Realizing that you are in an abusive relationship and deserve better is the first step to freeing yourself from that pain and control. From this point you have many options and resources available to you to help you through an understandably difficult and painful process.
You may have been considering getting out of this relationship for a while and are finally ready, or close to ready to leave and are seeking information on how to change your situation. No matter what your situation is, knowing your options and how to move forward will give you the strength, support, and power to free yourself from that toxic relationship.
In the eyes of the court child abuse is typically regarded as a separate issue than spousal domestic violence, please see our Dealing with Child Abuse in a Divorce if you are interested in information regarding child abuse specifically.
Documentation of Abuse
If you choose to stay with your spouse regardless of the abuse, it is important that you keep accurate and detailed records of each instance of physical or emotional abuse to either you or your children. This documentation will serve as a form of proof to back up your allegation in court. Your documentation should include information such as: date, time, place of the event, description of the event, and details regarding any injuries. If you decide to leave later then you will be grateful that you kept these detailed records of the abuse.
An attorney will be able to help you organize all of your notes and help to get all the information and testimony needed to help prove that your spouse is abusive. Many people claim that their spouse was abusive in order to turn a judge in their favor in a divorce, so judges are very wary of any abuse allegations. A talented attorney will know exactly what evidence will be necessary and will be your advocate through the whole process. It is important to have someone on your side that is there to protect you and make sure you are safe and that justice is achieved.
Planning to Leave
As soon as you make the decision to leave, there is some important planning you need to do in order to safely exit this relationship. The most dangerous part of this situation is actually leaving and the short transition period when you are starting your new independent life. It is important to have a plan so you have more confidence in your decision and feel safe leaving. The most important decision at this point is finding a place to stay when you leave—it is not recommended to be a family member or anywhere that will be predictable for your abusive spouse to find you. There are options such as women’s shelters, a coworker’s home, or a friend that your spouse does not know where they live. Your safety is a top concern; take every precaution necessary to ensure that your spouse can not easily find you.
Other than a place to stay, some things to plan for are clothes, money, and transportation. If you are able to, slowly start removing some of your clothes and stashing them somewhere so that you will have some things when you do leave. If you are able to save some cash, try to keep both the clothes and cash outside of your home so your spouse does not find them. Having these three things planned ahead of time will give you a safety net during a very tense and vulnerable change and will help to give you the independence and freedom you need at this time.
What Happens Next
Leaving is the hard part, after this you are free to make decisions on your own about your future and how you want to proceed. If you have children then the process is slightly more complicated. The first step should be to have an attorney help you get a restraining order against your spouse if you fear they will come after you—even if you don’t think they will come after you it may be a good idea just for extra security and is a legal document exemplifying your fear and distrust of your spouse. While this may sound like you are admitting that you are scared, it’s okay; this is to protect you now and in the future if you press charges and get a divorce.
Once you have decided to divorce your abusive spouse you will need to file for dissolution of your marriage and serve your spouse with the divorce papers. You do NOT need to give them the papers in person. You are able to mail them or have a process server serve them—the local sheriff’s office is also able to assist you with serving the divorce papers. This is when the restraining order can come in handy because receiving these papers will likely anger your spouse. If you fear that your spouse will come after you, you have the option to not include your address and phone number on the divorce papers in order to protect you and your family. Your spouse must be served with the papers before they can take effect so this is a very important step. If you are not comfortable handling this on your own, an attorney can help you file for divorce and complete all documents and steps necessary.
If you do not have the means to hire an attorney, many courthouses will provide you with restraining order packets with instructions, clerks that can help you fill out the paperwork on-site, and judges that are available 24/7 to sign restraining orders.
Visitation for Children
While it may seem absurd that an abusive spouse would be able to have any custody of their children, this can sometimes be the case. If the spouse is the only one abused and never the children, then the abusive spouse may be granted partial custody or visitation rights with the children. If you fear for their safety, you can request that the visits are supervised, but if there is no history of abusing the children then it may not be granted. An option you have to protect yourself is to have the drop-off point be at a neutral location so that they don’t find out where you live—this can be a police station, a restaurant, etc. If you have any other ideas regarding the visitation, feel free to present them to the judge; a judge will consider any plan that ensures the safety of all parties and allows for visitation.
Leaving an abusive spouse is an extremely difficult situation, but you need to know that you are not alone. You have friends, family, neighbors, shelters, support groups, and many other people who care about your safety and well-being.
If you are in an abusive marriage and need an attorney to help you with this tough process, please contact our compassionate and talented team of divorce attorneys.
Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.
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