What to do if, During a Divorce, Your Spouse Threatens to “Destroy Your Practice”
By: Douglas R. York
It is no news to anyone that people going through a divorce tend to be very emotional and sometimes irrational. It is not uncommon for a physician’s spouse to threaten, during a divorce proceeding, to “destroy” the practice of the physician, or to expose him or her to partners, or even to patients, as payback for perceived mistreatment during the marriage.
Often a declaration of this kind makes no sense and could even harm the interests of the spouse doing the threatening. After all, the physician’s practice is probably the heart of the community property both spouses share and will divide. If there are children involved, the physician’s practice will be an important source of the ongoing support of those children.
But, an angry spouse may still fling threats and promise to air a barrage of criticisms on social media, perhaps claiming that the physician’s skills are deficient in some way, or that he or she doesn’t like or respect the patients and describes them as chronic whiners or complainers, or simple-minded folk who can’t follow instructions or gullible hopefuls who want to experiment with every new medicine advertised on TV.
Or the complaints may have nothing to do with the physician’s medical abilities but, reflect on him or her as a human being, such as accusations of infidelity, abuse or some kind of financial fraud. Who would want to keep relying for medical care on a physician who has been publicly exposed as a compulsive philanderer, an abusive spouse, or an indifferent and mostly missing-in-action parent?
Or the spouse may take another approach entirely and threaten to take over control of the medical practice by way of claiming his or her share of community property.
The truth of the matter is that these threats are essentially empty and should not worry the physician in question for a variety of reasons. A non-physician, for instance, is not legally allowed to own a medical practice, so the threat of taking over and controlling the medical practice is simply not credible. Dividing community property will entail giving the non-physician spouse a portion of the estimated value of the practice, not ownership or control.
As for concerns that an infuriated spouse will set rumors flying and tell tall tales on social media that will discredit the physician and the physician’s practice, that is easily handled, if necessary, by requesting that a judge grant a temporary injunction prohibiting disparagement or harassment by either party during the divorce process. That should also stop informal rumor mongering outside of social media, which can be critical to the health and survival of the doctor’s practice in a smaller community.
A judge can even enjoin the spouse with more specific injunctions, prohibiting that spouse from posting on any social media any derogatory remarks that could harm or devalue the practice, or from contacting business partners or patients with the intent to disparage. If the spouse continues despite the injunction, he or she could end up in jail, if held in contempt of court. In short, the physician may rest assured that there is an effective response to the threat if it is handled swiftly and correctly.
It is in no one’s best interest in any divorce for spouses to denigrate each other on social media or otherwise. The person being criticized may be harmed, but the critic may also appear to be mean-spirited and vindictive, thereby losing the sympathy of the judge or jury in the case. In the case of a physician, reputation is of paramount importance. A good attorney will not allow his or her doctor client to be publicly slandered by an angry about-to-be-ex. And the truth is that attorney will often be protecting the physician’s spouse from the consequences of his or her own worst impulses, in addition to protecting the physician.
This article offers legal information but not legal advice pertaining to specific, individual circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed with readers.
This article was written by Douglas R. York, an attorney based in Houston with 17 years of experience in marriage dissolution, including multi-jurisdictional divorces involving highly complex legal issues.
There is more information at douglasyork.com.