Divorcing an Abusive Spouse: What You Need to Know

divorcing an abusive spouse

If you’re reading this, you’re taking the first steps to get out of a harmful relationship and move on with your life. It’s not an easy road to take, but it’s important to think about the long-term and what your life will look one, five, and even ten years from now. It may seem impossible, we’re here to tell you there is a way out and there is a path to happiness.

Getting a divorce can be complicated in itself, but adding in domestic violence puts another layer of consideration. We’ve found there are specific ways to approach this type of divorce. With some guidance, legal help, and true support, a divorce from an abusive spouse is completely possible, leading to a fresh start.  

The Effect of a Domestic Violence Claim on Divorce

In a typical divorce the relationship may be over, but neither person is likely to cause physical harm to one another or put each other or their children in danger. Even though tempers and strong emotions are involved, the decision of one spouse to leave the marriage isn’t often met without the threat of violence. In these types of divorces the couple often goes through a separation first then deals with the divorce through mediation, negotiation, collaboration, or litigation.

But during a domestic violence divorce there are more pieces to think about and plan for. With one in three women and one in four men experiencing domestic violence in the U.S., divorce due to domestic violence is more common than you may think. Many of our clients have complicated emotions around the process, but we can assure you that you’re not alone in your situation and experience.

The most important part of domestic violence divorces is planning a strategic exit before telling your spouse the marriage is over. In our experience we’ve found it’s best to document as much of the abuse as possible, including pictures and even filing police reports if possible. All of this will help when you take the first step of filing for divorce safely. 

Make a Plan to Leave and Ask for Help

You may have been thinking about leaving or getting a divorce for a while. No matter when you decide to actually take the step, having a plan in place will protect you physically, emotionally and financially. If you don’t have any income or money of your own it can be helpful to open a private bank account in your name to try to build an emergency fund and to open up a credit card account (also in your name).

Try to stash money in that account to build a bit of an emergency fund that your abuser cannot access and does not know about. Sometimes it is a matter of using a portion of your allotted spending or food shopping budget to put money away. Be creative, but not obvious.

At the same time, do your research. Use a public library or friend’s computer to find organizations that can help you and research attorneys in your area. Don’t keep any notes in your home or on your phone or computer for your abuser to find.

When you make your plan to leave, decide where you’ll go. You may look for a shelter to help you get on your feet. Maybe you can go to a family member’s house or you may even be ready to move into a place on your own. Whatever you decide, make sure you determine the expenses you’ll have, how you’ll leave, where you’ll go, and when it’s going to happen.

Wait until you are safely out of the house and relocated to serve your abuser with the divorce papers. Never tell your abuser where you’re going, as this can escalate the situation. If you have children and are concerned about the abuser finding out where you’re living, arrange for child care exchanges at neutral, public locations like grocery or department store parking lots or even at the local police station.

Resources to Help You Move Out and Move On

There are numerous organizations, locally and nationally, that will help you leave an abusive relationship. In Union County, the YWCA, and the Union County Family Justice Center are wonderful resources to help women in abusive relationships leave their abuser and start over. If you are looking for a place to go and escape your abuser which is safe for you and your children, Turning Point Homeless Shelter can provide not only provide a place to go but also resources to help you build a new life.

In addition to your local organizations, there are many national organizations that can help you take the steps to be safe including:

If you’re a victim of domestic violence, the attorneys at Keith Family Law would be honored to help you get out of your situation and start a new chapter. Contact us today to get started on your road to freedom.

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