Part 4: Threats and Control: Real, Implied and Imagined

The last piece in this 4 part series gives legal advice on how to protect yourself against minor or major threats. Stacy Phillips, Certified Family Law Specialist, offers advice on how to stop the threats and the necessary actions you made need to take.

By Stacy D. Phillips
Updated: March 17, 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 certified family law specialist, Stacy D. Phillips, in this four-part segment has addressed threats—real, implied and imagined. In this fourth part, Phillips shares some substantial steps to take if you are a victim of any one of the three Threats. She also throws a few suggestions your way if you happen to be the ex making the Threats by offering a handful of recommendations on how to resist the temptation to do so.

You may be asking: What should I do if I have been threatened? There are many remedies available to you whether the threats you are receiving are Real, Implied or Imagined.

Let me first address Real threats, the ones that are openly expressed, because these tend to go hand-in-hand with physical danger. If your ex is threatening to take your life or the lives of those around you (your children, your parents, your friends and/or your business associates), call the police and your attorney. The police should be able to help you while the incident is happening, the attorney, after the fact. The attorney can assist you in seeking a Restraining Order. While such a drastic measure may shock your ex into backing off of Real threats (because to act on such suggestions or continue to make them usually means arrest and incarceration), still be careful! Restraining Orders are only a piece of paper, and many of those who obtained them have been murdered or beaten or have had their possessions destroyed.

If your ex demonstrates threatening behavior in your presence (like when he returns the children after visitation and thrusts his fist through the door), call the police immediately.

They can issue an EPO (an Emergency Protective Order). This document will tide you over until your attorney gets a Temporary Restraining Order followed by a Permanent Restraining Order (usually effective for three years, and can be renewed, as needed, thereafter). If you should get a Permanent Order, you do not need to have your ex inflict injury or damage before calling the authorities. You can call if he/she comes near you (the judge may order he/she stay at least 100 to 200 yards away from you) or makes any additional threats against you.

You can also seek help from your therapist who, together with your attorney, may suggest you reside in a domestic violence shelter for a time, or assist you in moving away, or in with those who are equipped to provide safety. Ever since the famous O.J. Simpson case, more attention than ever before has been paid to physical violence and the threats that precede it.

I say once a person makes Real threats and acts on them, take them seriously and always opt for safety. I also say pay close attention to Implied threats, for they could portend of danger if they go unheeded.

In terms of Imagined threats: it's time to call your therapist and ask for help in neutralizing such fears. This mental health professional can aid you in reasoning with such threats and also guide you to the proper persons (your attorney and/or the authorities) if they think any Imagined threat might materialize into some type of danger.

What should you do if your ex acts on a threat?

There is little difference between what can result from a Real and an Implied threat. If someone says "I'm going to kill you," or they make a point of letting you know they just got a new gun, the end result can be the same: disaster. So, again, call the police!

Tell your attorney and your therapist; but in an emergency, only the police can help. If the situation warrants, ask that they assist you in securing your safety and that of your children, immediate family and any others you feel may be at risk. Conversely, if you are the person making the threats, know that you have a major lack of personal self-control and you should reach out for help. There are many who will be glad to assist you.

The following list of specific remedies to staving off the consequences of Real or Implied threats may help. To those faced with threats, these tips have proven very useful.

  • If you feel comfortable, arm yourself. Though you may need a concealed weapon permit (some states require them) and instruction on how to safely use a gun, this might be a good remedy.
  • Take a martial arts class or some other self-protection workshop.
  • Carry mace, pepper spray, a big metal spoon and even an ear-piercing whistle.
  • Call 911 if you are in danger (calling your attorney for immediate help will not result in immediate protection).
  • Keep important phone numbers with you at all times (police, domestic violence hotlines, family, friends, etc.).
  • Tell as many people as you can about any viable threats, and ask them to be vigilant along with you.
  • Develop code words to use with friends and family to let them know when you are in immediate danger.
  • Make a list of safe havens—and keep the list in an easily accessible place—if you need to get away in a hurry.
  • Find a person or place where you can leave emergency money, keys, clothes and important documents.
  • Join a support group for victims of domestic violence, or a group of recent divorcees who find they are dealing with similar threat issues.
  • Update, review and practice your safety plans regularly.
  • Ask your attorney whether or not a restraining order would be appropriate. If so, get one. Make sure (if you have children) that you drop off a copy at school, the local police station, the daycare center and other places where your ex may come in contact with your children. Also, have one in your desk at work, in your car glove compartment, at home and on your "person".
  • If you are remaining in the house you both resided in, have the locks changed and install an alarm system, or change the code, and always set it, even when you are in the home. Do not allow the children to take their house keys to your ex's when they go for visitation (your ex may have copies made).
  • Try not to be alone in isolated areas.
  • Make an escape plan in case you need to leave home or the office immediately.
  • Keep a log of all threats—dates, times, places—Real, Implied and Imagined. Share this log with your attorney and your therapist (and police investigators if appropriate).

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.

It is now time for you to take a short quiz to see how you fare in the Threat Department. The majority of those going through divorce or a relationship breakup make some kind of threat—Real, Implied or Imagined. I am not chastising you if you have been a Threatener or allowed yourself to be a victim ("Threatnee,"or been both!), I am simply asking that you manage your threat issues, because they are linked closely with your ability to assume, establish and maintain control.

Remember that to get on with your life you must be in control of yourself. If you are caught in the Threat dance, it will be virtually impossible to move forward. And, as you get through your divorce I'm betting that getting on with your life is what you're truly after

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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September 05, 2007
Categories:  Coping with Divorce

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