Part 1: Threats and Control: Real, Implied, and Imagined

Learn about the negative impact that threats leave, after and during the divorce process, as intimidation is only used to gain control. If you are the threatener then realize that this can even impact your court proceedings.

By Stacy D. Phillips
Updated: May 22, 2015
Health and Well Being

In the continuation of the series of excerpts from the book, Divorce: It’s All About Control—How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars (ExecuProv Press) by renowned family law specialist and managing partner of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation in Los Angeles, CA, Stacy D. Phillips, in this segment she discusses threats — real, implied and imagined. In this first portion of the Threat trilogy, Phillips tackles a description of real threats. In her closing segment, part four, Phillips will advise you on how to handle them if they are aimed at you ("Threatenee"), and how to handle them if you’re inclined to make them. ("Threatener").

In my long experience as a family law attorney in many high profile divorces, I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce or breakup process is dealing with revenge, retribution and the punitive measures some will resort to out of hurt, anger and rejection.

Many such actions originate from threats.

Threats are a masterful way to assert control over others.

Some threats are Real. In other words, they are openly expressed and can manifest themselves through some type of physical violence, emotional abuse, financial control, or threats through the children.

All the way around, threats are bad news.

"Real" threats can result in death.

Threats are always about control.

Threats are the winds of war! Yes, they can kick up and kick off any of the Typical Three Wars (Emotional, Psychological or Legal or the ones associated with the Enemies Within), or keep them going long after they should have died down. From strong breezes to heavy gales, in their wake, threats can wreak all kinds of havoc.

Real threats are oral or written statements promising harm to persons or possessions. This might include everything from your ex proclaiming he/she will smash your windshield, to kidnapping the children, to beating you up. Real threats are always obvious, for as they are made, specific acts are described that clearly state what the "Threatener" intends to do. A Real threat is exact and openly expressed through dialogue, a letter, fax or email. A Real threat can also be made by raising a fist, brandishing a weapon, or stalking someone. Real threats may not only be physical: they can be emotional and psychological, as I have pointed out. An emotional Real threat might include the suggestion that your ex will offer your new lover a copy of a "sex video" the two of you made when you were together. Acted upon, this could cause great embarrassment and shame. A psychological Real threat might be one where your ex suggests he or she will report a mock-scenario to persuade Child Protection Services (or whatever the agency is called in your state) that you are molesting the children. A Legal threat, of course, is when your ex flatly states, "I’ll see you in court!"

If you are on the receiving end of a threat ("Threatener), take action. If you are the party making them ("Threatee:"), cease and desist. Here are some of the classic Real threats, all of which can become intertwined in the divorce wars:

  1. "I’m going to kill you."
  2. "You will never work in this town again."
  3. "I’m taking the kids away from you."
  4. "I’m turning you in to the IRS."
  5. "I’ll ruin your reputation."
  6. "I’ll take the children and leave the country."
  7. "I’ll get you fired."
  8. "I’m declaring bankruptcy so you’ll get nothing."
  9. "I’ll kill your new boyfriend/girlfriend."
  10. "I’ll take you to the cleaners."

Whether or not you should take heed as a result of a threat is often a dilemma. I always advise my clients to pay close attention to their instincts. If something just does not feel right, pay attention to that feeling. I know many clients who had a "nagging suspicion" their ex was about to attack—to act out a threat. I never take such information lightly. Together, many clients and I have devised strategy based on a type of "circumstantial" evidence that his or her ex may strike. Even if your ex has never engaged in physical violence in the past, or appears to have always been passive and non-reactionary to situations that might send others into a complete frenzy, do not overlook your gut feelings. We hear of many spurned spouses who kill exes, for instance, whose friends and neighbors describe them as the last person they thought would ever kill someone, burn down the house, or run away with the kids, etc. When you consider that you may know your ex more intimately than anyone else, your instincts can prove invaluable.

Realize that if you are the Threatener and you tell your therapist you plan to hurt someone, your therapist is obligated to report it. Be careful how you vent your frustration—choose your words wisely. This information can be used against you, especially in court hearings and proceedings.


Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is co-chair of the Women's Political Committee and a member of Divorce Magazine's North American Advisory Board. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm's Divorce Magazine profile here.

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August 16, 2007
Categories:  Coping with Divorce

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