There are many important things you should do if you are an abuse victim preparing to leave your spouse. These include: making copies of important records, papers, and bills; putting these records, some cash, and extra clothes in a safe place or a trusted friendís house; and leaving when you must. If you can, start your own bank account. Get credit cards in your own name.
If the threat of physical violence is imminent escape with your children as soon as you can.
In such a situation, have an escape plan. Figure out what room in your house is most secure, and has a reasonable exit to the outside. Be prepared to give in to verbal demands in order to buy time. Once you have determined that the moment has come, go immediately. If you see a dangerous situation arising, do whatever you must (short of increasing the physical danger to yourself or your children) to create an opportunity for escape.
Once you are away from the home, go to the nearest shelter, or to the home of someone you trust. Also consider whether your spouse will follow, and if so, where he is likely to look.
Using the Legal System to Escape an Abuser
As I noted above, often a divorce action provokes an abuser. His violence may escalate. Protective or restraining orders can help, but they can also further infuriate the abusive spouse. Law enforcement canít protect a victim or children around the clock. This is something you should discuss with your attorney.
Remember, when you ask for a protective or restraining order against your spouse, the judge will want as much evidence as possible. Document erratic behaviour and any violent actions starting now. You can do this by writing everything down, or keeping a computer file, but be sure it is safe from discovery. Try to recall each detail. Ideally such records should be moved to wherever you are keeping your important papers in case of escape. One way to keep things written down, and retrievable from anywhere, is web based e-mail, such as yahoo or hotmail, as long as you make sure the password is secure, and that you log off whenever you are finished. You can write things and save them as a draft, and there is no risk of losing the hard drive if you have to leave in a hurry. Call others as soon as possible after an incident, and have them keep a record of it. If you have bruises, show them to others, and ask them to make a written note of what theyíve seen. Keep the paperwork on hospital visits. If you have made any 911/999 calls, get the tapes of them. Your attorney will need as much evidence as possible.
If you are representing yourself in a motion for a restraining order, and you have such proof, let the evidence speak for itself. There is nothing wrong with expressing your fears, but do not say more than you have to against your spouse. If there are witnesses to violence, and/or solid physical evidence (cuts, bruises, broken items), these will be the most convincing factors. Most judges will be impressed more by a victim who simply states the need for protection and then presents compelling evidence. If you have a lawyer, but still have to testify, do so without anger. Present yourself as a victim of deranged behaviour, and in need of a sane, sensible solution. Concentrate on the violence of the abuse, rather than on the abuser.
Judges seek to be referees in divorce disputes, not favouring either side. A judge will often resent being manipulated into issuing a restraining order early in the proceedings, especially if the victim later uses it as evidence in the divorce trial. Show that your concerns are only for the safety of yourself and those around you. Demonstrate that the order will be a useful tool in cooling things down and producing a just settlement.
Another issue that will concern a judge is the children. Judges are prone to try to sustain contact between parents and children. If your children are subject to abuse, then any protective or restraining order should apply to them. If the abuse is not aimed at them, and you intend to allow your spouse any contact with the children, discuss this with your lawyer. Often a restraining order can be limited in a way that is designed to defuse the anger of the abuser.
There are also other options to protective and restraining orders. In most states, a party in a divorce action can ask that a no-contact order be a condition of the divorce proceedings. However, these usually expire with the final decree.
The extent of abuse, and the potential for further abuse, should be the most important factors in any settlement. If there is an obvious threat of further abuse to a spouse and/or children, the contact should be limited or completely cut off. The safety of the victims must be the basis for settlement.
If the abuse is confined to the spouse, and isnít sustained or life threatening, a judge will often arrange for visitation rights with the children. If this is the case, make sure all conditions are met to ensure your own safety when exchanging children for a visit. Judges sometimes draw up conditions for these exchanges that include third parties (trusted friends or family members), performing the exchange in a public place, or other security measures.
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