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Divorcing in a case of spousal abuse? Know your priorities

Filing for divorce can be a time of high stress about everything from child custody to finances. You may have concerns about the way your partner will react to the proceedings and how you will move forward with your life afterward. However, if you are worried about physical safety for yourself or your children, protecting yourself needs to be your No. 1 priority.

There are special considerations that go into pursuing divorce when spousal abuse is involved. With information and guidance, you can safeguard yourself or your children from violence and other forms of retaliation. If you’re afraid of how your spouse will respond to divorce proceedings, here’s what you need to know:

“With guidance, you can safeguard yourself or your children.”

Make a plan

Under California law, domestic violence includes several different types of abuse that may occur in an intimate relationship. Abuse can mean physically harming the other person, either intentionally or through recklessness. Domestic violence may also involve threats, harassment, stalking or the destruction of property.

When someone leaves an abusive marriage or domestic partnership, the danger of these incidents goes up. It’s vital to prepare for the worst by setting up a safety plan in case you need to leave your home urgently. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, safety plans for people living with an abusive partner commonly involve the following:

  • Evaluating your spouse or partner’s use of force.
  • Determining safe areas of the home that have accessible exits and no weapons.
  • Developing strategies for minimizing injury to yourself and your children in case of violence.
  • Making arrangements for contacting police, a shelter and trusted friends or neighbors as necessary.
  • Practicing leaving your residence safely.

As you make preparations for a divorce, take measures to protect yourself by seeking out resources, tools and emotional support. If you need assistance in developing a safety plan, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence offers both general information and referrals to local organizations.

Arrange for legal action

Along with removing yourself from immediate physical danger, you must consider the legal aspects of both divorce and domestic violence. An experienced family law attorney who understands what you’re going through and has the knowledge to guide you is invaluable in this situation. Be open with your lawyer about your worries during a divorce consultation so he or she can take appropriate steps.

One of those steps may be seeking a domestic violence prevention order. A court order can offer a range of provisions to keep you safe, like requiring your spouse to leave your home and avoid further contact as well as forbidding activities that might lead to further abuse. You may also be able to obtain temporary custody of your children and payments of spousal or child support. The order will provide for your protection in case the partner acts in violation, and you may also apply for one on behalf of your child.

If you’re dealing with an an urgent situation, contact an organization in your community or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). To learn more about protecting yourself and your interests during a divorce, read “Divorce in California,” by Debra R. Schoenberg, Esq.