How would you respond if the person divorcing you seemed intent on also destroying you financially and emotionally?
During war a scorched earth policy happens when retreating armies destroy or dismantle everything in the path of their advancing opponents to deprive them of shelter, food, natural resources, working factories, anything that might be of use to them.
The same tactic can be used during divorce by a spouse who turns into a "divorce warrior" on a path of not only dissolving the marriage but destroying his/her spouse in the process. What does scorched-earth divorce litigation look like?
I'll use Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Richardson Kennedy's divorce as an example. Mary Kennedy who had suffered from depression and alcoholism during her life committed suicide on May 16, 2012.
This was after months and moths of Robert Kennedy accusing her of abuse, child endangerment and him withholding financial support. According to a petition filed last week in Surrogate's Court in Westchester County, Mary's divorce attorneys say she had to, "scrounge for cash the final months of her life."
The petition outlines how Robert Kennedy's "litigation tactics" caused Mary to live with daily financial struggles. He had agreed to continue to pay her household and legal expenses by giving her a credit card with a monthly limit. When he failed to live up to that agreement Mary was put in a position of having to ask friends and family for financial help.
Add to that Kennedy's accusations of child endangerment and Mary, a loving mother could only see her children during supervised visitation. One has to wonder what role the divorce played in Mary's suicide.
Below are some commonly used tactics when a spouse turns into a "divorce warrior."
1. Delays and Continuances: the person with the most power over a particular issue benefits from delay. This person will often go to great lengths to make the divorce last longer.
2. Parental Alienation: This is one of the oldest and ugliest of the dirty divorce tricks. Although parental alienation has not yet made its way into the arena of psychology and psychiatry as an official diagnosis, it happens all the time and courts know it.
3. Cut off Access to Cash and Marital Assets: One spouse plans for divorce and leaves the other totally unprepared. If your spouse was controlling or sneaky during the marriage, that is how they're going to be during the divorce. Cutting off access to your assets unfortunately makes it difficult for you to hire a lawyer, feed your children or pay your mortgage. Without money you won't get far in the divorce process and a scorched-earth spouse knows this.
Adversarial divorce is a prolonged exposure to fear that, for some ends in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It isn't uncommon for victims of a scorched-earth divorce to have problems sleeping, intense anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness, guilt and shame.
This isn't a scenario that is unusual in divorce. People go through this every day and are walking around with this stress on their shoulders right under our noses. If you have a friend or relative who is going through a divorce, don't take it for granted that all is well just because they appear to be functioning.