Lawyers, the saying goes, are never around when you need them. However, we're useful for a lot more than you'd think. In addition to testing the endurance of cheap suits, we can use the tools the law provides to help get an ex out of your life for good. The process will depend on the case, but the process breaks down into two parts: Breaking legal links, and breaking extra-legal links.
Breaking Legal Links
Many people who've been divorced or separated from a long-term partner find themselves trapped in unpleasant or abusive interactions with an ex due to lingering legal obligations. The most obvious example is custody orders for shared children, but other common links are child support, spousal support, or unfinished property transfers from a judgment. One thing people often don't realize is that all of these can be revised.
An experienced family law attorney will know how to identify the parts of a judgment that are causing problems, and will know good alternatives to replace them. For example, a lot of problems spring from a casual custody plan. This requires the two parties to talk to each other constantly, and leads them to discuss much more than just the children. This can be a way for an abusive ex-spouse to maintain control in a relationship, and of course it's bad for the kids to be in the middle of a contentious, long-running argument. A specific custody plan eliminates the need to communicate as frequently, and can specify how the parties will communicate in the future. At one stroke, a woman can go from weekly painful conversations with her ex to monthly text messages, and the revised judgment can even specify that the texts refer only to pending custody arrangements. Anyone with kids and an ex will appreciate the difference.
Another common problem is outstanding obligations that aren't paid or haven't been completed. Child support is an easy one to fix, actually, because there are a lot more laws on the subject than there used to be. It's relatively easy to get someone's driver's license revoked if they're not paying child support, and anyone not running their child support through county services should definitely start. Setting up a formal, impersonal, enforceable child support scheme will greatly cut down on the irate conversations and excuses that are so common in child support. Missed payments from spousal support or due to a property settlement are actually not terribly difficult to handle either, and it's easier than you might think to get a judgment modified to order these new arrangements.
Replacing judgment terms with new and better agreements will end a lot of arguments, and will also give you a much stronger position to fall back on, which is discussed below.
Breaking Extra-legal Links
There is a lot more that goes into getting someone out of your life, of course. An ex who's still devoted to interfering in your life will find indirect ways to contact you, or show up unexpectedly at your work or at personal events. This is always unnerving and sometimes terrifying, particularly if the relationship was abusive, and the methods above don't always do enough on their own to discourage people like that.
Fortunately, there are stronger measures available. In my experience, women particularly don't think they'd ever qualify for, for example, a restraining order, but it's often a great response to continued abusive behavior. Similarly, modern stalking statutes are great tools to get someone out of your life. Many people, particularly women, think that police hate coming to domestic disputes and won't arrive in time to help, and are therefore hesitant to get the law involved. Unfortunately it's true that cops almost uniformly hate domestics, but violations of a restraining order or a stalking order are an entirely different matter. Having a court order in your hand makes it much easier for the police to determine who's at fault, and the consequences are much more significant than a night in the cells to cool down. Instead of coming out to try to mediate a fight, a cop comes out to seize a specific person, and to convey them to jail. You can see why this would be a lot more attractive for a police officer.
Another useful tool is a filing for contempt. Contempt of court, in simple terms, is refusing to obey a court order, and it can be punished with fines and jail time. The trick here is good drafting; if your judgment specifies that the parties will only contact each other about the children, and you get a text from your ex about whether you're seeing anyone new, that's not just rude and invasive, that's contempt. If your ex was ordered to pay child support, and started working under the table to avoid child support payments, that's contempt too. You may feel like no one can force your ex to do what he or she is supposed to, but take it from us: there are ways. The court might not be eager to get involved in your personal life, but they are very keen to see their own orders obeyed. You and your lawyer can use this to keep an ex away.
Last but not least, there are things you can do to help you get rid of an ex that don't require a lawyer's help at all, but which your lawyer should know about. In my opinion, everyone who does family law should understand the basic facts about domestic violence, and should be able to recognize the pattern when they see it. A good lawyer should also be familiar with community resources, as well as some common ways to help a victim build support.
In my case, I worked in public defense for a long time, and have done family law across many different demographics. In my experience, most victims of abusive or controlling relationships feel like there's nothing they can do, and it takes a sensitive and compassionate lawyer to get across that there are things you can do, and that there is help available. If you're struggling with an ex who won't get out of your life, consider emailing us for a consult, or consider looking around for some of the resources near you. This isn't something that anyone has to do alone.