When two people get married, the intention is typically to form a lifelong bond. Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way.

If you’ve experienced domestic violence at the hands of your spouse, you have nothing to be ashamed of. This problem is much more common than most people realize. In fact, about 25% of women and 10% of men have been the victim of intimate partner violence. 

If you are currently in a relationship with an abusive spouse, the most important thing is making sure you and any children you have are safe. Use this guide to help you get started on your exit strategy.

Get a Good Attorney

When separating from an abusive spouse, you want an attorney who has worked with similar situations in the past. Abusive people tend to not only be physically abusive, but emotionally and psychologically abusive as well.

For this reason, it’s not uncommon for an abusive spouse to attempt to turn the situation around and make the victimized spouse look like the bad guy. To prevent this from happening, you will need an attorney who is able to establish a pattern of facts to ensure you leave the marriage with what you need.

Asking around your network can be a good way to find an attorney. But if you are not able to find someone with specific experience in this area of practice, the domestic abuse hotline is a valuable resource.

Get Safe

Divorce can be a long, messy process. Depending on whether you have children together, whether you own property together, and how much you have in assets, the divorce can take several months to more than a year to finalize. You will need to work with experienced family lawyers to navigate this process.

That said, it’s important to recognize that you don’t need to finalize the divorce before you get out of the abusive situation. The best way to do this depends on the nature of the abuse.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

If you fear for yours or your children’s safety, it may be best to simply leave the home and go to a safe location. Doing this without speaking to a lawyer first, however, can sometimes complicate the division of property in the divorce settlement. This is especially true if you have children and cannot demonstrate that you took the children with good cause.

If you do decide to leave the home, you might choose to stay with a friend, a family member, or in a hotel or apartment. You will want to consider if you fear your spouse’s reaction to your leaving.

If so, it may not be a good idea to go to a location where they expect to find you. You should also warn and friends or family members who your spouse might ask about your location.

Getting a Restraining Order

If the abuse is severe, you can look into filing criminal charges against your spouse and seeking a restraining order. This way, you are able to separate from the abusive spouse without having to leave your home.

In some cases, your ability to get a restraining order may depend on the type of abuse you faced. For instance, some courts may distinguish between situational abuse and a pattern of abuse.

Situational abuse might occur if a spouse becomes enraged about something (infidelity, finances, etc.) and acts violently. By contrast, a pattern of abuse occurs when a spouse consistently behaves in an abusive manner. While it is possible to get a restraining order in either situation, it is sometimes easier to demonstrate the need for one in a chronic abuse situation. 

File for Divorce

Once you are safely separated from your spouse, the next step is to officially file for divorce. Every state has different laws regarding divorce–for example, in some jurisdictions, you may need to file for divorce on certain grounds. If you file for divorce on the grounds of abuse or violence, it could help with certain proceedings regarding alimony, custody, and division of property.

Gathering Evidence of Abuse

If your attorney is able to demonstrate abuse, it may help you to get full custody of children and more access to communal property. In some instances, abuse can come down to a “he said, she said,” situation. This is why it is important to gather whatever evidence you can.

Photographic Evidence

Photographic evidence can include pictures of injuries to you or children or damaged property at the home. For instance, holes in walls or shattered glass can be evidence of violent, angry behavior.

Medical Evidence

If any of the abuse you or your children faced was severe enough to require medical attention, the treatment you received can serve as evidence. This can include x-rays, patient charts, or testimony from medical professionals.

Eye Witness Testimony

In some cases, there may have been other people who witnessed the abuse. This can include your children, neighbors, friends, or family neighbors.

It is also important not to delete text messages or voicemails. if your spouse left you any threatening messages, these can be used against them.

Leave Your Abusive Spouse and Get Your Freedom Back

The most important takeaway is that you should never feel like you have to stay with an abusive spouse. With these tips in hand, you can start the process of getting out and getting on with your life.

Make sure to check out the rest of our blog for more help and advice on family, finances, and life. and you should know about filing for divorce.

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