STALKING AND DIVORCE

STALKING AND DIVORCE

Occasionally, one of my colleagues will send an email, asking for thoughts and help on certain topics. Highly experienced divorce attorneys tend to be a great resource for younger or less experienced attorneys. Here is a recent request for help on the complex and troubling issue of stalking:

My client’s ex-boyfriend has begun harassing/stalking her via text message, and we are trying to figure out the best course of action. He has photos of her that she would rather not be shared, and he has basically said if she does not stay with him, he will not be able to prevent his “friends” from sending these photos to my client’s ex-husband, her minor children, her friends, family and associates. He says he has loyal friends, and they believe she has to be accountable for what she has done (broke up with him after saying she was going to stay). At other times, he has said he will share the information directly with her ex-husband.

My client knows that ex-boyfriend has in the past used an app that allows you to text or call from fake numbers, and we are fairly certain that this is what he is doing. She has received threatening text messages from three unknown numbers, and we have been unable to find anything on any of those other numbers. The only threat of physical harm is “you better watch your back.” I simply do not believe that a gang of 40-somethings are participating in a harassment campaign against this woman.

Client’s ex-husband is getting concerned because of the threats to make sure her children know “what she did” and see the photos, etc. If she does not get this under control, she could be dealing with a petition to modify the current parenting plan.

I have written the ex-boyfriend, instructing him to stop contacting her altogether and to stop his “friends” from contacting her. He wrote me back, explaining why this is all due to the environment she created and that he will go to the ends of the earth to make sure the photographs will not be shared as long as she is nice to him, apologizes, etc. I have firmly told him that if he contacts her again, she will file a petition for order of protection.

Today, she received a text from an unknown number, with contact information for a relative of her ex-husband’s, saying “Now I know where to send some of this stuff.”

Legally, I know that she has many options. Stalking is both a state and federal crime, so she could call the police. My understanding is that the local authorities are not likely to take this very seriously and will say it is a civil matter. In Tennessee, she has grounds for an order of protection due to stalking. She potentially has grounds for a civil suit for invasion of privacy. Sharing the photographs would also be a felony if we could prove that the photo was taken without her consent. Ex-boyfriend lives out of state but comes to town frequently. The state he lives in has a revenge porn bill making its way to the senate, but there is no such statute there yet. Here in Tennessee, we do have stalking and harassment statutes, but no revenge porn.

Have any of you dealt with this kind of situation, and do you have insight on which path/approach would be most effective with this kind of personality? I am thinking that it may be best to wait a few days and see if he gets bored and stops, or if we can let several messages pile up where she does not respond at all, after I have instructed him not to contact her. There is also the issue of whether we can prove these bogus numbers are actually him.

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