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What to Do When Abused by Your Spouse

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Being abused by your spouse is a traumatic experience that no one should have to endure. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, it’s important to take action to protect yourself.

This guide will outline the key steps you should take when being abused by your partner, including ways to ensure your safety, how to collect evidence, seeking legal help, and ultimately deciding whether to end the relationship.

Assess the Situation and Ensure Your Immediate Safety

The first priority in an abusive relationship is making sure you are safe. If you feel you are in immediate danger, leave the premises right away and go somewhere your partner cannot find you – a friend or family member’s home, women’s shelter, or hotel. Do not wait until the situation escalates further.

Once you are in a secure location, take time to evaluate the extent and frequency of the abuse you have experienced. Document any injuries, including photos of bruises or other marks. Note dates, times, and descriptions of abusive incidents in a journal or use recording devices if legal in your state. This documentation will be important evidence if you choose to pursue legal action.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) to speak with an advocate. They can help assess your situation, discuss options, and refer you to local domestic violence programs and shelters. Prioritize your safety above all else – an abusive partner is most dangerous when attempting to control their victim, so leaving may provoke further violence. Have an escape plan and pack a “go bag” with important documents and items you may need in case you need to flee quickly.

Gather Evidence and Consult an Attorney

Once you have safely exited the situation, gather any additional documentation that could serve as evidence of the abuse. This includes things like threatening emails, texts, voicemails, social media posts, copies of restraining order violations, and written accounts of the abuse with dates and descriptions of incidents. Take pictures of injuries, damaged property, etc.

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Consulting an attorney as soon as possible is highly recommended, even if you are unsure about taking legal action yet. An experienced family law attorney can advise you on your rights and options moving forward. This includes filing for protective orders like restraining or no-contact orders, as well as discussing divorce or legal separation if needed. They may also refer you to victim advocacy programs for additional support services.

Make sure to save all documentation and evidence in multiple secure locations – both digitally and in hard copy formats stored outside the home. Abusers may try to destroy evidence, so it’s important these records are well protected. The attorney can guide you on properly submitting documentation and evidence in legal proceedings.

Identify Patterns and Effects of Abuse

Reflect on the dynamics and patterns of abuse in your relationship. Was the abuse mainly physical, or were their other controlling behaviors like isolation, financial abuse, coercion, threats or intimidation as well? Consider how the abuse has impacted you emotionally, psychologically and physically over time. The cycle of violence model typically shows escalating tension, an abusive incident, and a “honeymoon” phase – look for these patterns in your situation.

Recognizing how abuse has affected you can help in the healing process. Common effects include low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, physical injuries, substance abuse and relationship issues. Seeking counseling or joining a domestic abuse support group can provide an outlet and help in understanding the abuse was not your fault. The therapist can also assess whether the environment remains unsafe or if there are other underlying issues to address.

Decide if you want to End the Relationship

With the help of your attorney, counselor and other advocates, carefully consider whether or not remaining in the relationship is healthy or safe for you long-term. Unfortunately, abusers rarely change without serious intervention and the violence often escalates over time. Leaving is dangerous – between 75-80% of domestic violence murders happen when attempting to leave or after leaving the relationship.

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Have an exit plan in place that considers your partner’s likely behaviors. Don’t alert them to your intentions beforehand. Ensure you have safe housing, inform friends/family so someone can check on you, and prepare financially if needed. If choosing to end it, serve divorce/legal separation papers through your attorney and have an officer present for safety when collecting belongings from the home. Implement all available protective orders and be hyper-vigilant in the aftermath.

Seek Continued Support

The trauma from an abusive relationship does not end once physically leaving the situation. Ongoing counseling, support groups, and victim advocacy services are highly encouraged to continue the healing process in a safe environment. Domestic violence advocacy programs provide a wide range of specialized assistance in the aftermath.

This may include safety planning assistance, counseling referrals, legal advocacy, emergency notifications, temporary housing placement, job training, relocation assistance if needed, and education on changing dysfunctional relationship patterns. Staying connected with this supportive network is key, as leaving an abuser does not guarantee the violence stops. Nearly 75% of abused partners experience stalking or continued harassment afterwards. Always trust your instincts and report any violations of protective orders immediately.

Your well-being and safety should remain the top priority. With a solid understanding of your rights, options for evidence collection, working with legal counsel, addressing mental health impacts, safety planning and continuing victim advocacy – you can gain control back in your life after experiencing abuse.

Do not hesitate to reach out for help from trained professionals. You do not deserve to live in fear and there are people and resources available dedicated to your empowerment and protection during this difficult time of recovery.

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Technical Definitions:

Restraining Order: A legal order issued by a court that prohibits an abuser from contacting or going near the victim. May include orders of no contact, stay away provisions, and can mandate counseling. Violating the order results in arrest.

Cycle of Violence: Refers to the typical three-phase pattern of behavior seen in abusive relationships – (1) Tension Building, (2) Explosive Incident, (3) Honeymoon Phase. Characterized by increasingly hostile and erratic behavior from the abuser that escalates to violence, followed by remorseful promises to not reoffend.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): An anxiety condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event like abuse or domestic violence. Common symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, avoidance behaviors and relationship/emotional numbing. Left untreated can severely impact quality of life long-term.

Safety Planning: Developing a tailored plan for leaving an abusive partner that considers the abuser’s likely behaviors and patterns in order to establish safe housing, financial independence, and crisis response protocols like informing trusted allies and local police. Proper planning can significantly reduce risk during a potentially dangerous exit from the relationship.

Isolation Tactics: Methods of control exercised by abusers to cut off victims from outside sources of support. This includes limiting contact with friends/family, monitoring communications, restricting access to finances/transportation, and enforcing complete dependence on the abuser. Isolation increases vulnerability and entrapment within the abusive dynamic.

I hope this information has provided useful guidance for readers facing an abusive relationship situation. Please remember help and resources are out there – you are not alone.

Your safety should be the number one priority in deciding next steps. With a solid support system and understanding of legal rights and available advocacy aid, survivors can and do regain control of their lives every day.

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