Staying safe during your divorce

Your intuition is that little nagging voice in the back of your mind that helps you sense danger.  Sometimes, it’s innocuous and unnecessary, like when it reminds you to check, for the millionth time, to see whether your hair straightener is actually turned off before you leave for work.  Other times, it drives you to turn the car back around just to triple check that your front door is locked.

Even if we don’t always trust in the unbiased nature of these feelings, our intuition is designed to help protect us from danger, or alert us to situations that don’t feel quite right.  Even if you feel silly listening to your intuition sometimes, it’s probably for the best.

Divorce can bring up a number of conflicting, competing, and contradictory emotions, and it’s difficult to know exactly how your soon to be ex husband will react, especially if something unexpected happens.  If your marriage has, at any point, been either physically or verbally abusive, you should plan to be on high alert.

I don’t say this to alarm you.  Really, in most situations, even in situations where there has been some domestic violence or abusive behavior, things start up contentiously, but they simmer down over time.  The resulting divorce is generally relatively amicable, and the two people can go on their own separate ways.

I only say this to make sure that you listen—really listen—to your intuition.  If something doesn’t seem quite right, or you’re afraid that he might react inappropriately to some news or development, you should take care to guard your safety and, of course, the safety of your children.  Part of that care is building out a safety plan, so that you’re prepared to handle whatever might come up.  There are a couple small things you can do to help protect yourself (and your peace of mind), so that nothing surprises you and places you or your children in an unnecessarily dangerous situation.

So, what should I do to make sure that my kids and I are safe during the divorce process?

Like with a lot of other things, the best defense is a good offense.  So, if you’re headed towards divorce and you have some safety concerns, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for what you’ll do if trouble comes calling.  It’s never a bad idea to have packed bags in the trunk of your car, or even stashed away at a friend’s house.  A little extra money in cash (again, somewhere safe, where he can’t find it) can also be incredibly helpful if you find yourself in a tight spot unpredictably.  It’s good to have a spare car or house key hidden somewhere so that you can find it (and he can’t) if you need to make a speedy getaway.

1.    Have a safe place to go.

If you and your soon to be ex husband are living together, or if you’re living separately but he knows the address, you may want to avoid your residence if you feel like you might not be safe there.  If he’s behaving erratically, or if you’ve heard information from friends, family, or coworkers that makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to your intuition.

You may want to go stay somewhere else overnight, or even a little bit longer.  If you don’t have any family in the area, stay with a friend, or even get a hotel room for a night or two.

It’s best (obviously) if you don’t tell him where you’re going.  If you’re afraid of being followed, take a different route.  Alert your friend or family member, if you’re staying with someone, and ask them to keep an eye out.  If you’re staying at a hotel, alert the front desk.

It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes, a toothbrush, some money, and a spare cell phone charger somewhere safe, so you can get to it quickly if something happens that makes you nervous.  Keep some things in the trunk of your car, or at a friend’s house so you can grab them and go (or so that they’re already there for you if you need a place to stay the night).

2.    Know the procedure to get an emergency protective order in place.

If you’re in danger, you need protection fast.  In Virginia, you can get an emergency protective order (EPO) issued for 72 hours by going to the circuit court or local magistrate’s office.  It’s not a bad idea to scope out these locations and get an idea of where you would need to go, ahead of time, just in case.  It’s also not a bad idea to go ahead and program these locations into your GPS, so that you don’t have to think—you can just get in your car, plug in your location, and drive.

An emergency protective order prohibits the acts of abuse that could result in injury to your, restricts contact between you and the abuser, and can also be used to grant you sole possession of the premises, if the two of you are still living together.

After the emergency protective order expires, you can ask for an extension.  A preliminary protective order lasts for 15 days.  You request it from the juvenile court by filing a petition, and you have to show that you were a victim of domestic abuse.  It’s an ex parte proceeding, which means that your soon to be ex husband will not be present.

After the fifteen days lapses, you can request a permanent protective order.  Once you get a preliminary protective order, your hearing will automatically be scheduled for your permanent protective order.  At this point, your husband will be notified and allowed to take part, so it’s no longer ex parte.  You’ll both have to present your case in front of the court, and the court will expect you to put on evidence sufficient to prove that family abuse occurred, and the judge will decide whether a permanent protective order can be issued.

A permanent protective order lasts up to two years, and can be renewed. For more information about protective orders, or to hire one of our experienced divorce and custody attorneys to help, please give our office a call at (757) 785-9761.

3.    Let your child’s teachers and day care workers know about the situation, and ask them to alert you if anything unusual happens.

If you have children, they are probably your primary concern, especially if you’re already feeling a little unsafe.

Obviously, if you’re facing a divorce or custody case, you want to keep your children safe, but without crossing a line that would ultimately damage your case.  You should talk to an attorney right away if you have questions about your specific situation and what might be appropriate, but, in general, it’s a bad idea to take drastic measures like, for example, taking your children away from their father for an extended period of time.

Still, if you’re afraid that he’s going to do something drastic, you should, at the very least, inform your child’s school or daycare about what’s going on at home.  You can’t prevent your child from leaving school or day care with her father (at least, not without a court order), but you can ask that you be kept informed about what’s going on.  Make sure they have your contact information and ask that they let you know if something that seems fishy is going on.

Most importantly, you should make sure that you’re aware of what’s going on, and how your husband is reacting to the news.  Certain points in the process, like the date that your husband is served with the divorce papers, are typically a little more contentious than others, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re kept abreast of whatever is going on in your case so that you can be prepared ahead of time for any extreme changes in his mood of behavior patterns.

If you’re in real danger, you should contact a local battered woman’s shelter.  In a lot of cases, they can provide invaluable assistance to you.  Even if you don’t need to stay in the shelter, they can offer great advice about what to do in your particular situation and can help in ways you might not even imagine.

As always, if you’re looking for help from a group of licensed, experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys representing women only, give our office a call at (757) 785-9761.

Good luck!

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