Even if it's the right thing to do, leaving an abusive husband is a very difficult step to take. Not only do you have to deal with your marriage is ending, but there is also the real threat of how your husband may react to the fact that you are leaving. The following answers and tips from our legal expert can help you prepare as you embark on your journey to freedom.
Leaving an Abusive Situation
Divorce and Abusive Relationships
Lesley's Question: One of my best friends is heading for a divorce. Her husband is a very strong man and she is scared of him. After discovering that he had been cheating on her, he started hitting her. This divorce will get UGLY period. What can she do to protect herself now for the future?
Brette's Answer: Your friend should contact her local domestic violence shelter if she feels she is in danger. They can provide you with advice, counseling, shelter, and resources to deal with this situation. She can look in the phone book or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or go to www.thehotline.org to find the services in her area. If she is in immediate danger, 911 should be called. It might help her if she had an escort with her when she moved out - the local shelter may be able to provide that. If there is a history of domestic violence she should go to her local family court and get a restraining order or an order of protection. She can also file for custody and child support. If she needs an attorney, she should contact her local bar association for a referral.
Nicole's Question: I have two children 3 and 5, and want to start the divorce process. When I bring it up my husband is outrageously against it and says threatening things. He is not physically abusive but he is extremely controlling and jealous. I am in a tiny town and have no friends or family in this state. I would like to move where my family is with the children once I start the process. I'm afraid of what my husband will do after he receives the divorce papers (and forever after that). My husband is 11 years my senior and much bigger and stronger than I...and extremely intelligent and manipulative. I feel very alone out here. I feel if I do not get close to my family soon, my rights will be squashed. How do I start?
Brette's Answer: Is there anyway a friend or family member could come and help you? You have every right to file for a divorce, and you can seek an immediate order of temporary custody, temporary child support, temporary spousal support, as well as a temporary order of protection or restraining order if you are afraid. The court system can meet all of these needs, but unfortunately it cannot meet the emotional needs of the people involved.
It sounds to me as if you need someone who can stand by you, give you courage, and hold your hand a little bit. You might consider calling the local domestic violence shelter. Even though you are not a victim of physical violence, it sounds to me as if you are a victim of emotional and mental violence. They may be able to help you. Some programs provide escorts when you go to court. They may be able to help you find a place to stay. Your local social services department may also be able to help you find temporary housing. No one should stay in a marriage because they are too afraid to end it. Make some calls and find someone who can give you some support.
Linda's Question: My abusive husband tells me he wants a divorce. My name is on nothing; not the house, cars, property, or bank accounts. He's leaving me without transportation and with four children to care for. How can I protect myself and my children? I'm very isolated, he won't provide me with a phone, friends aren't allowed to visit me, and I need to find a way to help myself.
Brette's Answer: You need to get some help and support. If you or your children are in danger, you need to call the local domestic violence shelter and get help. They are highly trained and can help you take control of the situation and help you feel and be safe. Safety must be your first concern. You can also ask them about getting HopeLine Phone.
You can go to family court and seek spousal support and child support. You'll also want to get an order of custody. You don't need an attorney. You are going to need transportation to get there - if you are in an abusive relationship the shelter may be able to help you with that. Email friends or family and ask them to come get you. Get someone to help you then consider your legal options. And if you are ever in immediate physical danger, call the police.
Lisa's Question: My husband has threatened to stab me with a knife, has thrown a knife at me, and threatens to kill me if I ever cheat on him. The knife hit the wall behind me but didn't touch me. This might be a silly question, but is that considered abusive behavior?
Brette's Answer: Yes. Throwing a knife at someone is a crime. I am concerned for your safety. You need to plan a way to get out. Is there family or friend you could go to? You could also call your local domestic violence shelter, although they sometimes won't accept women who have not been actually physically harmed.
Lakisha's Question: My husband tells me that when we file for a divorce, there is no use in talking about the physical and emotional abuse that I have went through over the years, because I have no proof. How will I be able to claim spousal abuse, without proof?
Brette's Answer: Your testimony is proof. In the future, it is important that you get police reports, have photos taken, or at the very least keep a journal documenting everything that happens. Contact your local domestic violence shelter for help and support and call the police immediately if you are in danger.
Julianne's Question: My husband's abuse has been going on for years, and the police have been called to our home numerous times. He moved out the other day, but now he says he's coming back. I don't want him back and I don't want to move into a shelter. How do I keep him out of the house?
Brette: You can go to court and request an emergency order giving you temporary exclusive residence of the home. Then you can start divorce proceedings and get another order from that court which will continue the same terms while the divorce is in process.
Question: I left the family home due to an abusive relationship and will be filing for a divorce. The mortgage is in my name. My husband can't afford to make the mortgage payments because he doesn't work. So what can I do if he's refusing to leave the house?
Brette's Answer: Get an attorney and seek exclusive occupancy of the home while the divorce is pending. If he's physically abusive, get a restraining order, which can also order him to move out. Your safety has to come first though, so please make sure you are safe and avoid any encounters with your spouse while this is in the works. If you need support or advice, contact your local domestic violence shelter. Deciding that you are ready to act is a big step when you are in an abusive relationship and you should feel proud of yourself for deciding to take steps to protect yourself.
Linda's Question: If you leave your material home due to domestic violence, do you get the right to go in and pack your personal belongings yourself? He has locked the doors and says I have to call before I come. Does he have the right to keep me from my home?
Brette's Answer: No. There are a variety of arrangements that can be made. The police can help you get access if necessary. A time can be set up when he is directed by the court to be away from the house during a certain time period so you can go in safely. You can bring a friend or relative with you for safety reasons. If you do not have a restraining order against him, you should get one.
Julie's Question: How can my daughter get out of the marital home without repercussions? Her husband is emotionally abusing her. Humiliating her. Closed her bank accounts. Threw her clothing away. Told her everyone hates her, she is a slut, a whore, not a fit mother with any moral character. He threw her out one night. She slept in the car. He is constantly abusing her. He invaded all her privacy, following her, getting into her online accounts, phone messages, follows her in the bathroom, etc. It is a nightmare and very scary. Her lawyer tells her to wait it out. Her therapist feels differently.
Brette's Answer: It has to come down to what she personally feels she can handle and what is best for her. This is definitely one of those situations where a lawyer and a therapist might offer different advice. If it is intolerable, I think she ought to talk frankly with her attorney and say that things need to be moved along with some temporary orders so that she can do what she needs to do.
Jenny's Question: We're separated and have been for 2 weeks now. We have a 3 year old, 1 year old, and I am 7 months pregnant with no job. I have an EPO out on him for raping me and our EPO-DVO hearing is this week. They are requesting temporary child support for me in this case, but what else should I do in this situation?
Brette's Answer: You need to do several things. File a petition in family court for a custody order and file a petition for spousal support.
Tania's Question: We have a 9 month old daughter together. He kicked both of us out one night while drunk and the police took us to a woman's shelter that night. I decided not to go back due to the abuse and intimidation techniques. He says if I don't settle out of court with him he'll drag the divorce out. My lawyer told me not to talk to him. Then this weekend he left 3 drunken messages and he's called approximately 20-30 times. Now he is threatening to take her and I will never see her again! I am wondering what exactly to do.
Brette's Answer: Listen to your lawyer. Don't talk to him. Ask your lawyer to get a restraining order so he cannot call you or approach you. Change your phone number. Let your lawyer help you and do what he or she recommends.
Kathy's Question: Can an ex visit my workplace? Even if he has cause, can he make trouble and try to get me fired?
Brette's Answer: If you don't have a restraining order, this is an issue to take up with your employer. If he is harassing you, you can seek a restraining order.
Laura's Question: I am scared to death and I can't take it anymore. My husband is mentally abusive to me and an alcoholic. I lost my job 5 months ago and I have no real savings. I have credit cards that I can get money from, but I may need those I need to get out of this marriage. I am a nervous wreck every day and I am shaking writing this. Will I get anything if we get divorced (both our names are on the house)? HELP!
Brette's Answer: You can ask for spousal support and you can ask for a temporary order as soon as you file for divorce. You can seek exclusive residency of the home while the case is proceeding. Assets will be divided according to your state's laws. Seeing a therapist may help you work through the difficult situation. Good luck.
Susan's Question: My friend left her extremely abusive husband, and several professionals have advised her to get a restraining order, speed the divorce process, and to definitely hire a lawyer. She does not qualify for legal assistance, and can barely pay her living expenses and therefore can't afford a retainer fee. Nobody will help her, but she is in danger. She can't get out of danger until she moves the divorce forward. And she can't move it forward without a lawyer. What can she do?
Brette's Answer: Unfortunately a lot of people are in this kind of situation. This is the time in your life when you turn to family and friends for financial help. There are attorneys who will agree to installment plans. She can easily go to family court and get a restraining order on her own without an attorney.
Tate's Question: My husband assaulted me with a hammer which he admitted on arrest, but he was released with a caution for assault. Since then, he has been harassing me. My estranged husband has told me he will be applying for custody of my sons. Will his violence towards me help me keep my sons and remain in the marital home? I wonder if the above mentioned facts will affect our divorce's outcome and what can be stated as a ground for divorce.
Brette's Answer: Yes, domestic violence is an issue that is important in a custody case. In some states it is grounds for divorce and can also mean you will receive more in the divorce. You should discuss the implications of such abuse in your situation with your lawyer to find out what your rights are.
Carol's Question: I am 65 years old and married to an abusive man. He says that if I leave him he will not give me anything, and that he will quit his job before he gives me a cent. Please advise if I have any recourse.
Brette Answers: It sounds like you should schedule a free consultation with a divorce attorney so that you can understand what your rights are. It is up to the court, not your husband, to decide what you will get and you most certainly will walk away with a fair share of the marital assets. Quitting his job will not matter, particularly if it is apparent to the court that he has done so to avoid paying alimony. You also should see a therapist, who will help you decide what you want to do and find a way to take action. It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship and you definitely need some support. Good luck.
Hazel's Question: I've been with my husband for two years now and I want to divorce him. Is it illegal to abandon him without telling him and then send him the divorce papers? And do I need proof that he is abusing me verbally and emotionally?
Brette's Answer: You are free to leave anytime you want, but should realize that doing so may provide him with grounds for filing for divorce himself. You should first talk to an attorney before leaving. Your state likely has no-fault divorce as an option.
Sharon's Question: I have recently left my husband and our home, which we own together. Can he sue me for abandoning the home? I have a case of domestic violence against him and basically he asked me to leave after I got a police report. Would I lose my rights to the house and cars because I left without being legally separated yet?
Brette's Answer: Those are marital assets which will be divided in the divorce. In some states, leaving the home does affect your rights, however since there is a documented domestic violence case, it doesn't sound like you need to worry. You do need to get an attorney who can help you move forward.
Sharon's Question: If I should leave my home for security reasons, will I still be entitled to 50% of what we have together, such as house, car etc.?
Brette's Answer: Your marital assets will be distributed according to state law. Some states use equitable distribution, which means a fair but not necessarily equal distribution. Moving out of your home can have implications though on your right to have residence of the home, so you should talk to an attorney. If you are in danger, you need to take care of your own safety first and worry about assets later. Contact your local domestic violence shelter for assistance.
Leslie's Question: Me and my ex have been separated and living apart for 9 months. But 6 month ago he forced himself on me in MY home. He is now claiming that I slept with him willingly even though I didn't. I didn't call the cops cause honestly since we are still married and I figured they would just laugh at me. In NC we have to be separated for a year. He is telling me that by me "sleeping with him willingly" that our one year started over at that point and that I will have to wait till then instead of filing in 3 months. I want this divorce over with. Please help, any advice would help.
Brette: You should discuss this situation with your lawyer. It would certainly make him look bad to the judge to have you testify that he raped you so it is likely your lawyer can use this to get things to move along.
Aurelie's Question: I left my physically and mentally abusive husband 3 years ago. After a year of going to court/ mediation, I was granted sole physical and legal custody, and he was allowed supervised visitation. My attorney has tried many times to contact his attorney to try to finalize the divorce.
He's just enjoying the fact that he still has a hold of me and can still exercise some control over my life by using the legal system. For example, we had to go to court for a pre-trial hearing and he didn't even show up. His attorney called saying she couldn't make it because she had car trouble. My attorney explained to the judge what has been going on for the past two years. Even though the judge didn't buy his attorney's story, she still had to give her the benefit of the doubt. Although I'm no longer in an abusive relationship, my ex won't leave me alone and still makes my life unbearable. He's beaten me down and I don't have the energy to fight him anymore. Why doesn't the court realize what abusers do during a divorce?
Brette's Answer: Your case is an example of how sometimes the legal system simply goes too far in its attempts to be fair. I know how exhausted and frustrated you are and I agree this isn't right. The thing you need to understand is that the judge does understand what is going on and is most likely not going to give any more leeway. You need to find the strength and the patience to get through the next set of hearings and I suspect the judge will accept no more delays. You need to be very clear with your attorney that this needs to end and that he or she needs to let the court know that this has dragged on too far. You can also ask that your husband pay all attorney fees. It sounds to me as if you have come such a long way personally. Don't let your spouse drag you down. You have made a good life for yourself and your child. The court will recognize that. Try to stay strong and urge your attorney to bring this to an end as quickly as possible.
Rachel's Question: I left my husband because of the physical/emotional abuse towards me and possibly sexual abuse on my children. He keeps saying I could go to jail for kidnapping our son even under the circumstances... I am afraid of him getting custody or me losing my kids.
Brette's Answer: Until there is a custody order, there are no specific rights to visitation. If you believe child abuse happened, you need to report it to social services/child and family services. Get a lawyer and file for custody.
Megan's Question: My children are toddlers, and the only reason I haven't left him yet is I'm afraid of him getting full or partial custody, and I would do anything to prevent that. He is violent and we have a history of domestic abuse. If I keep a journal detailing the abuse, can he get custody?
Brette's Answer: From what you have said, I think you need to get in touch with a domestic abuse shelter. You need someone to support you, provide guidance and help you feel safe (many provide outreach services and are not just about having women come and stay there). If the situation is as you have described, you have nothing to worry about in terms of custody. Domestic abuse is a factor that is considered in determining custody, so it is likely your husband would not get custody. You can go to Family Court and file a custody petition. If you can't afford an attorney, you can ask to have one appointed. You can get permission from the court to relocate. Once custody is determined you can ask for child support. You can also get an order of protection directing him to stay away from you and not make threats. Call your local domestic abuse program (you can find the number in the phone book or by calling your local police) and ask for their help.
Jessica's Question: I have filled for sole custody. My ex is very abusive and just recently shot a man in the army. He is getting discharged and is coming home shortly. I want him to have only supervised visitation. How can I get him to back off and be happy that I am letting him have that?
Brette's Answer: There's no way to make him happy about it, but you can certainly get an order of this kind. The only thing you can do is tell him it's important to you that he have a relationship with your child and that you don't want to stand in the way of that, but only want to make sure your child is safe.
Question: I have sole legal and physical custody and I am now going through a divorce. My soon to be ex is asking me to sign a final settlement that says I am not to change the children’s schools etc. without his consent. There was domestic violence of me in the past and I dread the continuous abuse by having to discuss and get consent. Do I have to do that?
Brette's Answer: You don't have to sign a settlement if you don't agree with it. The court can decide the issue if you can't agree. Get a lawyer if you don't have one.
Nancy's Question: My ex-husband has given me a choice to make. Sign custody over of my 2 boys (one being autistic) without any visitation, or get taken back to court while he tries to prove me an unfit mother. What does it take to prove unfit? I eat organic food and live a clean chemical free life down to organic shampoo and laundry detergent. My new baby (from someone else) even wears cloth diapers. Who do you talk to if the ex mentally abuses the children? He also tells them all the time that I will go to jail if I don't obey what he tells me to do.
Brette's Answer: I want you to talk to an attorney as soon as you can - call and arrange for a free consultation with someone who does family law. Don't listen to your ex and don't sign anything! There are many ways someone can be an unfit mother - not supervising the children, not getting them medical care, abusing them, putting them in dangerous situations - too many to list. You sound like a wonderful mom and it doesn't matter if you have a baby with someone else. Get an attorney and don't let your ex push you into anything.
It sounds like you should take your children to a therapist if you are concerned about the treatment they are receiving from your ex. This is something to discuss with your attorney for sure, but getting them some help has to be your first priority.
Your ex cannot have you go to jail for not doing what he says. He sounds like an abusive and controlling person and you need a support network to help you deal with this. Get a good attorney, consider seeing a therapist yourself and if you need to, contact a domestic violence shelter in your area for protection, or for support. Good luck!
Lorena's Question: The father of my daughter is violent and I have 3 police reports on him. He has been arrested many times and this last time the police told me he can go to jail up to a year for domestic violence. I decided not to press charges only because he has agreed to give me sole custody of our daughter. How do I get this to be legal; do I have to go to court for this? He has anger issues and I don't feel safe around him and I really don't want my daughter around someone like that. Would this signed document be the same as the one they give you in court or do I have a better chance just going to court for domestic violence and asking for sole custody. I can't really take any chances!
Brette's Answer: You can file a stipulation with a petition for custody if you both agree. You would be wise to consider getting an order of protection for yourself as well. You are also entitled to child support. It is very unlikely he would be awarded custody based on your description.
Julie's Question: My daughter is in a significantly emotionally abusive marriage. Things are going from bad to worse, and she is beginning to fear that he will start hitting her next. He threatens to 'kick her out' all the time, if she doesn't behave. She is terrified to leave him because he also always threatens that he will fight dirty and tell everyone that she is an awful mother and he will take the kids and get full custody.
He is incredibly mean and cruel to her. I know she would leave him if she wasn't so frightened that he would get the children (only 2 and 3 years old), or even during visitation with them use them to taunt her (by putting them in ugly situations). Is there any way for her to make sure he DOESN'T get the children? Most people think he is a loving father and kind husband, but both his and her families know better.
Brette's Answer: The only thing she can do is document what is happening. The way he treats her does not necessarily mean he can't get custody. She needs to focus on how he treats the children. A journal would be a good way for her to keep a daily record of what he does with the kids and how he treats them. She should also document everything she does for the children, to show she is the primary caregiver. She needs to start lining people up to testify, and get people into the home to witness what is happening. You need to get her out of there if she is in danger.
Ashley's Question: Hi, I have two little girls (3 years and 1 year old). Their Dad is very abusive mentally and physically, I do have a couple of bruises and a busted lip. My main question is if I leave him, is there any way he can get my kids? Can my pictures alone help me keep him away from us? He has told me in the past he never wanted kids and they are pains.
Brette's Answer: You need to first get your girls and yourself to safety. Call your local police or domestic violence shelter for assistance. They can help you in obtaining an order of protection. Then you need an attorney to help you get custody and a permanent order protecting you and your children. It is very unlikely he could obtain custody, but you need a lawyer to make sure.
Ashley's Question: I am a mother of two who have recently left my children's father because he was very physically abusive. I am applying for joint custody of the children to be split 80/20 with the father. If I choose to return to him in the future, what will happen to my custody order? What can I do to avoid him leaving the country with our children?
Brette's Answer: Why would you return to someone who has physically abused you? That's the most important question you should address. If you aren't already, you should see a therapist who can help you work through these issues. If you get back together, it is a change in circumstances and should you return to court, you could certainly see a change in custody. Leaving the country is another matter. Most custody orders direct that a parent is not to leave the country without prior permission, but you could definitely make sure that was in your order.
Angie's Question: Almost a year ago, I finally got away from an abusive boyfriend. I pressed charges on him and took pictures of what he did to me. A month after I left him, I found out I was pregnant. I am scared to tell him that he has a child because I don't want to put her in that situation. He has a history of violence and alcoholism. I just don't think it would be in my child's best interest to be around him. Is there any way of keeping him from seeing and getting custody of my child?
Brette's Answer: You can simply not tell him and your child will never know her father. You can seek sole custody with no visitation or supervised visitation, and you can also obtain an order of protection for yourself to prevent him from harming you. You need to weigh what is more pressing - your fear or your child's right to know her father. Seeing an attorney as well as a counselor might help you sort all this out.
Sara's Question: About a month ago my ex attacked me in front of our son and tried to take him away from me. I filed a police report, but didn't get the chance to obtain a protective order. Since last month he's hasn't seen his son. In the past 5 years I was physically and emotionally abused, but I finally had the courage to leave. Now I'm being served with Custody/Visitation papers. I have no idea where to go from here. My son is on the Autism Spectrum and has anxiety issues. I sometimes believe it's from witnessing the abuse. His father also is a drug and alcohol abuser. How can I protect my son from this toxic environment?
Brette's Answer: Get an attorney. Consult with your attorney about filing a case with social services - in some states domestic violence in front of a child constitutes child abuse.
Kelsie's Question: My friend's parents are getting a divorce, but her dad is not her biological dad (he adopted her). He is mean and sometimes abusive, and she doesn't want to see him after the divorce is final. What could she do?
Brette's Answer: It depends on how old your friend is. If she's over the age of 13, it is likely the court would weigh her opinion very heavily in making a custody determination. However, in order for her voice to be heard, her mother needs to make sure a law guardian or guardian ad litem is appointed by the court for her. If your friend feels she is in danger from her father, she should call the police or call a child abuse hotline. You can find a local number in your phone book or use the national number, 1-800-4-A-CHILD to report the abuse and get the help she needs to make it stop.