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Divorce Help | December 8, 2022

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Safe Divorce: How to Safely Leave an Abuser - Divorce Help

Safe Divorce: How to Safely Leave an Abuser
Jessica Nowicki

Power. Control. Isolation. Misplaced blame. Intimidation. Threats. Coercion. Violence. Does any of this sound familiar? If these terms accurately depict what goes on in your marriage, then you are likely a victim of domestic abuse. You aren’t alone – in fact, one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Getting out of an abusive marriage can be scary, but there are things that you can do to safely escape your union and come out as a survivor of spousal abuse.

Three signs that you are in a potentially abusive union:

  1. Physical violence – This sign that doesn’t allow any room for question. It’s the end of the story. Oprah’s security expert Gavin de Becker explains that “being hit doesn’t work in relationships, and it usually doesn’t get better.”
  2. Symbolic violence – This one’s a little less clear, and is a vital sign that spouses often gloss over. If you come home to destruction of items that you value, that’s a sign that damage is likely to soon be done to you as well. Take symbolic violence as an urgent warning sign that you need to start heading for a divorce plan.
  3. Fast-paced relationship and persistence – These are clues of control. When marriage occurs at an accelerated rate that one spouse is uncomfortable with, that in itself is a control strategy. The other person wanted to lock you down before you had a chance to grasp what was happening. Also a sign of control is incessant failure to accept no for an answer.

Once you have understood and accepted that you are in an abusive marriage, it’s time to take the steps to safely escape and file for divorce.

1. Gather paperwork. Unless you are in a life-threatening situation, take advantage of the opportunity to assemble documents that will help an attorney piece together an accurate picture of your marriage. Make copies of paperwork that pertains to family finances and expenses. Once you make copies, remove them from the house so that your spouse doesn’t suspect your plan to divorce.

2. Build your escape plan. Before filing for your divorce, leave your marital home. Find a safe place to reside in so that when you file your husband will be unable to physically retaliate. Be sure you leave at a safe time, at which you know your spouse will not come home to find you packing up. An ideally trusted time would be immediately after your spouse leaves for work and you know he or she won’t be able to unexpectedly return. Take any children with you when you leave the home – you can legally do this because you are protecting them from the threat of physical violence. If you don’t have a trusted place to go, you can call your local police, domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

You can also visit on a computer that your spouse does not have access to. The internet can be a valuable source of information and support for survivors of domestic abuse, but it can also pose a threat to your safety. Many abusers obsess over their victim and have a tendency to track their online activity. If you have escaped your abuser, your online presence may be dangerous because it can lead your abuser back to you. Applying simple rules to your internet activity can drastically improve your online safety.

Establish a way for trusted friends and family to contact you. This can include getting a P.O. box in your name, purchasing a disposable cell phone with prepaid minutes, getting a new secret email address and opening accounts in your name.

3. Apply for a restraining order. Before filing for a divorce, apply for a protection from abuse order. Take this step after you have fled to a safe place and concealed your whereabouts from your spouse – your spouse’s probable need to get even must be avoided.

4. Find a lawyer and file for divorce. Find an attorney who has experience with domestic violence. Filing on grounds of abuse or cruelty can affect how a judge will determine issues such as alimony, child custody and property division. If you are unable to afford an attorney, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline or your local Bar Association may be able to assist you.

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