Emotional abuse, also known as psychological or mental abuse, is a harmful form of abuse that often plays a role in many family law cases. Emotional abuse involves exposing a person to behavior or language, through verbal speech-based harassment, that can result in psychological trauma.

Generally, emotional abuse occurs in situations where there is a power balance, and often leads to anxiety, depression, or other psychological symptoms that may result in physical manifestations. Psychological or emotional abuse is often only one factor in a situation that is one-sided in terms of power and influence.

The emotional abuse may be accompanied by physical violence, threats of violence, or sexual assaults. A cycle of abuse can exist over long periods of time, resulting in emotional damage or psychological imbalance in the victim. Depending on the circumstances of the abuse, the victim may be able to sue their abuser for damages.

Emotional Abuse can occur in numerous different contexts including spousal abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, or even nursing home violations. Emotional abuse is also a type of domestic violence and is illegal in numerous states under various domestic violence laws. Further, many of those laws make reporting emotional abuse mandatory in certain cases.

Thus, if you are in a situation where you are being emotionally abused or know of a person suffering from emotional abuse, you should seek out resources regarding domestic violence and report the situation to authorities.

Emotional abuse is often harder to identify than physical abuse, but it is not any less harmful. Although there is no set standard definition of emotional abuse, emotional abuse often contains many of the following components:

  • Verbal aggression, often including false statements or lies directed towards another;
  • Dominating or repressive behavior against another person;
  • Implanting ideas of jealousy or slander of another person; or
  • Forcing the person to view disturbing or negative images or behavior.

Is Emotional Abuse Recognized as a Legal Cause of Action?

In short, yes. Although in the past, psychological and emotional abuse were not readily recognized as a form of abuse, the abuse is now readily recognized in the eyes of the law. In fact, emotional abuse is often considered a major factor in many family law cases, and is reviewed especially close in child abuse or elderly abuse matters. As noted above, many states have criminalized emotional abuse under various abuse laws including child abuse, elder abuse, or domestic violence and abuse.

Thus, in cases involving domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, elder abuse, or nursing home violations, you should immediately seek out the assistance of a qualified criminal law attorney in your area to help you with reporting emotional abuse and protecting yourself or loved ones.

In some cases of emotional abuse, victims may file civil lawsuits. Most of the lawsuits for emotional abuse are based on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is an intentional tort based on conduct that causes a victim extreme emotional trauma.

In many jurisdictions, a person cannot recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress unless they also manifest some sort of physical symptoms, such as stomach illness or nerve-related illnesses. In order to successfully sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress you must demonstrate:

  1. That the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly towards you;
  2. That the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous (meaning the conduct was more than just harmful or offensive);
  3. That the defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of your injury; and
  4. That you suffered measurable severe emotional distress.

Often, evidence, such as medical evidence or time missed from work, is the most important factor in being successful in a suit of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Thus, if you are seeking to file a lawsuit involving emotional abuse, you should keep track of any treatment that you have had to undergo, as well as any drugs that may have been prescribed to you in order to help you cope with anxiety or depression.

Additionally, if your emotional abuse resulted in a physical manifestation, such as nerve-related illness, you should keep any documentation involving that physical manifestation. Other evidence may include anything that may tie your emotional or physical injuries back to your abuser.

What are the Legal Remedies for Emotional Abuse?

In criminal contexts, legal remedies for emotional abuse may include the issuing of a restraining order against the victim’s abuser, or jail time for the abuser. Restraining orders are often issued in cases where the emotional abuse is accompanied with physical violence. Courts generally look at the totality of the circumstances when determining legal remedies for criminal emotional abuse cases.

In the civil context, emotional abuse often results in a damages award for the victim, which seeks to compensate the victim for their losses. This means that the victim will often be granted damages for expenses such as therapy sessions, medical costs, or time missed from work. Further, in family law cases, emotional abuse may be a determining factor in matters involving child custody, child support, and visitation times.

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have a Claim for Emotional Abuse?

As can be seen, emotional abuse is a serious issue and may often require the assistance of an experienced attorney. If you are seeking to file a lawsuit to recover for your injury caused by emotional abuse, then a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney will help you gather the evidence necessary to file a successful claim, as well as represent you in court, if necessary.

Finally, if you are suffering emotional abuse involving another family matter, you may wish to seek the assistance of an experienced family law attorney in order to help you understand your rights and offer you a course of action in your family law case.