Over the last few months, thanks to the #MeToo movement, we’re seeing an incredible change in our society with regards to sexual harassment. It’s been profound enough that high-profile people like Steve Wynn, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and Sen. Al Franken (to name a few) have faced serious repercussions for past bad actions. It’s been impactful enough for Time Magazine to dub those calling attention to sexual harassment “The Silence Breakers” and collectively naming them the “Person of the Year” for 2017.
Having seen many social movements in my time, I can confidently say the #MeToo movement could be looked back on to be as long-lasting and meaningful as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
The abusive behaviors and actions tolerated for many years in many industries, carried out by far too many men, won’t be looked at the same way ever again. I remember being a young lawyer in the early ’80s, a horrible person I had some unpleasant interactions with, and his behavior being explained away with a simple “boys will be boys.”
Men are already more aware of the toxic work environments that some of their ranks have created. Women will feel more empowered to speak up when encountering any hints of that toxicity.
But I have to ask, given my focus on family law, how it might affect divorce.
Immediately, I think it should make us all more aware of the words and actions contributing to verbal abuse and emotional abuse. Right now, the definition of family violence in the Texas Family Code doesn’t include those categories-except in cases where the victim is threatened with or in fear of accompanying physical or sexual abuse.
The law concerning verbal and emotional abuse doesn’t have the chance to change until the Texas Legislature meets again in 2019. But our attitudes around these issues likely will-including for judges who will weigh the actions of both parties in any divorce case that goes to litigation.
As the stories from the #MeToo movement have reinforced, abusive behavior-be it sexual harassment of a colleague or emotional abuse of a spouse-is often the result of someone trying to exert power and control over another person. I expect that we’ll see less tolerance and tacit acceptance of those behaviors over time. The #MeToo revelations have shone a light on how widespread these bad actions are-and how likely it is for us all to express our own stories, individually and collectively, or to at least know someone personally who has endured those actions.
My hope for the future is that the #MeToo movement makes us a more civil, thoughtful society, and that an improved overall decorum between men and women carries over into divorce. I don’t expect less divorce necessarily, and I know that divorce will still be emotional, but I feel that the dialogue that this movement has opened up will allow men to understand women better in all things-and that this can only help in more solution-oriented, straightforward divorce proceedings.