaken the authority of the other parent by disregarding or opposing their parenting decisions. They may engage in making unilateral choices, violating agreed-upon rules, or attempting to override the other parent’s decisions. Their objective is to impose conflicting values on the child as a means of undermining the safe parent and exerting control, even at the expense of sound parenting practices.

Neglectful or Abusive Parenting: The unhealthy parent subjectively exposes children to harmful content, situations, or individuals, resulting in distress and anxiety for the safe parent. They employ violence, intimidation, threats, manipulation, and ridicule as tactics to coerce compliance from the children. The abusive parent prioritizes their own needs over the well-being of the child.

What Steps Can You Take To Avoid Post-Separation Abuse?

Predicting whether an ex will continue the abuse after divorce is difficult, as every situation is unique. However, it is important to be aware of red flags and unexpected strategies that may indicate the potential for post-divorce abuse. If you closely observe the divorce process and notice ongoing patterns of abuse or manipulative behavior, it can be a clue that the abuse may persist. When children are involved, there is a higher likelihood for the abusive behavior to continue and extend towards you as control is the ultimate goal. It is crucial to prioritize your safety and seek appropriate support and resources to navigate these challenges.

Experiencing post-separation abuse can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and mitigate the impact of such abuse. Here are some recommendations:

Comprehensive Parenting Plan: To mitigate post-divorce parenting issues, it is crucial to establish a well-defined and thorough parenting plan. Take the time to consider and address every potential situation that may arise and strive to have clear policies and solutions in place. By proactively addressing these matters during the divorce process with the assistance of lawyers and mediators, you can save yourself from prolonged court battles in the future. Otherwise, if the challenges and abuse persist, you may find yourself continuously returning to court until your children reach adulthood. It becomes a matter of deciding whether to invest in resolving issues now or facing potentially higher costs and prolonged disputes later.

Safety Planning: Prioritize your safety and that of your children. Develop a safety plan that includes measures such as changing locks, securing your home, establishing a support network, and having emergency contacts readily available.

Seek Support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support organizations that can provide emotional support, guidance, and resources. Consider joining support groups or seeking therapy to help you cope with the challenges you may face.

Document Incidents: Keep a record of any abusive or concerning behaviors, including dates, times, descriptions, and any supporting evidence such as text messages, emails, or photos. This documentation can be helpful if you need to take legal action or seek a restraining order.

Consult a Professional: Consult an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through legal proceedings and help protect your rights. They can provide advice on obtaining protective orders, modifying custody arrangements, and navigating the legal process.

Restraining Orders: If you feel threatened or at risk, consider obtaining a restraining order or protection order against the abusive party. This can legally enforce boundaries and provide a layer of protection for you and your children.

Limit Communication: Minimize direct contact with the abusive individual whenever possible. Utilize tools such as email, text messaging, or third-party communication platforms to communicate about co-parenting matters in a documented and less confrontational manner.

Focus on Self-Care: Prioritize your own well-being and self-care. Engage in activities that bring you joy, maintain a healthy support network, and consider seeking therapy to process and heal from the abuse.

Education and Empowerment: Educate yourself about your rights and the dynamics of abuse. Knowledge and understanding can empower you to make informed decisions and assert your rights effectively.

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