Can I sue my ex-husband for mental anguish?

Asked 12 months ago - Belle, WV

Ever since my divorce and even before my divorce, my ex-husband was constantly doing things that caused me mental anguish by not paying the mortgage or utilities. He took our boys to his mother's too stay while he shacked up with his mistress in an apartment. He is guilty of a lot of things that put him attempt of court, but no one did anything about, not my attorney or the Family Law Master. I am wondering if there is any recourse that I can file to claim mental anguish. My divorce has affected me financially, mentally, emotionally, psychologically. Please let me know if there is any way anyone can help me file a civil suit against my ex husband and possibly his girlfriend.
Thank you,
Linda Randoph

Attorney answers (2)

  1. Thomas J Callahan

    Contributor Level 18


    Lawyer agrees

    Answered . What you describe is unfortunately all too common. One would think that after having received a divorce, they'd move on and not continue to antagonize the ex. Unfortunately, you do not have a cause of action. What he did during the marriage is now history. If he has obligations now, such as paying child support on time and having visitation, all you can do is seek contempts to enforce those obligations. I appreciate your frustration about your past contempt cases, but understand that 1) courts usually won't force visitation if a parent doesn't want it, and 2) for past due child support, they are more interested in seeing that payment is made than throwing people in jail. As for seeing GF during visitation, understand that he, as well as you, is entitled to move on and have a significant other. He should either integrate this person into his life with his children or in a perfect world, would be with his kids on his weekend and see GF all the other time he has to himself. But you cannot enforce behavior or common sense. If GF is some kind of physical threat to the children, you might seek an order to bar her from being present during visits, but it would have to be something substantial and not just because she irritates you. Because you have children to still raise with this guy, you need to let a lot of this roll off your shoulder, but I would do as much as you can to disengage from him except for those child-related issues you have to discuss. Disengage from GF - again, unless she poses some harm to the children, he's entitled to be with her. From a long time doing this, I would advise focusing less on what he is doing or not doing, enforce any orders he violates, and focus instead on building your new life and relationships.

    To questioners from West Virginia & New York: Although I am licensed to practice in your state (in WV, on inactive... more
  2. Jay Bodzin

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . No. You cannot sue anyone for "mental anguish." This is a part of life that everyone experiences. Claims for "pain and suffering" exist, but they are usually part of a larger suit for some more substantive damages. For example, in a suit for personal injury, you can try to tack on some claim for the emotional harm associated with that physical suffering.

    In some very rare, limited circumstances, you can sue someone for emotional distress without a physical injury attached. To do this, you must demonstrate "extreme and outrageous conduct" on the part of your defendant - something that "shocks the conscience" of ordinary people. Examples include: if someone tried to commit suicide right in front of your eyes; or killed someone in front of you; or subjected you to an intense, prolonged deceit, like those reality TV shows that (supposedly) convince innocent dupes that their worst fears are being realized. A divorce does not count. Divorces are inherently emotionally difficult.

    Moreover, in order to win a suit for emotional damages, you'd have to prove, well, emotional damages. You would have to attend therapy, and have a therapist's professional opinion that you had suffered lasting psychological harm, that directly resulted from something your husband did. You would have to be able to show that your mental condition was substantially caused by that, and not other things, like your innate instability. This means that your mental health history would become a factor of litigation. Your ex-husband would have no choice but to explore your past mental health history in detail, and see if you had any pre-existing problems that could be blamed instead.

    The courts do not exist to validate your feelings or resolve personal acrimony. They are there to resolve conflicts that society cannot tolerate being unresolved - and they do it far from perfectly.

    People have this notion that suing someone will be this glorious redemptive process, where their every injury will be avenged and all their feelings validated. This belief is staggeringly wrong. Lawsuits are intensely unpleasant. They force the parties to live through whatever injuries they originally suffered, for months or years. You have to answer tons of difficult questions, over and over again, and if you change your story even a bit, you can be sunk. They rarely go perfectly - the law often produces results that one side or another considers to be unjust, for technical reasons - or just because "justice" is a pretty subjective concept. The other side has every motive, and every right, to attack your honesty, your conduct, and your motives. And, of course, you need to shell out a fairly large amount of money, most of the time. This is true even if your lawyer is working for a contingent fee, where they don't get paid if they win. And it's certainly true if you lose, and you have to pay the other side's attorney fees, which can be huge. So you really need to think carefully before you embark on any litigation.

    One more thing: You should never, ever post your name or other personally identifying information on the internet, in a post about legal issues. This is not a secure forum. Anyone can find this, by browsing this site or with a Google search for your name, and potentially use it against you. I urge you to edit this post to remove your name, or, if you can'd do that, email the site administrators and ask that your name be removed from it.

    Please read the following notice:

    Jay Bodzin is licensed to practice law in the State of Oregon and... more

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Divorce is the process of formally ending a marriage. Divorces may be jointly agreed upon, resolved by negotiation, or decided in court.

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