It is difficult making the decision to leave a husband, wife or partner. People often think that the decision to separate is easy if you are leaving an abusive partner as ending the relationship is the ‘obvious’ thing to do. As a Cheshire divorce solicitor witnessing and helping those involved in abusive relationships, I know that it is no easier to leave an abusive partner than it is to leave a caring and kind partner that you have drifted apart from. Any separation or divorce is a painful process but it can be particularly difficult when you are leaving an abusive partner. That’s why it helps if your divorce solicitor has experience of helping others separate from abusive partners.
How do you leave an abusive partner?
You may think the answer to the question ‘how do you leave an abusive partner?’ is obvious – you just get up and leave. However Cheshire divorce solicitors who work with people in abusive relationships know that it isn’t as easy as that.
If you are in an abusive relationship it is particularly important to plan your departure to make sure you and your children are safe. Here are our tips on leaving an abusive partner:
- Get help and support – the support can be from friends, family, your doctor or counsellor, the police, domestic violence agency or other source. Without help you might be tempted to think that your partner has changed and that it is safe to go back or want to go back to the property on your own to pick up extra possessions or to meet your partner to hand the children over for contact;
- Have an escape plan – if you are leaving a partner it is normal to discuss why the relationship hasn’t worked out and why you are either leaving or want them to go. If you are leaving an abusive partner it may not be safe to have that discussion and you may therefore either need to leave without telling them about your plans or where you are going. You may not have to leave the family home if you can get injunction orders to protect you;
- Be practical – most people with abusive personalities are wily characters. If you are making phone calls or using the internet or you or the children are posting things on Facebook, think about whether your abusive partner will be able to trace you from those activities. If you are planning on leaving think what you will need to take with you so you don’t have to return to collect essential items. If the children are in school make sure teachers know why you may need to collect the children early or arrange for someone else to do so;
- Protect yourself – if you are at immediate risk then don’t follow any escape plan but get immediate help from the police. If you are not at immediate risk but are worried about your safety then speak to a Cheshire divorce solicitor about getting emergency injunction orders (called non-molestation and occupation orders) or children orders (called child arrangements orders or prohibited steps orders) to safeguard your children if you are concerned about the risk of child abduction;
- Take legal advice – ideally you should take legal advice before you leave an abusive partner so that you know where you stand legally and whether, for example, you can make them leave the family home , if you can change the locks or stop contact or get interim financial support;
- Be strong – you probably think that you are not strong enough to leave or to withstand the pressure from your partner to return or their attempts to find you and exact revenge because you left. An honest Cheshire divorce solicitor will tell you that leaving isn’t the easy option and that you therefore need to be strong to get through leaving an abusive partner and to make sure you have the help and support you need to get through it.
Is my partner abusive?
You may think that the question ‘Is my partner abusive?’ should have a straight forward answer. However, Cheshire divorce solicitors will tell you that it isn’t uncommon for those leaving abusive relationships to not recognise their partner’s behaviour as abuse. That can be for a variety of reasons such as:
- They understandably don’t want to be seen as a victim of abuse and so minimise their partner’s behaviour;
- They have a very narrow view of what amounts to abusive behaviour because they don’t see psychological abuse or coercive and controlling behaviour as abusive;
- They have been coached into thinking that their partner’s behaviour is normal or that it only occurs because of their unreasonable demands;
- Their partner isn’t abusive to the children so it must be their behaviour that is at fault and not that of their partner.
Most Cheshire divorce solicitors understand why the abuse isn’t recognised as abuse during the relationship and therefore why it is so hard to recognise the behaviour as abuse when you are separating. After all, if you have been told repeatedly that it is you that is ‘mental’ or the one with the ‘problem’, it is all too easy to get sucked into believing that the abuse is only because your partner cares about you.
The definition of what amounts to abuse in a relationship is very wide. Nowadays courts and divorce lawyers recognise that abuse in a relationship isn’t limited to physical assaults but includes:
- Verbal and emotional abuse, such as belittling you or telling you that you are mentally unwell or not a fit parent;
- Financial control, such as withholding money from you so you are reliant on your partner;
- Intimidation and mind games, such as telling you that they will kill themselves or leave their job so you will end up with nothing but guilt if you leave;
- Exercising coercion and control, such as not letting you see your family or being unwilling to let you go out to work or to have a bank account in your own name.
There are numerous examples of what amounts to abusive behaviour in a relationship. Sometimes it takes talking to a friend, counsellor or a Cheshire divorce solicitor about your relationship to recognise the behaviour for what it is and to start to acknowledge the physical and emotional impact of your partner’s abusive behaviour on you.
Leaving an abusive partner
If you are contemplating leaving an abusive partner the number one priority is to make sure that you are safe and are empowered to do so. It is stressful leaving any relationship but if your partner is abusive the physical departure can be a dangerous trigger point unless handled carefully. Just as importantly, if you have been in an abusive relationship for a long time it can be easy to succumb to promises of change or being told that you can’t leave because you won’t be able to take the children with you or you won’t get a penny.
It can feel as if there is no escape from an abusive partner but that isn’t the case. With the right emotional and legal support you can leave an abusive partner safely and rebuild your life.
Getting help with an abusive partner
When you live with an abusive partner it is hard to reach out and ask for help. That can be down to feelings of embarrassment or because you love your partner and want to stay in the relationship but just want the abuse to stop. Cheshire divorce solicitors find it is often the case that those in abusive relationships are too frightened to speak out and ask for help as they fear what will happen if they do. That is totally understandable as the last thing that you or they want is for your situation to be any worse than it is.
One thing that a solicitor can promise you is that if you seek help from them then what you say is totally confidential. The fact that you have taken advice from a solicitor and the advice information given won’t be disclosed to anyone, unless you give your permission to do so.
If you are worried about seeing a divorce solicitor then you are welcome to come to a meeting to discuss leaving an abusive partner with a friend or member of your family. They can help give you the courage to leave, but remember that whilst friends and family can offer emotional and practical support, the decision to leave has to come from you.
If you don’t have friends or family to support you (or would be worried about things getting back to your partner) there are many supportive organisations and charities who are there to help with information and advice as well as individuals , such as your GP or a counsellor , who can support you in your decision to leave your abusive partner.
Divorcing an abusive partner
If your husband or wife is an abusive partner then a Cheshire divorce solicitor will tell you that you will have the grounds to start divorce proceedings on the basis of unreasonable behaviour. Allegations of unreasonable behaviour don’t have to include physical violence but can also include behaviour such as:
- Belittling you in front of your family; or
- Not being willing to let you see your friends; or
- Criticising your actions and telling you that you are stupid.
If you are dealing with an abusive husband or wife you will need a Cheshire divorce solicitor who can stand up to your partner, make sure that you and your children get the legal protection you need , but who will also ensure that your voice is heard and help you make your own decisions about what you want.
Children and leaving an abusive partner
It isn’t unusual for Cheshire divorce solicitors to be told that someone has stayed in an abusive relationship for years ‘for the sake of the children’. That can be down to a whole variety of factors, such as:
- Your abusive partner has told you that they will get custody of the children and they won’t let you see the children because they will turn the children against you;
- You think that you would have to leave the family home and you are worried that this will affect the children ;
- The children love their other parent and you don’t want them to grow up in a single parent family;
- The timing to separate isn’t right because of a child’s exams or the start of primary or secondary school.
Cheshire divorce solicitors will tell you that all the research into children and separation and divorce shows that:
- Children are remarkably resilient;
- More often than not children know when there is something wrong with their parent’s relationship. Although the children may not have seen any domestic violence or physical assaults, because you have protected them, they can still pick up on the vibe in the household and be emotionally affected by it;
- Children prefer to live in two households rather than have their parents living together but in an abusive relationship with a toxic atmosphere.
It is natural to feel very anxious about childcare arrangements if you are planning to leave an abusive partner. The first priority is to ensure that you and the children are safe from any domestic violence (or the children witnessing it) so injunction applications can be made to safeguard you and the children. In addition you can apply for a child arrangements order. In an emergency a child arrangements order can be made quickly to protect the children. A child arrangements order can:
- Say the children should live with you – on a short term or long term basis;
- Set out if the children should see your partner, and if so, whether the contact visits should take place in a supervised setting (for example at a contact centre or in the presence of a member of your family or a trusted friend) and spell out the safe handover and collection arrangements.
If you and your abusive partner have to go to court to sort out the child care arrangements it is important that:
- Your husband or wife’s abusive behaviour and its impact on you and the children is explained by your solicitor as part of the court process; and
- The court looks at whether a finding of fact hearing is needed to decide on the domestic abuse allegations before it makes orders under the Children Act.
If a finding of abuse is made then the court should only make a child arrangements order and contact with the abusive parent if the court believes that the physical and emotional safety of you and your children can be protected before, during and after the contact.
Many divorcing partners are adamant that they want their children to see their other parent, notwithstanding the fact that there has been abuse within the relationship. That is because they want their children to have a relationship with both parents. If you are satisfied that the children will be safe during contact then it is then essential to ensure that you are also safe during the handover of the children for contact. For example, you may not want your abusive partner coming to the house to collect the children but would prefer a neutral handover where there is less chance that your partner will ‘kick off’ or say anything that will upset the children.
A specialist Cheshire divorce solicitor can either represent you in court proceedings for a child arrangements order so that your children live with you, or to stop or limit contact or can help you negotiate the parenting arrangements on a short term and long term basis.
You might also be interested in
Leaving an abusive partner and getting a financial settlement
It is natural to worry that even if you are safely able to leave an abusive partner that they will make sure that you ‘end up with nothing’. Cheshire divorce solicitors are experts in making sure that not only are you protected from an abusive partner but that you also receive a fair financial settlement and that you are not bullied or coerced into accepting less than you need or are entitled to.
Divorce solicitors can either negotiate with your ex-partner or start financial court proceedings . Whether you negotiate or start court proceedings the important thing is that you have a solicitor on your side making sure you have the information and financial disclosure orders necessary to make financial decisions and that any financial settlement is reality tested to make sure that the financial court order meets your needs and is capable of enforcement if your partner remains difficult and uncooperative.
Abusive partners tend to be bullies and don’t want or like anyone standing up to them. Courts don’t like bullies so whether you are being physically assaulted, emotionally abused or financially controlled there is help available from Cheshire divorce solicitors and the family court, for example help to:
- Physically protect you – through the making of non-molestation and occupation injunction orders;
- Financially protect you – through the making of child support, spousal maintenance , property and pension orders and orders to enforce compliance if your abusive partner won’t comply with court orders;
- Protect the family – through child arrangements orders to ensure your children are safe.
Evolve Family Law solicitors are approachable and friendly. We provide the expert divorce, children and financial settlement advice that you need when you are separating from an abusive partner and need someone on your side. Contact us today and let us help you.