Yes, you can sue your ex-husband for intentional emotional distress so long you can conclusively prove that:
- His behavior was extreme.
- He was reckless and intentionally inflicted the distress.
- You suffered severe mental stress because of his actions.
- His conduct caused you emotional distress.
When a bad marriage heads towards divorce, tempers can run high and the spouses may get abusive or violent. Some actions can be so extreme that a spouse may continue to suffer from mental trauma, panic attacks, or emotional distress even after the divorce. If you are affected by emotional distress, you may sue your ex-husband for emotional distress (if your state laws permit). That said, know that such cases are rare and not generally successful unless you have conclusive evidence to prove your claims and an effective and experienced family law attorney by your side.
Here is what you need to prove to succeed in such cases:
1. Extreme Behavior
You need to prove that your husband’s behavior was extreme, appalling, and beyond all limits of decency or civilized human behavior. If he was just rude, neglectful, or insulting – then that doesn’t count as extreme behavior. But violence, or an intense threat of violence, can qualify as extreme behavior. The other spouse’s actions or words must be such that they should make you feel unsafe. A threat to kidnap, holding you hostage for some time, and marital rape are examples of extreme behavior.
Helpful Evidence: When you were confronted by such a situation, you may have reported the matter to the police and hired an attorney to file civil and criminal charges. You even may have filed for divorce at that time. The police report, divorce petition, and your attorney’s agreement/action can be produced in the courts as evidence. You may also present a video or audio evidence of your husband’s extreme behavior if you managed to record one, or bring in an eyewitness who may have been around at the time.
2. Reckless and Intentional Distress
While inflicting the mental/physical pain that led to the emotional distress, your husband should have been reckless and uncaring about what his actions would lead to. In fact, his actions should somehow reflect that he is doing all this deliberately and knowingly, with evil intentions in mind.
Helpful Evidence: Police report and case file with the attorney. Plus, it would help if you had recorded a video or audio of him issuing the threats or committing the offensive act.
3. Severe Mental Stress
Proving that your husband’s extreme behavior resulted in severe mental distress is tricky and cannot be based simply on what you say in the courts. But you may have contacted a therapist or counselor when you were experiencing so much stress, or if the emotional distress caused physical symptoms such as headaches, panic attacks, sleeplessness, etc., you might have visited a doctor. In this case, the therapist/counselor’s report and/or your medical records can be produced as evidence in the courts.
Helpful evidence: Medical records (as stated above) and maybe your personal journal where you may have documented your husband’s extreme behavior.
4. Causation of Emotional Distress
When you can conclusively prove that your husband’s behavior was extreme and appalling and that he indulged in reckless and uncivil behavior that caused you severe emotional distress, then you can prove the cause of emotional distress (causation, in legal terminology).
With all this said, know that such cases are rare and dependent on state laws. Some states may require you to have physical symptoms of emotional damage to file a case. Also, note that your husband may allege bad behavior on your part, and if he can prove his allegations then your case may lose steam.
If you are successful in winning your case, you may be able to recover both economic and non-economic damages like loss of pay, loss of earning capacity because of distress, past and future medical bills, loss of friends, loss of enjoyment, etc.
However, pursue the case only if your attorney feels it is worthwhile.