Divorce can be messy and complicated, but it’s especially difficult when you’re in an abusive situation. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan of action as you prepare to leave the marriage.
Before anything else, contact a local family law attorney where you live and explain the situation to them. Be as transparent as possible in your conversations so they can best understand and advise you on what to do next. An attorney will also be your guide in handling any fallout from the divorce. If you don’t already have an attorney in mind, ask for a referral from someone you trust or check with your local bar association’s attorney directory. If you don’t qualify for legal assistance or can’t afford a lawyer, you may have to seek financial aid from loved ones or find an attorney who is willing to work with you on an installment plan.
Every situation is different. If you and your partner are still living together and they are physically violent towards you (or you feel threatened in some way) then don’t wait to see what happens. Even if they are saying they’ll agree to everything and sign papers for an uncontested divorce, don’t stay in a dangerous home. Get out. Stay with family or friends or, if finances aren’t an issue, get a second apartment for the duration of the divorce proceedings.
Alternatively, you can contact a local domestic violence shelter for help. Staff from the shelter can assess your situation and provide you with domestic violence counseling. They may also have resources to support you during this trying time, such as temporary housing or a court escort. Make sure you contact your lawyer as soon as you decide to leave so they can counsel you on the next steps.
Pack the essentials before you leave. This includes, but is not limited to, important documents (identification cards, social security cards, health insurance, and credit and debit cards) and clothing. Try to get everything you’ll need so there’s no reason for you to return to your spouse. If you get a new place of your own during the divorce, keep your address hidden from your partner and have any mail forwarded to a post office box. If harassment is a problem you can change your number, get a prepaid cell phone, and install a security system.
Once you’re out of the house, go to court and file for a restraining order against your partner. A restraining order can keep your partner from harassing you throughout the divorce proceedings. Your attorney can help you with this or you can do it on your own.
If you own your home and your spouse won’t leave, a restraining order will also force them out. Before you take this route, and if you feel it is safe to do so, speak to your partner and request that they leave. You can also request an emergency order from the court to give you exclusive occupancy of the home during the divorce proceedings.
Unless your attorney advises you otherwise, you should not have any direct interaction with an abusive partner once you’ve decided to file for divorce and left the shared residence. If contact is unavoidable, ask a friend or family member to come with you. Not only can they lend you support when facing your spouse, but they can also act as a witness if your partner lashes out in any way. Whatever else, never confront your spouse alone.
In contested divorce cases, your partner may try to drag out the case. They may refuse to sign the papers if you are trying to do a cheap divorce by having them sign an agreement before filing the divorce or they could just disagree on something trivial and refuse to compromise. If this occurs, consult your attorney. With his or her help, you may need to file a complaint, which will include the grounds for the divorce. In Alabama, state law recognizes violence as a valid reason for divorce.
Once you’ve filed the complaint, your partner will have the chance to answer it and any allegations made within. If there is still no agreement between the two parties, the case could go to trial. This is where any witnesses, verbal testimonies, and other evidence (photographs of injuries, written journal, etc.) you may have come into play. The court will consider such evidence when making a final verdict on the case.
Ultimately, divorce can be exhausting, tedious, and frustrating, but don’t give up. Gather strength from those who care about you and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. One of the hardest things in getting out of an abusive marriage is trying to do it alone. Be open with your loved ones and honest with yourself about what’s right for you. Remember, you have every right to protect yourself and leave an abusive partner.