Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States. More women are injured by domestic violence than by car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Anyone who is in an abusive relationship that is turning violent has one priority: Get out. Get to a place where you and your kids are safe. Most battered spouses are women, but if you are a man, the recommendations offered here will apply equally to you.
The point at which a woman decides to leave an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time in that relationship. If you are the abused spouse or partner, you will need to find shelter where that the abuser can’t locate you – at a battered women’s shelter or perhaps with an acquaintance that the abuser doesn’t know. Don’t go where he’s sure to look, like your best friend’s home or your parents’ house.
If you are able to plan your departure in advance, try to set aside some cash where it can’t be found. You might even consider stashing some extra clothes, important papers, and other items at a friend’s house – somewhere those items will not be found – in case you have to make a swift departure. Keep a note or record of every incident of abuse that you and/or your kids are subjected to; note the date, time, and precisely what happened. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also recommends that you:
- Keep a contact list of “safe” people.
- Memorize the telephone numbers of people you may need to call for help.
- Keep quarters for a pay phone, as you may be without a cell phone.
- Keep cash for living expenses as well.
- Establish a code word with family and friends so that you can tell them to call for help without alerting the abuser.
WHAT SHOULD YOU TAKE WHEN YOU LEAVE AN ABUSER?
You must also think about taking some documents with you. The right paperwork will be required if you choose to take legal action or apply for public benefits. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence recommends taking your credit cards and checkbook as well as taking:
- your Social Security card
- your birth certificate
- copies of insurance policies, deeds, and leases
- proof of income for yourself and your partner such as copies of W-2 forms or pay stubs
- anything that proves abuse, such as police reports, medical records, and photographs
If you have to leave your home quickly, immediately go to court for a protective order to keep the abuser away from you. If you have the ability, it’s best to hire an attorney at this time. In South Florida, an experienced Boca Raton family law attorney can help. If you have children, be sure the protective order specifically gives you custody. Otherwise, you could actually be suspected of kidnapping.
A restraining order is a court document that orders an abusive spouse or partner to refrain from specific behavior (such as touching you, contacting you, or coming near you), and it also orders the abusive spouse or partner to perform other actions (such as leaving your home and paying you temporary child support). You do not have to testify, and the abusive spouse or partner does not need to be present. If a restraining order is violated, the police may arrest and charge the abusive spouse or partner with violating the order.
HOW LONG ARE RESTRAINING ORDERS GOOD FOR?
When a restraining order is issued in Florida, a court hearing is scheduled within fifteen days. At that hearing, a judge will decide whether to give you a “final” restraining order. The final order is typically good for a year and may be modified or dissolved at that time or a later time. If you do not qualify for an injunction for protection against domestic violence, discuss your options with your attorney.
If you can’t immediately afford legal counsel, a number of free resources are available, particularly in Florida. There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States, and more than a few in South Florida. Shelter personnel are usually trained to help abuse victims fill out basic legal forms. You can request a restraining order in Florida without an attorney’s help if you cannot afford an attorney.
Whether you have to bolt unexpectedly or have time to plan, you must take some measures to stay safe as soon as you are out of the abuser’s reach. Change your cell phone number at once, and don’t answer it if you don’t know who’s calling. Be sure that your new phone number is unlisted and blocked. Also, consider renting a post office box or having mail sent to the address of a friend.
If the abuser tries to get in touch with you, keep a record of when, where, how, and what happened. If you obtained a restraining order – in Florida it’s called an “injunction for protection against domestic violence” – keep it on your person at all times. Call the police or your attorney at once if the terms of the order are violated. Additional suggestions from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence include:
- If you are staying in the home, change the locks. Do not stay by yourself.
- Frequently change your daily routine.
- Wherever you are or go, have a plan for getting away if the abuser confronts you.
- If you must meet with the abuser, meet publicly, and let people know where you are.
WHAT ABOUT ABUSERS WITH VISITATION RIGHTS?
If you share custody of your children with an abusive partner or spouse, arrange neutral pickup sites and have someone with you, or ask others to pick up and drop off your kids. If the abuser doesn’t have to know where you are staying, don’t divulge that information. If you have sole custody of your child or children but the abusive spouse or partner has visitation rights, you can ask the court for supervised visitation and other restrictions. If a restraining order is operative, or it’s not safe to be where your spouse or partner is, meet at a public place for visitation exchanges. The local police station is as good a choice as any.
Nothing is more important than your life and the lives of your children. Take the steps that you need to take to keep you and your child or children alive and safe. If you need more details about domestic violence and restraining orders in Florida, or if you need legal representation regarding any matter of family law, an experienced Boca Raton family law attorney may be able to help, but the first move is yours and yours alone.