Statistics show that the point at which you leave an abusive spouse or partner is the most dangerous, but leaving the relationship is a necessary first step. Your first priority when leaving an abusive relationship is to get you and your children to safety. Here are some steps to help protect your children and yourself when you leave your abusive relationship.
Planning a Safe Exit
If you have time to plan your exit from the relationship, it’s a good idea to start putting aside cash, keeping it somewhere other than your home if possible. In addition, you should leave some clothes and other important necessities with a friend in case you need to leave quickly. Start documenting incidents of physical or emotional abuse in your household, whether they involve you or your children. Having evidence of what occurred and when can be extremely helpful in a legal defense.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) advises that you take these additional precautions as you plan to leave the relationship:
- Make a list of safe people you can contact.
- Memorize phone numbers of people or places you can call for help if need be.
- Keep change on hand at all times in case you need to use a payphone.
- Establish a safe word with trusted friends and family so you can ask for help without alerting the abuser.
Part of planning a safe exit means you’ll have all of the important documents you may need with you when you go. This will help you take legal action when you leave. The NCDAV suggests that you take the following with you, gathering them beforehand if you can:
- Social security cards
- Birth certificates
- Your credit cards and checkbook
- Copies of deeds, leases and insurance policies
- Proof of you and your spouse’s income
- Copies of bank statements if you can’t access them online
- Documentation of abuse, including photos, medical records and police reports
What to Do if You Must Leave Quickly
If you must leave your home quickly without planning to, go to court immediately and file for a protective order against the abuser to make them stay away from you. Ensure the order gives you custody of your children to protect them as well and prevent the abuser from accusing you of kidnapping.
At this point, you need to hire a lawyer. If you’re unable to pay for a lawyer, there are many resources available to ensure you receive legal assistance. Shelter staff, if you go to one, will be able to help you secure legal assistance and fill out the necessary forms. Many courts also have domestic violence resources, with instruction packets, clinics with helpful staff and even judges who are available to sign restraining orders on very short notice.
What happens once you leave?
Whether you left in a hurry or had time to plan, there are several things you can do to protect yourself after leaving an abusive spouse. Change your phone number immediately and make sure it’s unlisted and blocked so your abuser can’t find it easily. You may also want to rent a P.O. box or send mail to a family member or friend’s address.
Don’t answer the phone unless you know who is calling, and keep your restraining order with you at all times. If your abuser contacts you or your children, document when, how and what happened. If you believe the restraining order has been violated, contact the police or the court immediately. The NCADV suggests that you also:
- Have the locks changed if you’re staking in your home.
- Don’t stay anywhere alone.
- Frequently change your routine.
- Have a plan to get away if your abuser confronts you.
- Meet in a very public place if you have to meet your abuser.
- Contact trusted people at your workplace and your children’s school so they can be on alert.
If you need immediate adult protective services to get away from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or call 911.
If you need legal help related to domestic abuse, from filing restraining orders to starting the divorce process, contact the divorce lawyers at Bineham & Gillen today.