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7 years ago I went through the grueling ordeal of divorcing my abusive ex-husband (you can read about my story here). This all after the trauma of him sexually assaulting me in my sleep. Divorce is difficult enough, but trying to divorce a manipulative, controlling partner isn’t an easy feat by any means. In an attempt to help prepare other women, I’ve come up with this guide for how to divorce an abuser.
What is Abuse?
The definition of abuse, according to the dictionary has 12 meanings (5 verbs, 6 nouns, 1 idiom, in that order below):
- to use wrongly or improperly; misuse.
- to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way.
- to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.
- to commit sexual assault upon.
- Obsolete. to deceive or mislead.
- wrong or improper use; misuse.
- harshly or coarsely insulting language.
- bad or improper treatment; maltreatment.
- a corrupt or improper practice or custom.
- rape or sexual assault.
- Obsolete. deception.
- abuse oneself, to masturbate.
My ex-husband fit all these descriptions. I could have probably saved a lot of time if I would’ve just read this definition when first trying to figure out if I was actually in an abusive relationship.
However, when we’re blinded by love (or what we think is love) we only want to see the good. So that’s all we look for.
If you’re brave enough to finally leave your abuser for good, I seriously applaud the crap out of you, because it’s not an easy thing to do. I wish I would have known then, what I know now. Which is why I’m writing this post.
I hope to educate other victims of abuse on what to expect when divorcing an abuser.
Make a Plan
Leaving your abuser can be the most dangerous time. This is when a lot of women get seriously injured or killed. I don’t say this to scare you, I say it to prepare you. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Making a plan to leave is crucial to ensure your own and your children’s safety after you leave an abusive relationship. I highly suggest you follow the steps I outline in the post How You Can Get Out of Abuse.
You should also stock up on self-defense items like these items my good friend Alison sells on her website.
Going through the legal system with anything can be super stressful and mentally draining. It’s a good idea to stay in therapy while going this process as it can take a long and difficult time.
If you don’t have a therapist, I highly suggest you get one, asap! BetterHelp is an excellent and affordable resource you can use. You can also look at any counseling services your local women’s shelter may provide. I used the services of my local center and they were absolutely awesome. Just make sure the therapist you choose is trained in domestic violence situations.
I will warn you, this whole process isn’t easy. Expect your abuser to lie in court, expect them to charm the pants of the judge, expect the system doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to. It’s up to you to take care of yourself and your children through this process because it’s going to be a rough and rocky road.
But it will be so totally worth it!
Document, Document, Document
The best piece of advice I ever got about going through a divorce was to document everything. So about 6 months before filing the papers, I made sure I journaled everything. I wrote down every single fight, every little silent treatment session, every punch in the wall, every threat and every attempt to force me to stay. When you journal these things you will want to make sure you put down times and dates of each incident.
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Sign up now to get a free checklist of things to document in your abusive relationship.
You may not always have physical proof of the abuse, but if you do, keep it safe. Have a close friend hold on to pictures for you and make sure they have copies of any documentation you have. These could be pictures of bruises, description of fights, police reports, hospital reports, eyewitness statements, or anything relevant to proving your side of the story.
Finding an Attorney
Probably my biggest mistake was not hiring an attorney right away to handle all of this legal stuff. I blindly believed that my judicial system wouldn’t fail me and thought they would provide justice in my situation especially since I detailed the sexual assault at the very end of our relationship.
I actually had several years of experience working with law firms. Knowing how to format and word legal documents, I did them all myself through my state’s local “file-a-divorce-yourself” website.
Not that my documentation wasn’t good, but when it came to going in front of the judge, I froze. I was completely intimidated and did not know how to handle that situation.
So believe me when I say, find any means necessary to hire a good attorney for your situation. You definitely want a professional going to bat for you in the courtroom.
There are a ton of resources that can help you find and pay for an attorney if your situation needs and you may be able to find an attorney that works pro bono. Be careful with this tho, I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for.
Ask around for referrals of highly recommended attorney’s that specialize in domestic violence cases. Your local abuse shelter will probably know of several really contacts.
You will want someone who is not only experienced in your situation but who has a passion for making sure that victims get justice and safety.
Filing a Protective Order
This is where all that documentation will come in handy. Most states require quite a bit of documentation and evidence to file a protective order against someone.
Reach out to your local shelter, they may have someone who can help you file a protective order if you do not have an attorney that can do that for you in an ideal time frame.
By the way, if you file a protective order make sure you stick to it and report all violations immediately. It is there for your protection, as well as possibly your children’s.
Preparing for Court
I honestly don’t think any amount of preparation is ever enough for going to court. But you definitely don’t want to go to court unprepared. Here are several ways that you can prepare for court and facing your ex.
- Meet with your attorney. They will go over everything to expect as well as how to answer questions.
- Read over all documentation the day before.
- Dress like you’re going to a job interview.
- Take the day before, the day of and the day after off from work if you can (trust me on this one).
- After court, take time to recover. Going to court can be a traumatic experience because you may have to face your ex. Treat yourself with grace, care and a lot of self-love.
Set up a solid support system to help you through this time. Connect with a close friend and ask that she take some time with you before and after any mental tiring events, like court hearings.
There are also a lot of really great private Facebook groups out there meant to support women from abusive situations. One of the best ones is the Obtaining Bliss Facebook Group. Come join an amazing group of women only who are fierce Wonder Women in supporting each other.
Going through a divorce is probably one of the toughest things to go through. It’s a huge process and there will be days where things will be awesome because you’re finally free of the abuse. And there will be days where you’ll eat way too much food, snap at an unsuspecting waitress who brought you soda instead of ice tea and drown in boxed wine while you cuddle your cat and cry at car commercials.
The point is if you prepare, have a good support system and take care of yourself, you’ll survive a divorce from an abuser.
Are you going through a divorce from an abuser? Let us know in the comments what has helped you in your journey to be free from abuse?