Create an escape plan first before leaving an abusive marriage

Abusive spouses often make it difficult to leave a relationship. It is important to create an escape plan before seeking a divorce from an abuser.

Domestic violence is a problem that affects millions of people in Virginia and across the United States. It may be difficult to get a divorce from a person who is abusive, but there are resources and organizations that may be able to help.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, violence against an intimate partner makes up about 15 percent of all violent crimes in the country. It is estimated that one out of every three women will experience abuse at the hands of her partner at some point during her lifetime. Over 10 million people every year become victims of domestic violence. Those who are planning on ending a marriage in which abuse was a factor will need to formulate their escape carefully.

Why is an escape plan important? Abusers usually go to great lengths to prevent their partners from leaving. Abuse does not always involve physical violence, but a non-violent, abusive relationship can escalate to physical harm without warning. Abusers often use emotional manipulation, threats and insults to wear down their victims and keep them under their control.

Creating an escape plan

According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, an effective escape plan may include the following:

• Letting a trusted family member or friend know about the abuse, if they do not know already, and enlisting their help

• Gathering emergency money, documents, clothing and other personal items and storing them somewhere safe that the abuser is not aware of

• Learning the addresses and phone numbers of law enforcement offices and domestic violence shelters

• Taking pictures of physical injuries and keeping a journal of the abuser's behavior

• Alerting law enforcement of the abuse and plans to leave

This last part may be particularly important for those who might fear for their safety upon leaving. Protection from abuse or from stalking is important during this time. Victims may seek a protective order, which is a legal document granted by the court that restricts an abuser from contacting victims or approaching them. The abuser will not be allowed to call, email or contact victims on social media. Likewise, the victims' home, school and place of employment will be off limits. Violating the terms of a protective order can result in criminal charges.

You have a challenge ahead of you if you are ready to leave an abusive spouse. However, an experienced Virginia family law attorney may be a valuable ally during this time. An attorney should know about other resources for you to contact, including domestic violence counselors, and can help you obtain a protective order. Additionally, a lawyer may advise you of the legal steps you might take to free yourself from abuse.