Ending a marriage is never easy, but divorcing an abusive husband can make an already bad situation dangerous. This is why it is so crucial to think ahead before you act.
By Tracy Achen, Divorce Coach
Try to have an exit plan in place before you leave. It's also a good idea to have supportive friends and family to turn to during the trying times that will probably be ahead. If you haven't told your husband about your plans yet, the following considerations should be kept in mind before you leave.
When it comes to leaving an abusive situation, you need to realize that doing so may spark rage in your husband. If you are threatened, you may need to get a restraining order, but be aware that this may push some men over the edge.
The most dangerous time for an abused woman is the first 24 hours after a restraining order has been issued. Some men feel that they won't be controlled by a piece of paper. If you do get a restraining order, ask the police if they can drive by your house, or contact your local shelter to see if you can stay at a safe house until things are settled.
Take your children with you if you are planning on leaving the family home. You may be afraid to do this because your husband has previously threatened that he will never let you take the children.
From a practical standpoint, consider how it would appear to a judge if you left your children in a potentially dangerous situation. Also consider the power that you would be handing over to an already controlling husband.
He could keep you from seeing your children and therefore have the best form of leverage in negotiating your divorce settlement. In essence, he might say that in order for you to see your children again, you'll need to agree to his terms.
When you make plans for your divorce, you will want to hire a lawyer that has experience in divorces involving domestic abuse. You need someone that understands the dynamics of such a relationship and can help prevent you from being intimidated into an unfair divorce agreement.
If your case goes to trial, you need someone who can enlighten the judge about your circumstances, and will be willing to protect you and your children.
Once your divorce begins, there are a few points to keep in mind. In states where fault is a consideration in the divorce process, the evidence of domestic abuse can influence the property settlement as well as custody and visitation arrangements.
While mediation is generally suggested as the first method of resolving divorce disputes, it's not appropriate in cases where there has been domestic abuse. If your state has a mandatory mediation clause, you can ask the court to wave mediation due to the domestic abuse.
You also need to seriously consider whether joint custody would be the best arrangement in your case. This is because with joint custody arrangements open the door to continuing contact with your ex-husband, which may not be a safe situation.
Abusers often use custody and visitation issues to try to establish or continue control over their spouses. If custody is being disputed, make sure that the courts know about the abuse, because it will have a bearing on the best interests of the children and the structuring of custody and visitation. Courts are uncomfortable with denying visitation with the non-custodial parent, but may order supervised visitation in cases of domestic abuse.
Divorce is a crazy time anyway, but when you add the pressures of a volatile situation to it, it can seem unbearable. To help cope, try to find a support group or get some counseling to help you during this time. Your local shelter can provide a lot of support and resources for you. Don't be ashamed to ask for help.
Here is an added tip from one of our readers: Do NOT leave your pets behind when leaving an abusive husband. Men will hurt them just to get even. NEVER leave your pets behind any more than you would leave your children. Thanks Debra for the good advice.
I also want to recognize Purina for supporting the Purple Leash Project to help create more pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. If you are worried you can't take your pets when you leave, you can find out more about the Purple Leash Project, as well as the services and programs available in your area.