How to Handle Harassment From an Ex-Spouse

By Beverly Bird
A judge, your ex, you

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Some people are more ready to move on from past relationships than others. Some are so mired in anger and other negative feelings that they can’t let go. The law recognizes this and provides a few ways of legally dealing with harassment if your ex keeps hammering you with unwanted contact. Unfortunately, the rules aren’t even close to being uniform across states.

Get a Restraining Order

Restraining orders -- sometimes called orders of protection -- are typically reserved for people who have been in intimate relationships with their tormentors, so if your ex-spouse is bothering you, you would qualify. But in some states, harassment alone isn’t enough to get the court to issue a restraining order. Your ex must also have physically harmed you or threatened you with harm. If this is the case, the judge can often include custody and visitation terms in the restraining order if you have children, and include provisions that can help you avoid crossing paths with him more often than is absolutely necessary.

Ask for an Injunction

If your ex hasn’t physically harmed you or threatened to, and you live in a state that requires a threat for a restraining order, ask the court clerk, an attorney or legal aid if you can request an anti-harassment order instead. In some states, these orders are called injunctions. This can get confusing because restraining orders are sometimes called civil injunctions, but they’re not the same thing. You might need help to figure out exactly what kind of relief is available where you live. The court may not be able to order custody and visitation terms as part of an injunction that’s not a restraining order, but it can prohibit your ex from contacting you. In some states, you don’t have the option of getting an injunction against the person who’s troubling you -- you’re limited to a restraining order. You may have to prove that your ex harassed you on more than one occasion and that his behavior was such that any reasonable person would have been disturbed by it.

Enforce the Order

After you get a court order that prohibits your ex from harassing you, enforcing it also comes down to where you live. Law enforcement may not be able to enforce an injunction for you in some states if your ex steps afoul of its rules. You might have to file a motion or petition with the court, asking the judge to hold him in contempt of court for violating the order. But restraining orders and orders of protection generally allow police to arrest your ex, even without a warrant, if he violates the terms of the order.

Take Practical Steps

If you must maintain some level of contact with your ex, because you have children, for example, try to limit your communications to text messages whenever possible. You’re not duty-bound to answer every single time he calls you, particularly if he calls repeatedly after you’ve already spoken with him once. If he’s harassing you on the Internet, you can purchase software that catches and saves his communications. This can prove valuable when you apply for an injunction or restraining order -- it provides you with a record of the harassment that you can show the judge. Your telephone company may be able to help you track and create a record of his calls as well, and cell phone providers can at least show the frequency of texts and calls, though they may not maintain a record of the content for very long.

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.