The people that we love the most often hold the tightest grip on the strings that play with our emotions.

Our defenses are typically down with loved ones, with our deepest fears, dreams, and secrets uncovered like Achilles’ heel. As time passes our histories and personalities paint a picture of the person that we are. This picture, in turn, reveals the emotional strings and buttons that can be pushed and pulled to play with our emotions like marionettes.

With enough time sprinkled into the equation, a once beautiful relationship can crumble like the Roman Colosseum. Armed with the intimate knowledge gathered during a relationship, our former partners can become our present bullies – making threats that paralyze action through fear manipulation, with the intent to keep one suspended in an abusive and unhealthy relationship.

But bullies aren’t limited to swaggering Goliaths that dole out bruises to generate the fear necessary to control our actions. Bullying can also come in the form of emotional and psychological methods. Often this emotional abuse spills over into a toxic relationship. Fear is often generated through threats to prevent a person from divorcing oneself from abuse, cutting the strangling cords of control and taking positive steps towards a healthy life and relationship.

Here are some questions to consider if you believe that you are being emotionally bullied. Does your partner:

Threaten to make your life miserable if you don’t bend to their wishes?
Repeatedly threaten to end your marriage unless you do what they want?
Outright tell you – or imply – that they will neglect, hurt themselves, or become depressed unless you do what they want?
Lavish you with approval when you do what they want, and then take it away when you don’t?
Constantly label you as selfish, bad, greedy, unfeeling, or uncaring simply because you failed to meet their demands?
Use money as a weapon to get what they want?
If any of these statements apply to your relationship, then you are likely involved with an emotional bully.

In my practice, I routinely encounter the same themes and recurring threats in toxic relationships. Here are five common threats that I’ve encountered that bullies use to prevent a divorce:

If you leave me I will harm myself, you and/or the children:

Threats of this magnitude generally constitute domestic abuse under the Family Violence Protection Act. A person that has been threatened with violence – and reasonably believes that one’s spouse poses an immediate threat of harm – should immediately file a Petition for Order of Protection. In Albuquerque this Petition can be filed with the Domestic Violence Division of Second Judicial District Court.

The Petition can be filed between the hours of 8:30 – 10:30 AM and 1 – 3 PM. Claims of this nature should result in the reviewing Judge finding that there is probable cause to support a Temporary Order of Protection being entered that restrains the abusing party from contact until a Hearing is held. By statute, this Hearing must be held before an assigned Special Commissioner within ten days. At this hearing, the Commissioner listens to both sides – considers the testimony, credibility of the parties, and any evidence supporting or refuting one’s claim. The Commissioner determines if the necessary “preponderance of the evidence” has been established demonstrating that an act of abuse has occurred. “Preponderance of the evidence” is legal jargon meaning that the Commissioner believes that it is “more likely than not” that an act of abuse has occurred. For practical purposes, “preponderance of the evidence” generally means that the commissioner has listened to both sides and finds one side more believable.

Threats of this nature are extremely serious and will likely result in an Order of Protection being entered at the Hearing, extending the temporary order to a longer period of time.

When children are involved, the Special Commissioner has jurisdiction for six months to determine issues such as temporary custody and time-sharing. Generally speaking, divorce is usually filed in the “DM Court” with the assigned Judge addressing a long term Parenting Plan, based on the appropriate system of timesharing that is in the child’s best interests.

If you leave me I will take our children, leave the country, and you will never see us again:

This is a common threat with a common solution. At times married and unmarried parents are threatened with the prospect of the other parent leaving the state or country with the child. In other words, this is a classic fear-based threat that preys on one’s fear of losing a loved one, with the endgame of controlling one’s actions. Assuming that the child has lived in Utah for six consecutive months – thereby making NM the home state of the child – one has the ability to file either a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition to Establish Paternity, Custody, and Timesharing (when the parents are not married). With either Petition, one can also request the court to issue a “Temporary Domestic Order” that Orders the parties: “Do not remove, cause or permit the removal of any minor child of both parties from the State of Salt Lake City without a court order or written consent of the other party.”

One wrinkle with Temporary Domestic Orders is that they only become legally binding once they are properly served on the other party. As such, it is imperative to file as quickly as possible when one believes that the other party will flee Utah with a minor child. Proactively filing in a timely manner increases the likelihood that one will be able to effectuate proper service of process, making the TDO binding and effective.

Once the Temporary Domestic Order is properly served, it becomes a binding court order that can be enforced. In Orwellian, Newspeak terms — violating a TDO is Doubleplus Ungood.

If you leave me I will hire the mad dog, Mike Tyson of lawyers that will pound you into pieces – and you will never see your child again.

My experience with this threat is that the people that are the most likely to make this threat are also the least likely to have actually spoken with an attorney – much less an experienced attorney. Statements of this nature are generally followed by a wildly one-sided and fuzzy regurgitation of law that fails to remotely reflect the realities of Utah law. Such a wild and unrealistic threat could consist of threatening the primary caregiver of the child that you will get sole legal and physical custody, based on your lawyer’s wizardly abilities.

With that said, I’ll be the first to admit that all lawyers are not created equally. Saying that all lawyers are equal is like saying that all quarterbacks, cars, or restaurants are equal.

The key takeaway with this threat is to speak with an experienced attorney that can explain the reality of Utah law in relation to your unique facts and situation. It is always preferable to take positive action and speak with an experienced attorney rather than remain shackled in an unhealthy relationship based on paralyzing fear.

If you leave me I will cut off all of your financial support leaving you penniless:

This is a common threat that has the ability to bang the gong of fear that reverberates strongly, leading to inaction. The reality of marriage is that both parties generally have different levels of education, experience, financial resources, and earning potential. Utah courts understand that marriage is often like a teeter-totter with the two sides of the marriage on completely different financial levels. The disparity between each side’s financial means often creates a dependency that can scare one into non-action due to the fear of not being able to meet one’s basic needs upon separation.

Two legal concepts exist that assist a financially disadvantaged party with support – Interim Support and Spousal Support.

Interim Support:

Interim support is essentially spousal support while the divorce is pending. In a nutshell, the court takes each partner’s NET INCOME and minuses the FIXED MONTHLY EXPENSES (i.e. monthly expenses such as mortgage payment, utilities, phone, internet, etc.). NET INCOME – FIXED MONTHLY EXPENSES = NET SPENDABLE INCOME. The court then equalizes the parties’ net spendable income, to put both parties on a level playing field. In other words, if one partner has an excess NET SPENDABLE INCOME of $1,000, the court will split the $1,000 between both sides, while the divorce is pending.

Alimony/Spousal Support:

Alimony/Spousal Support is the support that one receives after the divorce is finalized. Alimony is based on a number of factors. The two most important factors that affect alimony are a need and ability to pay. A good way to conceptualize an alimony award is to imagine your judge holding a bucket in each hand. On one side the judge holds a bucket labeled: NEED FOR SUPPORT. On the other side, the judge holds a buck labeled ABILITY TO PAY. The judge listens to all of the facts and figures, spilling a bit from each bucket until equalization is reached.

Another important factor affecting alimony awards is the length of the marriage. Utah courts generally believe that longer marriages lead to a longer need for support. Speaking very generally, the tipping point for alimony is 5 years.

Some Utah judges will not award alimony for marriages under 5 years. On the other hand, when there are exceptional circumstances, some Judges will award transitional/rehabilitative alimony, for a limited period of time for marriages under 5 years. One of the harsh realities of alimony is that it is not based on statute, with clear, enforceable guidelines such as child support. Based on the lack of statutory law, judges have wide discretion to fashion an alimony award that they find equitable.

For marriages between 5 and 10 years the court generally only awards transitional/rehabilitative alimony that provides one party with financial support to receive education, training, work experience, or other forms of rehabilitation that increases the receiving spouse’s ability to earn income and become self-supporting.

Marriages between 10 and 20 years generally lead to alimony awards for 30% to 50% of the number of years of marriage.

For marriages that are 20 years and longer, Utah courts can grant alimony for an indefinite duration.