Harassment can have a huge impact on a divorce case, as well as on the health and well-being of the victim. And often, the person committing the crime (it is a criminal act, though it’s often treated like a minor one) doesn’t even realize they’ve crossed a line.
Emotions run away, people stop thinking before they communicate, and before they know it they’ve got a restraining order and an uphill battle to obtain a favorable outcome in their divorce case.
Thus, it’s important to understand what it is and what kind of behavior could lead to a judge awarding a harassment order to your ex.
What is harassment?
Pennsylvania law defines multiple types of harassment. But all forms of harassment have three things in common.
- They consist of unwanted actions, most commonly communication, touching, or striking.
- They consist of repeated actions.
- These actions serve a purpose; an intent to “harass, annoy, or harm another.” This could include conduct meant to torment or embarrass your ex.
You could be engaging in harassment if you:
- Call, text, or email your spouse multiple times, especially after being told to stop.
- Leave angry, threatening, or obscene messages, or repeatedly showing up to make angry, threatening, or obscene comments.
- Stalking or following the victim.
- Striking the victim.
- “Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which serve no legitimate purpose.”
- Communicating at extremely inconvenient hours.
Despite the fact that the definition of harassment depends, in part, on intent, the “I didn’t mean it,” or “it was just a joke,” or “he/she took it the wrong way” defense is rarely effective.
And it’s so easy to misinterpret behavior. Courts are even getting locked into long discussion of what certain emojis mean because sometimes certain emojis can seem like threats. And, in reality, any gesture, right down to a simple smiley face, can become creepy, disturbing, and alarming if you send it twenty times without saying or doing anything else.
Threatening violence of any kind is a problem.
Even if you’re threatening violence to yourself. This creates a highly-charged, stressful situation for the victim, and is a manipulative tactic. Courts don’t see it in a very positive light, especially as it’s often coupled with name calling and shouting.
Obviously, any kind of actual violence is also a problem, even if you don’t have a history of domestic abuse.
What happens if someone commits harassment?
The target of the harassment can file for an ex parte order of protection. This means the harassing party does not have to be in court, and does not even have to know the order is being filed. The victim will present evidence and details of the conduct before the court, and the judge will make a decision.
The order only last 14 days, but judges may renew the order at any time until a permanent restraining order is either issued or denied.
The order will generally bar you from having any kind of contact with the victim or victims. It will usually specify the behaviors you’re not allowed to engage in, and note some level of distance you’re required to keep from the other party. You’re unlikely to go to jail, but bad behavior can definitely make its mark on your case.
What if I’m falsely accused of harassment?
Pennsylvania law recognizes that false representation is a crime. The statute reads:
“A person who knowingly gives false information to any law enforcement officer with the intent to implicate another under this section commits an offense under section 4906 (relating to false reports to law enforcement authorities).”
You’ll have to prove the false representation, just like your ex will be attempting to prove your harassment.
We are not siding with people who are malicious, or who are truly threatening their spouses. Nor do we want to minimize the impact these actions, even if they’re impulsive or misunderstood, can have on the victim, especially during a high-conflict, high-stakes event like a divorce.
See also: What to Do If You Feel Bullied By Your Ex.
We just want to help both parties understand what behavior to avoid. If you’re the victim, we support your right to get a protection order and are prepared to help you get one if you need one.