Step 1: Plan where you and your children, if you have any, will live. If you are in a relationship where there’s been physical violence, you and your children’s safety should be your most important consideration, and will be a major determining factor in your plan. If you are a woman, find out if there is a battered women’s shelter you can use as a temporary place to stay.
Do not tell your spouse when you are going or where you have gone until you know you are safe — but do tell him so he doesn’t assume you have kidnapped the children and then try to take legal action against you. If you stay with friends or family, ask them not to disclose where you are until you have told your spouse.
Step 2: Set aside enough money to set yourself and the kids up in a new place, if possible. The more money you have, the more power you will have. Get a bank account and credit card in your own name that your spouse can’t access. This will require as much advance planning as possible.
You will have to consider rent (including moving-in costs), utilities, food, car or travel expenses and clothing at the bare minimum. You will also have to have enough money to retain an attorney as soon as possible.
Step 3: Consult an attorney before you leave, if possible, and follow his recommendations. Be honest about your situation and disclose the abuse. People in abusive relationships are often in denial about the seriousness of the situation and consciously or unconsciously defend their partners.
This is the time to shake off any denial and be emotionally honest with yourself. Ask your attorney if he believes a restraining order is appropriate and obtain it.
Step 4: Gather together your most important belongings–medications, documents, clothing, personal items, your children’s things and other personal things you don’t want to leave behind. Remember the title to your car, birth certificates, bank and credit card statements, unpaid bills, diplomas, and professional licenses. You may not be able to go back to your old house, so be thorough.
Step 5: Get a cell phone if you don’t have one. If you have a cell phone, get a separate account and change the number, or get a pre-paid phone. Ensure your spouse doesn’t get the number until things settle down and you and the children are safe.
Step 6: Get a post office box to minimize the chance of your mail getting lost, and your spouse getting your new address. File a forwarding address with the post office.
Step 7: Seek support through a group or individual counseling. Abusive relationships take their toll on self-esteem and can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Counseling or therapy can help you learn to take care of yourself and empower you to learn to have healthy relationships. This is as important for men as it is for women–abusive relationships aren’t exclusive to women.
Step 1: Make a plan to move out. If your relationship is not abusive, there will be fewer things to worry about, like getting a restraining order or seeking shelter in a public facility. You will need to budget how much money you will need for a new place to live, including moving costs, monthly living expenses, and attorney’s fees.
If you and your spouse agree that a divorce is the best option, your process will be much easier and you may be able to come up with a plan together. If you are not employed, or are only employed part-time, wait until you are more financially self-sufficient so you won’t have to rely entirely on your spouse for support.
Step 2: Inform your spouse that you are leaving. Have a discussion that will do as little emotional damage to everybody as possible. Be frank about your feelings by stating that you don’t feel the marriage can be saved. Take responsibility for your own feelings without laying blame on your spouse.
State that you want to be as cooperative as possible through the divorce process. Be firm about your decision and don’t allow yourself to be talked out of it. Have an overnight bag packed with enough things for a few days away in the event the discussion becomes heated, and until you can go back and pack everything you need for a permanent move-out. Leave with as much kindness as possible, and if you think you can stay friends with your spouse, say that.
Step 3: Consult an attorney as soon as you are certain that you want a divorce to determine where you stand legally. If there are children, custody and visitation rights will have to be arranged. If there are substantial assets, they will have to be divided according to state law, or according to any prenuptial agreement.
Divorce laws don’t always seem fair (for example, a husband may be required to pay spousal support even when a spouse refused to work during a marriage) so be aware of what kind of battle you will be up against. If leaving the marriage is your idea, your spouse will likely take it as a rejection and may react severely by using the law against you.
Step 4: Make a plan for your children. If you can, discuss with your spouse who the children will live with and how you will tell them. If not, discuss it with the children yourself. Be frank without giving them too many details, and let them know that it’s not their fault.
Tell them that mommy and daddy can’t be happy together anymore, that life will be better if they live separately, and don’t lay blame on anyone. Children often take responsibility for the breakup of their parents’ marriage. Reassure them that they are loved and that the divorce will be the best for them in the long run.
Step 5: Get emotional support by joining a divorce support group or going to counseling. Talk to people who’ve been through it so you know what to potentially expect, emotionally, mentally and financially. Also consider getting emotional support for your children, and keep communicating with them throughout the process to determine if there will need to be a therapeutic intervention. Some signs are changes in behavior, such as problems in school, fighting, or becoming withdrawn or angry.