Thursday, February 22, 2024

Divorce Guide: Steps to Enhance Personal Safety When Leaving an Abusive Spouse

Divorce is an exhausting life event to endure. The termination of a marriage leads to stressors that can take a massive toll on one’s financial, physical and mental health. As you begin to sort through the critical tasks ahead, your safety should be top of mind. 

“Safety is paramount,” Rachael Gardner, victim services director at the Toledo YWCA, said. “And for each individual, that can look different.” If you are in an unsafe marriage relationship, enduring emotional or physical abuse, here are some important safety steps to take:

Create a safety plan

Once you decide you want to end the relationship and take steps toward terminating your marriage, Gardner recommends making a detailed plan mapping out your next several moves — especially if you’re in an abusive marriage — along with gathering critical documents. 

“(Individuals) may need to decide whether they’re going to leave and move into a shelter, or they may decide they’re going to stay in the home, but they (then) may need to do lock changes or set up cameras, or consider a protective order,” Gardner said. “The paramount idea is really taking a look at the abuse pattern that’s been happening, and what are the things that a person may need to plan for, for safety.” Advocates at the YWCA are available to help craft a plan, including how to go through an address confidentiality program, if needed, at 888-341-7386.

Separate financial accounts

You definitely don’t want to be held accountable for debt that are not yours, especially the debts of someone you’re no longer on speaking terms with. A financial advisor or attorney can help you identify your debts and assets and then walk you through a separation without the need to make a rash decision at the apex of an emotional situation. It’s important to note that in Ohio, “marital property,” or everything (there are some limited exceptions) that the couple aquired during their marriage, is directed by law to be distributed equitably when finalizing the divorce. The same generally goes for separate bank accounts, if the deposited assets were earned during the marriage.

Talk to a lawyer about your options

Consulting with an attorney before litigation is instituted is advisable and crucial if you have children. “Protective orders can be contested and can establish some parental visitation,” Gardner explains. Respondents to a divorce lawsuit that has been filed can file to counter the claims and can disagree with having visitation with children subject to protective orders, requesting specific Court orders concerning pickups and dropoffs, she said. Attorneys with experience in this legal area can guide you through the best course of action and can help to establish orders from the Court to keep your, and your children’s, well-being intact.

Lean on your support system

Advocates and counselors can provide support in numerous ways, but you may also need comfort from more familiar voices. Assemble a group of loved ones you can trust and be honest by telling them the type of support you need — whether it’s help with legal fees or just their counsel and presence. Trusted friends and loved ones also often offer other perspectives on how to deal with these taxing moments. Gardner, and her staff at the YWCA, emphasize clearly: “We really advocate that whatever (each particular) person decides to do, they’re the one that’s most knowledgeable about their safety.”

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