Safety First: How To Leave Your Spouse When You're Afraid Of His Or Her Reaction

What do you do if you're in an unhappy marriage, but you're afraid of your spouse's reaction if you decide to get a divorce? The most dangerous time for someone who is leaving an abusive spouse is generally in the first two weeks after the separation. So, having a plan is essential. This is what you should do.

If You Are In Immediate Danger, Take Action Now

In general, if there's no custody order in place, you can leave and take your children with you if you're afraid for your safety. Contact a domestic violence shelter and get out.

Failing that, call the police. Never hesitate if your spouse is threatening violence - don't wait until the situation actually becomes physically violent.

You can also go to the court and request a temporary restraining order (TRO). In most jurisdictions, emergency procedures exist so that you can get court-ordered protection almost immediately. You have to explain to the judge why your spouse's behavior is making you afraid. For example, has he or she ever been violent in the past? Has he or she made threats, shoved you, or purchased a weapon and hinted at a willingness to use it if you leave?

In general, the standards for a temporary order are low, which means that you can usually get one fairly easily. Your spouse will have an opportunity to contest the order at a later hearing. In the meantime, you gain a little time to seek legal advice from experts like the Law Office of Shelli Wright Johnson. Plus, the judge can use the TRO to:

  • order your spouse to leave the home and give you and your children exclusive use of the property 
  • require your spouse to provide money for food, rent, and utilities 
  • grant you temporary child custody 
  • require your spouse to cease calling or following you

Prepare For Your Escape

If your spouse is controlling and you expect that there could be the potential for violence or some other coercive tactics on his or her part, prepare for your exit. This means:

  • knowing where you will go if you decide you need to leave 
  • making sure that you have access to money (cash is important - your spouse may cancel credit cards or empty bank accounts once you file for divorce) 
  • making sure that you have clothing and medication packed if you need to leave 
  • planning for the care of pets (if you can't take them with you) 
  • remove sentimental items, like photographs, from the house prior to leaving, so they don't get destroyed 
  • talk to a divorce attorney about your concerns prior to telling your spouse your intentions

Deliver the Bad News In A Public Place

If you're concerned about your spouse's reaction when you tell him or her that you want a divorce, do it in a public place. Pick a quiet coffee shop or restaurant. If you're able, have someone escort you to and from the meeting with your spouse so that you aren't left alone with him or her at any point. Intimidation is often a key element of abuse, and it's easier for someone to try to intimidate you when you're alone.

Your physical safety is more important than any other concern in your divorce. If you have any fear at all of violence on the part of your spouse, take all the steps that you can to prepare and protect yourself and any children that are involved. There will be time to handle all the other issues later.