Monday, October 09, 2006

How to Escape an Abusive Husband
There are many important things you should do if you are an abuse victim preparing to leave your spouse. These include: making copies of important records, papers, and bills; putting these records, some cash, and extra clothes in a safe place or a trusted friend’s house; and leaving when you must. If you can, start your own bank account. Get credit cards in your own name.
If the threat of physical violence is imminent escape with your children as soon as you can.
In such a situation, have an escape plan. Figure out what room in your house is most secure, and has a reasonable exit to the outside. Be prepared to give in to verbal demands in order to buy time. Once you have determined that the moment has come, go immediately. If you see a dangerous situation arising, do whatever you must (short of increasing the physical danger to yourself or your children) to create an opportunity for escape.
Once you are away from the home, go to the nearest shelter, or to the home of someone you trust. Also consider whether your spouse will follow, and if so, where he is likely to look.
Using the Legal System to Escape an Abuser
As I noted above, often a divorce action provokes an abuser. His violence may escalate. Protective or restraining orders can help, but they can also further infuriate the abusive spouse. Law enforcement can’t protect a victim or children around the clock. This is something you should discuss with your attorney.
Remember, when you ask for a protective or restraining order against your spouse, the judge will want as much evidence as possible. Document erratic behavior and any violent actions starting now. You can do this by writing everything down, or keeping a computer file, but be sure it is safe from discovery. Try to recall each detail. Ideally such records should be moved to wherever you are keeping your important papers in case of escape. One way to keep things written down, and retrievable from anywhere, is web based email, such as yahoo or hotmail, as long as you make sure the password is secure, and that you log off whenever you are finished. You can write things and save them as a draft, and there is no risk of losing the hard drive if you have to leave in a hurry. Call others as soon as possible after an incident, and have them keep a record of it. If you have bruises, show them to others, and ask them to make a written note of what they’ve seen. Keep the paperwork on hospital visits. If you have made any 911 calls, get the tapes of them. Your attorney will need as much evidence as possible.
If you are representing yourself in a motion for a restraining order, and you have such proof, let the evidence speak for itself. There is nothing wrong with expressing your fears, but do not say more than you have to against your spouse. If there are witnesses to violence, and/or solid physical evidence (cuts, bruises, broken items), these will be the most convincing factors. Most judges will be impressed more by a victim who simply states the need for protection and then presents compelling evidence. If you have a lawyer, but still have to testify, do so without anger. Present yourself as a victim of deranged behavior, and in need of a sane, sensible solution. Concentrate on the violence of the abuse, rather than on the abuser.
Judges seek to be referees in divorce disputes, not favoring either side. A judge will often resent being manipulated into issuing a restraining order early in the proceedings, especially if the victim later uses it as evidence in the divorce trial. Show that your concerns are only for the safety of yourself and those around you. Demonstrate that the order will be a useful tool in cooling things down and producing a just settlement.
Another issue that will concern a judge is the children. Judges are prone to try to sustain contact between parents and children. If your children are subject to abuse, then any protective or restraining order should apply to them. If the abuse is not aimed at them, and you intend to allow your spouse any contact with the children, discuss this with your lawyer. Often a restraining order can be limited in a way that is designed to defuse the anger of the abuser.
There are also other options to protective and restraining orders. In most states, a party in a divorce action can ask that a no-contact order be a condition of the divorce proceedings. However, these usually expire with the final decree.
The extent of abuse, and the potential for further abuse, should be the most important factors in any settlement. If there is an obvious threat of further abuse to a spouse and/or children, the contact should be limited or completely cut off. The safety of the victims must be the basis for settlement.
If the abuse is confined to the spouse, and isn’t sustained or life threatening, a judge will often arrange for visitation rights with the children. If this is the case, make sure all conditions are met to ensure your own safety when exchanging children for a visit. Judges sometimes draw up conditions for these exchanges that include third parties (trusted friends or family members), performing the exchange in a public place, or other security measures.
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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Deciding to Divorce

The most intense, heart-wrenching decision comes at the start: Should you get divorced? Much has led up to this question, including the notions of separation and divorce. Up to now they have only been thoughts and words, with no immediate consequences. Now that you realize the time to decide has come, you have to contemplate action. The focus on action clarifies the situation, but also makes it seem more difficult and scary.
Any number of scenarios might lead to the end of a marriage. Sometimes there’s no choice; it’s your spouse who crosses the line. Often an affair ends a marriage. Other times physical abuse occurs, and the marriage becomes dangerous and intolerable. Circumstances like these leave little choice in the matter. A divorce becomes the only acceptable step.
But many divorces arise out of situations that are far less cut-and-dried. You may find that your marriage has grown dull. You look at your mate and realize that all the physical attraction you felt is gone. Or maybe the emptiness is in a different area. You might feel restricted, and even suffocated in everything you do. Your soul mate is no longer your soul mate. Your lives have grown apart. In situations like these others may still see your marriage as ideal, but deep down you feel it is all pain and misery. This may be one-sided. One partner may think everything is fine, while the other only wants out. Or you may be gasping for breath, and not even knowing it. If you come to the realization that your marriage is failing, should you get a divorce?
Before you take any steps you should contemplate where they might lead. Divorce is a painful, difficult choice. Ending a marriage is almost never easy, even when both sides agree that they no longer love each other. When one spouse still has deep feeling and the other doesn’t, or when there is any sense of imbalance at all—whether it be emotional, financial, or professional—that can only make it worse. In most cases you are ending a long relationship. There was love here once, and intensity. You are considering cutting the cord with someone who was the most important person in your life.
The presence of children amplifies the problem. The younger the kids, the worse it can be. Most children cannot help but feel torn when parents separate.
Divorce is often a financial earthquake for both parties. The family home might be sold. Two households are set up, both having to accommodate the children. Unless both parties are rich, this will affect your family’s standard of living.
Whether the problem is mental, spiritual, or a combination of factors, divorce is a step you should examine carefully. If there is no physical abuse in the picture, you may want to go to couple’s counseling before making the final decision. Offer to go with your spouse to see a therapist. Put it in positive terms, and make it a wholehearted offer. If you don’t think of it this way, counseling will have little chance of having any value. Your spouse may say no, but you will have tried.
If there is abuse, either physical or mental, couple’s counseling is almost certainly not the right course. Spousal or child abuse should not be tolerated. If it happens you need to protect yourself. In such a case you should simply look for the quickest, safest way out. Appeal to friends and family or, if necessary, go to a shelter. Do whatever you must do to effectively separate yourself and your children from your spouse, then look for a lawyer.
Has your spouse cheated? For me this was the cause of my divorce. Some will be able to forgive their spouse and try to save the marriage. I was unable to accept my husband’s affair and he quickly changed into a different person, both emotionally and physically, leaving me no choice but to file for divorce.
I know from my own experience, and from observation of many divorces, that your road ahead is long, frustrating, and probably ugly. The best scenario would be that you and your spouse begin by meeting with a mediator to agree on a fair settlement. If this route is possible it will save both of you thousands in legal fees. If you feel that your spouse will agree to an amicable divorce, this is the way to go.

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