If you need some advice on how to leave your abuser, there are certain things you should prepare for. It is a critical step in the divorce process. It is not just when the decision is made and action is taken, but it is the exact moment when the groundwork is laid for how the entire divorce process will roll out, and ultimately, what the outcome will be.
Here’s How to Leave Your Abuser.
First, prepare for the reaction. When leaving your abuser, they may have emotional outbursts when they find out you are leaving and/or filing for divorce. If you are being physically abused, leave right now to protect yourself. Even if no physical violence has been present, the abuse may escalate and turn violent.
For that reason, if you suspect that real danger is imminent, you must leave right away to protect yourself. If you have children, you must take them with you for their own safety, and to avoid losing custody of them. It may be viewed as abandonment if you leave them behind. Your family’s safety is most important.
As soon as your abusive spouse becomes aware that you are filing for divorce, they are likely to do one or more of the following:
- empty bank accounts
- hide financial assets
- remove or destroy financial records
- remove personal property
- destroy evidence of abuse or infidelity
- cancel health or life insurance policies
- delay billing customers
- fail to pay bills
- recklessly spend marital assets
- run up debts
- overpay income taxes to claim a refund after the divorce
- bounce checks
- refuse to pay child support or alimony
When leaving your abuser, expect them to want you to drop the divorce petition or accept an unfavorable settlement. You must prepare for how they may react and what they may do. Take steps to protect yourself and your assets, if at all possible, before notifying your abusive spouse of your intentions to leave.
Protect the Evidence
Put copies of bank and other financial statements, recent tax returns, 1099s, pay stubs, deeds, mortgage documents, estate documents, other legal documents, credit card statements, and evidence of the abuse or infidelity on social media posts, emails, and phone records in a safe place outside the home before you tell your abusive spouse that you are filing for divorce. Give copies to your attorney and bring them to the mediation and/or court.
If you have pictures that prove physical abuse, date them. Document verbal abuse in a journal. Obtain copies of medical records that involve physical abuse. Keep this evidence in a safe place outside the home to protect it. If you call the police because your partner has become violent, make sure that they take pictures and press charges. Write down the names of the officers involved. If necessary, get an order of protection. These orders are not always adequately enforced, so insist to the officers involved to press charges if your abuser violates it.
Prepare to Leave Your Abuser
Before you let your abusive spouse know you plan on leaving them, it is imperative to take critical steps to ensure the protection of yourself, your family, and your assets. Move half the cash in joint bank accounts to an account in your own name. Notify your attorney that you had to move the cash because there is a possibility that your abuser could drain the accounts and leave you with no money. You must be able to pay his retainer and other bills. Also, get a credit card in your own name before you file.
Right after you file, your first step is to protect yourself and your family financially. Freeze joint credit cards and close out joint credit cards with a zero balance. The reason for this is that you will be held responsible by the credit card companies for any debt if you signed for the card – even debt that is assigned in the divorce settlement to your spouse.
Give instructions to banks and investment firms where you have accounts that a divorce is pending. Tell them that a court order or approval from both of you is now legally required for any changes or withdrawals. Order a credit report during and after the divorce to protect your credit. Get a temporary restraining order if your spouse does anything that is not legally permissible. Do not delay if this becomes necessary.
For your own protection, have a professional process server hired by your attorney to serve your abuser with the divorce complaint. Your abusive spouse may have a heated and unpredictable reaction to the notification. Because of this, it is not advisable or necessary for you to be present. You need to stay safe.
Ultimately, when preparing to leave your abuser, know that the day you decide to leave, and the steps that you do or do not take will determine the potential outcome of your divorce. I am sharing the insights that I wish I had known when I went through my own acrimonious divorce process. If you need help with figuring out how to leave your abuser, do not hesitate to reach out to friends, family members, or other professionals who can help you during this difficult process.