Every year, millions of women, men, and children suffer due to domestic violence.  Violence in the home occurs at least once in two-thirds of all marriages and approximately 95% of the victims are women.  Almost 40% of physically abused children also witness physical violence between their parents.  The statistics are staggering, and those numbers only account for violence that is reported.  Unfortunately, many victims either can’t or won’t report when they are abused.  Children who grow up in an abusive home are likely to become victims as adults or even become victimizers themselves.  The only way to stop the cycle is to end it.  Here are a few ways to deal with leaving an abusive relationship.

Take Action

It can be scary and overwhelming to think about going through the legal system to deal with domestic violence.  But even more traumatic is the very real threat from the abuser.  If not brought forward, the abuser will continue to harm the victim, which could even lead to death.  If you are in an abusive situation, do what you can to get to a safe place.  If you are able, contact the domestic violence relief agency in your county and they can give you advice and information on a safe shelter for you to go.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  If you fear for your immediate safety, leave.  If you have children, you may take them with you unless there is a court order directing otherwise.  However, if you are able, calling an attorney before you leave may be advantageous to your situation.  An attorney can advise you regarding how leaving may affect your alimony situation.  If you leave and the court doesn’t think it was with good reason, you may not be able to return to the house until a court divides the property.  The process can take a long time and you may lose possession of the home.  So if at all possible, and only as long as you can safely do so, stay in the house until after you have talked to an attorney.  Of course, if your spouse is violent, sometimes leaving is the only option to keep yourself and your children safe.

The Domestic Violence Act

The Domestic Violence Act was enacted in 1979 and is also referred to as Chapter 50B.  It protects men, women, and children as well as provides a fast way to separate a spouse from his or her abuser.  The Act defines domestic violence as an attempt to cause or intentionally causing bodily injury, and placing a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury by threat of force.  The Act protects currently married spouses, former spouses, and people in a dating relationship.

What Can the Act Do?

Whether you file a restraining order or some other type of court order, the Act allows judges to approve many protections for you including: giving you possession of the home and excluding the other party from the household, evicting your spouse and assisting you in returning to the home, requiring your spouse to provide alternative housing, ordering support payments for you and/or your children, determining possession of personal property, granting temporary child custody and issuing orders to refrain from violence or harassment.  Additionally, there is a “catchall” provision, which allows the court to grant any protective order or approve any consent agreement to bring about a cessation of acts of domestic violence.

What Can the Act NOT Do?

A protective order is only good if you follow through.  Copies of the order must be issued to each party as well as to law enforcement in the county where you live.  You (or your attorney) are responsible for making sure this gets done.

Always keep in mind that protective orders expire after a certain amount of time, not to exceed a year.  While there is no exception to the expiration, you can request a renewal for up to another year.

Criminal and Civil Action

There are several crimes an abuser can be charged with depending on the attack.  Some examples of criminal charges they may face are rape, sexual offense, assault, domestic criminal trespass, communicating threats, stalking or harassing phone calls.  If your situation involves any of the above-mentioned abuses, call police as soon as possible.

You can also use the civil court for help against your abuser.  Sometimes it is possible to get a court order without notice, so that you can keep possession of your home or car and obtain temporary custody of your children.  It is also possible that a civil court will provide a temporary restraining order to protect you and your children.  A violation of that order will lead to jail time for your spouse.

You may need to seek both criminal and civil remedies to protect yourself and your children.  If you file a domestic violence complaint, make sure it is complete.  List all facts related to the attack, not just the result.  Be as specific as you can so the court has a clear understanding of the abuse you have suffered.

Do-It-Yourself

The Clerk of Court has fill in the blank forms you can use to file your complaint if you don’t want to use an attorney.  However, be careful not to use these forms if custody, child support or alimony are at issue.  If you have any questions, you should contact an attorney for help.

Find support

It may be a hard and scary process, but the legal system is here to help you handle ending an abusive relationship.  Sometimes it may be your only way out.  But remember, there is hope.  While it may be difficult going through the legal channels, the alternative to struggling through the legal system procedures could be continued abuse or even death.  Try finding emotional support from healthcare providers such as psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers or other counselors.  Support is also available from friends and family.  If you need further assistance, please reach out to us and we will try to facilitate finding the help you need.