11 Steps To Prepare To Leave An Abusive Relationship
With March being Women’s History Month, this is a great time to remind women of their strength and power to get out of an unhealthy relationship or marriage.
As an abuse survivor and author of the new book, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal - A Survival Guide , below are important steps to prepare yourself to break free from an abusive relationship and your abuser.
1. Safety First. Your family’s personal safety is the only thing that really matters. If you or your children are being subjected to physical violence, take them and leave the home right now. If you suspect that physical abuse may be imminent, take the children and leave right now. Use the resources listed in the Emergencies Tab on the Breaking Bonds website to find a secure place to stay if you don’t have somewhere else to go. You can access the rest of the information on this website from a safe distance.
2. Have Money. Before alerting your abuser that you plan to leave him, set aside hard cash for emergencies and transfer up to half of the balances in the bank accounts to an account in your name alone. Have the bank mail the statements to a post office box instead of to your home. You will need to be able to pay bills until you are able to petition the court for financial assistance. Abusers will frequently drain the accounts once they discover they are going to lose control over their victims in order to retaliate, or to force them to drop the divorce petition or settle for unfavorable terms. Do not drain the joint accounts yourself and leave your husband without any funds, as that would be unethical.
Disclose what you have done with the money in your first meeting with your lawyer. He or she may have different advice as to whether you should move funds to a separate account before filing for divorce. Inform him or her that an abuser will do whatever it takes to be punitive and maintain control, and it is highly likely that he will drain the household accounts as soon as he is aware that his wife plans to divorce him. Although your attorney can ask the judge in your case to issue a temporary order to freeze your jointly held bank accounts, such measures will take time. You must have funds for your day-to-day living expenses and to pay your attorney and court expenses in the meantime.
3. Go-to Bag. Prepare a go-to bag that contains contain cash, your driver’s license, credit cards, checkbooks, a list of your assets and debts, a set of clothes for you and the children, toys, court papers, your passport, birth certificates, medical records, marriage certificate, social security cards, , medicines, insurance information, immunization records, welfare documents, immigration papers, and other legal documents. Keep copies of court papers in your possession to prove to the police that your spouse is violating a court restraining order if you have to summon them.
4. Make Copies. Make copies of bank and other financial statements, deeds, paystubs, recent tax returns, estate documents, and emails or posts that incriminate your abuser or prove his infidelity without alerting him that you plan to file for divorce. Store this evidence somewhere safe outside the home. Abusers frequently remove or destroy records once they become aware of the divorce.
5. Protect Children. When you leave your husband, take your children with you to avoid losing custody of them. The courts may consider your leaving them behind to be abandonment, a sign that you are an unfit mother willing to leave them in danger. Or that you are lying about the domestic abuse. Even if your husband tries to intimidate you to leave without the children, you must not let him force you to leave the house without them under any circumstances. Call the police if you must.
6. Document Abuse. Take pictures of any physical abuse and date them. Start documenting verbal abuse in a journal that you keep outside the home. If your abuser becomes violent, call the police immediately and have them take pictures to document the abuse. Make sure that you have written down the names of the officers who are present. Have your abuser arrested. If you give him a free pass, the abuse is likely to escalate. Protect yourself.
7. Get Help. Use the Resources Tab on the Breaking Bonds website to find safety resources, therapists, and financial and legal assistance in your area.
8. Protect Credit. Before you file for divorce, obtain a credit card in your name alone. You may not be able to get credit based on your income alone, so make an application to get the card before you file for divorce so that you can qualify for credit based on your joint income with your spouse. As soon as you file, close any joint credit cards that have a zero balance and put a freeze the jointly held credit cards. You won’t be able to close them out completely if they still have a balance, but you can prevent any additional charges from being added to joint debt by freezing the account.
You are responsible for payment of any joint debt that you or your husband incurs during your marriage, even debt that your husband will ultimately be assigned in the settlement. Credit card companies are only concerned with whether you signed for the card, not the terms of a court order. Document all phone calls you make to the credit card companies and send them follow-up letters requesting that the lender report to the credit agencies that each of these credit card accounts was closed at your request.
Late payments and skipped payments will adversely affect your credit score for years to come, so do your best to make sure that payments are made by the due date for any debts you or your husband have incurred while the divorce is still going on. Your credit score will affect whether you can buy a home in your name alone or if you can refinance your existing home to remove your husband’s name afterward. It also affects the rate of interest that you will be charged on any loans you apply for in the future. Do what you can to protect your credit score.
9. Confide Well. Be careful whom you confide in. Some of your friends, colleagues, and family members may be judgmental or repeat to others what you have said to them in confidence. Even worse, word may get back to your abuser. Do not confide in your children unless it is absolutely necessary, as they are dealing with enough emotional turmoil and deserve to have their childhood protected. When discussing the situation with your children, say that you don’t feel safe living with their father or leaving them alone with him. Tell them that he does bad and scary things, not that he is a bad person. It is not necessary or helpful to elaborate. The best plan is to confide mostly in your therapist and your dog. Then give it to God.
10. Self-Care. Take care of yourself so that you can handle the stress of the divorce effectively. You will need physical energy and brainpower to deal with a very manipulative and unscrupulous opponent over a period of many months. Begin making changes now in your daily routine so that you get enough nutrients, exercise, and rest to feel empowered and think clearly. This will also boost your self-esteem and confidence.
11. Choose You. Choose not to be a victim any longer. Stop blaming yourself! He has been brainwashing you into thinking that everything is your fault. He is the one who is mistreating you and making your family life miserable. Take back your power and take appropriate action. Do not argue or engage with your abuser. Use your legitimate fear of him to protect yourself and your children. Use your anger, which is telling you that something is very wrong with your life, to overcome your fear and make the changes that you need in your life.
Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over 35 years of experience and domestic abuse survivor. She is the founder of Breaking Bonds, a free resource for abused women, and author of Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal-A Survival Guide.