If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, your first priority is getting you and your children to safety. This means you need to find a place to stay where the abuser can’t find you, such as a hotel, the home of a non-mutual friend, or a battered women’s shelter (though the majority of domestic violence victims are women, men can be victims too.
The following advice applies regardless of gender). It’s important when escaping from an abusive spouse that you don’t go somewhere where they are likely to look for you, like your parent’s or best friend’s house. There are several steps you can take so that you and your children find safety and get help.
If you have time to plan your escape, you should put cash aside if you can. You might also want to pack some clothes and other important items in case you have to leave on short notice. Remember to leave the clothes and money in a place where your spouse won’t find it, like at a friend’s house. It’s also a good idea to document incidents of physical and emotional abuse with you or your kids, including the date and time, and specific details of the incident.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) advises that you make a list of people who are safe to contact and memorize their numbers, and any other numbers that you could contact for help. They also advise that you keep change on you for a pay phone, as well as cash in case you need to leave quickly.
It is also suggested by the NCADV that you create a code word that you can use with family and friends, so you can alert them that you need help without alerting your abuser. You will also want to have some important papers with you in case of an impromptu escape, which according to the NCADV include credit cards and checkbooks, social security cards, birth certificates, copies of deeds or leases, proof of income for you and your spouse, copies of bank statements, and any documentation that proves past abuse, like photographs or police reports. These documents are good to have with you so you can take legal action and apply for benefits right away.
If you have to leave quickly from an abusive relationship, go to court right away for a restraining order. You will also want the protective order that gives you custody of the children, so that the accuser cannot accuse you of kidnapping. If possible, hire a lawyer at this point. If you cannot afford a lawyer, there are a lot of resources available to you.
A lot of courts have domestic violence resources which contain instructions on how to get a restraining order, or clerks who can assist you with paperwork, or judges who are there to sign restraining orders and custody orders at all hours of the day. If you need help locating resources, go to a shelter and the staff should be able to help you find legal assistance.
After you leave, you should change your phone number and make sure it is unlisted. You can also rent a post office box or have your mail delivered to a friend’s address, so that your spouse cannot contact you that way. The NCADV also suggests that you take the precautions of changing your locks, changing your routine, and avoid staying alone.
If you have to meet with your spouse, do so in public, and inform a friend or family member prior to the visit. If you share custody of your children with the abuser, arrange meetings and pickups in public, neutral places, or have a trusted friend or family member pick up the children. If you have sole custody, but the judge ruled some type of visitation, you can put conditions on the terms that require supervision, or a requirement that the spouse cannot use drugs or alcohol during visits, or that certain friends or family members of your spouse cannot be around your kids. Your attorney can help you get a clear understanding of how domestic violence and child custody cases work, with the single goal of ensuring the child’s best interest.
In extreme situations, the judge can appoint a visitation monitor when the child is with the abuser. If you have any ideas regarding your children’s safety or your own, do not hesitate to propose them to the judge. The judge should consider any plan that keeps everyone safe. Above all, know that you are not alone, and there are plentiful resources available to you if you are suffering from domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 800-799-SAFE (7233) for advice and assistance.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (303-839-1852) can provide you with a list of state coalitions for local assistance.