5 Ways to Stay Safe During a High-Conflict Divorce

When celebrities like Frances Bean Cobain or Amber Heard collect their belongings from homes they shared with an estranged spouse, the LAPD goes with them. According to Dallas family law attorney Alissa Castro, “If you feel threatened by your partner in any way, seeking the protection of law enforcement is one of several steps you can take to stay safe during a divorce or break up.”

Prior to coming to Connatser Family Law, Alissa worked at the Family Justice Division – Family Violence Section of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, so she is no stranger to divorce cases involving family violence.

We asked Alissa what advice she offers to clients when domestic violence or threats of violence have occurred. She recommends the following five steps:

No. 1: Call the police if you feel threatened or have been harmed.

According to Alissa, “It’s important to call law enforcement to help prevent domestic violence from escalating and so the police can record any acts of family violence. The family courts require evidence of family violence before issuing an emergency ex parte or protective order.” (Read more about collecting evidence below.)

Alissa recommends seeking a protective order whenever a history or pattern of family violence exists. However, if you don’t have adequate evidence to secure a protective order, a restraining order is your next best option.

As she explains, “When there isn’t a history of family violence, but there is a fear that a partner’s behavior may rise to the level of family violence, you can seek a restraining order. However, restraining orders don’t offer the same level of protection as protective orders (removing abuser from the residence, limiting access to firearms, etc.).”

Get more helpful tips in the past post: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave

No. 2: Collect evidence of family violence.

In order to improve your odds of getting an ex parte or protective order, you need to collect evidence of family violence to support your case.

“We ask clients to document any type of abuse, write notes in a journal, take photos of and seek medical attention for physical injuries. You could even make a recording on your phone. Just be careful to do so discreetly and save any evidence in a secure location,” Alissa says.

No. 3: Have a safety plan in place and prepare for the future now.

As Alissa explains, “If you want to exit an abusive relationship or marriage, start putting a long-term safety plan together right away. That way you’ll have the tools you need to survive once you’re ready to leave. You need to find a safe place to go – one place we recommend is Genesis Women’s Shelter – and money to help you get by.”

Since many abusers control the family finances, it can be difficult for some women to save money.

“In many cases, money is siphoned through the abuser. I encourage clients to be resourceful. For example, you could ask for cash back when paying for groceries. We also encourage clients to meet with a financial planner to get a handle on their finances and set goals for the future,” Alissa says.

The Genesis Women’s Shelter – available 24/7 at 214-946-HELP (4357) – offers some very helpful safety planning tips on its website. Learn how to stay safe during an explosive incident, when leaving a relationship, at home, on the job and in public places. You’ll even find a safety checklist to get you started. Visit the shelter’s safety planning page here.

No. 4: Only meet your ex in a public place and don’t go alone.

Meeting with an abusive ex is sometimes unavoidable, especially when shared custody of children is involved. Meeting in a highly visible location and with other parties present (there is strength in numbers) can help keep you safe.

According to Alissa, “We recommend clients do exchanges at public places, and if possible, agree to do the exchange in front of a police or fire station where public servants are present. You could even meet at a busy Starbucks, just bring a friend or family member along. You should also have a safety plan to rely on for any future interactions with your ex. Make sure to have your phone with you in case you need to dial 911 or to make a video of any threatening behavior.”

Again, you could ask for a police officer or sheriff’ to accompany you for added protection. “Protection provided by law enforcement is something that can be included in an ex parte or protection order,” says Alissa.

No. 5: Turn to your family law attorney for guidance and resources.

Family law attorneys regularly counsel clients who are trying to exit abusive relationships, so they can provide legal advice, support and resources, including:

  • Recommending experts such as family therapists and financial planners.
  • Suggesting resources for job training and finding employment.
  • Helping you find a safe place to stay. They regularly refer clients to local women’s shelters.
  • Filing legal documents to help keep you and your children safe (protective orders, restraining orders, complaints to Child Protective Services, etc.).
  • Helping you prepare for your divorce.

“Remember, you’re not alone. As family law attorneys, we also play a counseling role, so it’s OK to lean on us. We also know that the days leading up to and right after filing for divorce can be extremely dangerous for women in abusive relationships. Put your and your children’s safety first, then rely on your family law attorney to guide you the rest of the way,” Alissa says.

Reach Out for Help Today

If you need to escape an abusive and dangerous relationship, help is a phone call away. Either contact a domestic violence shelter near your, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also visit the NDVH website at http://www.thehotline.org/.

In addition, teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit www.loveisrespect.org.

Alissa Castro is an enthusiastic, young attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues. She has also donated her services to several charitable causes including the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project and Catholic Charities. To learn more about divorce and child custody options in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

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