Man holding scared womanThis is the next post in my series discussing issues a husband or wife should consider prior to filing for divorce. My previous post provided a discussion of financial issues that should be considered prior to filing legal papers. In this post, I will be discussing the very serious topic of ensuring that one is not in physical danger prior to filing for divorce. If one believes that their spouse may harm them, ensuring the physical safety of the filer and any children is of the utmost importance.

If a spouse is being abused, it is important to have an exit plan prior to filing for divorce

Domestic violence in a relationship is a terrifying thing to live with. If a spouse has gathered up the courage to leave their abuser, they should act as quickly as possible. However, the most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is during the period in which they attempt to leave their abuser. This is the period where the abuser will feel the most out of control and may become the most volatile. It is of the utmost importance that the spouse that is leaving does not “tip off” their abuser and put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. If a spouse believes their husband or wife may physically harm them if they ask for a divorce in person, they need an exit strategy prior to filing.

The most important thing for an abused spouse to do is to get themselves and their children to safety. This may mean staying with friends or family. It can also involve reaching out to a domestic violence shelter for emergency housing and assistance. When leaving an abusive spouse, one should ensure they take all imperative documents; social security cards, identification cards, passports, credit cards, banking information, copies of wills, copies of life insurance, children’s medical records, etc. If there is any possibility that your spouse may change passwords to limit your access to important information, one should have hard copies with them. If it is possible to gradually save up cash or gift cards prior to leaving, this is important. If the abused person has any documentation of past injuries caused by their spouse’s abuse, it is also important to bring all documentation with you. The abused spouse should pack only essentials and leave the marital home when their spouse will not be present. If they are aware of firearms in the home, it is of particular importance to ensure that the spouse will not be home and is not informed of the victim’s intention to leave.

Discuss issues of temporary protection and emergency custody with a family law attorney

Once a domestic violence victim has determined where they will go, and what documents they need to bring with them, they should consult a family law attorney. Besides filing for a divorce, the leaving spouse may need to discuss if they need to acquire a temporary protection order, and file for emergency custody and emergency support. A family law attorney can work with a spouse on the timing of everything, to ensure that the abuser is not served until the victim is in a safe space. A family law attorney can also use an emergency custody request to ensure that the abuser is not able to harm or harass the victim by using their children as an excuse. Once a victim has left their abuser, it is important that they have continued support and are not in a position to be alone with the abusing spouse again.

Making the decision to leave an abusive spouse can be terrifying. A domestic violence abuser’s main objective is to control and isolate their victim. If one wishes to leave their abusive spouse but does not know where to start, the most important thing is to ask for help. As a divorce coach, I am able to help a spouse identify any obstacles that they may need to address prior to filing for divorce. A victim of domestic violence may need a larger team including a social worker, mental health professional, family law attorney, legal aid, or social worker. If you need help identifying your resources and putting together an action plan, contact me today. If your life is in danger, call 911 immediately.