How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids

As a follow up to her recent post, Little Victims Face Big Horrors Due to Family Violence, Connatser Family Law attorney Abby Gregory shares helpful advice for women who want to remove themselves and their children from family violence.

In her role as chair of the Dallas County Intimate Partner Fatality Review Committee, Jan Langbein (CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support) discovered a startling statistic. In a span of three years, only three women whose deaths the Committee reviewed had ever reached out for help.

Two had expired protective orders, and one had applied for a protective order before she was murdered. The rest of the victims didn’t reach out for help from the police, the court system, a shelter hotline or other Dallas family violence services organizations.

Jan was shocked. As she explains, “I realized many women don’t realize there are resources available to them, which is why raising awareness about domestic violence is so important. Where there is intersection, the woman doesn’t die. Those are the women we can help.”

As a Dallas family law attorney, there are several steps I recommend when I speak with women who are dealing with family violence. No. 1 won’t surprise you.

1. Reach out for help!

Women are most at risk when they don’t reach out for help. Call the police if you feel threatened or have been harmed. In addition, several organizations and shelters are available 24/7 to listen and provide guidance, such as:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH). Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit the NDVH website at thehotline.org.
  • National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. Call 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit loveisrespect.org.
  • Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas. Call 214-946-4357 or visit genesisshelter.org.
  • The Family Place shelter in Dallas. Call 214-941-1991 or visit familyplace.org.

As noted earlier, removing yourself and your children from a violent environment and into a shelter is an important and potentially life-saving first step.

2. Put a safety plan in place.

If you want to exit an abusive household, creating a safety plan for yourself and your kids can help ease the process. A safety plan may include stashing away some money, clothes, a phone, extra car keys, passports, I.D.s and other important paperwork in a safe place outside the home.

You can learn more about safety planning on the Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support website.

3. Collect evidence of family violence.

Keeping a record of family violence toward yourself and your children is key if you want to take legal action. You need to prove to the judge that family violence occurred in order to get an order of protection (See No. 5). I recommend:

  • Calling the police whenever you are fearful of the abuser or have been harmed.
  • Take photos of injuries and property damage related to assaults.
  • If it’s safe to do so, videotape any episodes of anger or violence toward yourself and/or the kids. Evidence of physical and verbal threats can be very powerful to a judge.
  • Save all text messages, voicemails and emails from the abuser. Print out any possible evidence and store it in a safe place.
  • Keep a journal and carefully note any incidents of aggression or violence.

4. Speak with a family law attorney experienced with family violence cases.

At Connatser Family Law, we are familiar with the nuances that intersect between domestic violence and Texas family law. We know what abusers do to skirt the law and tactics they use to keep battered women under their control.

Genesis Women’s Shelter also has an excellent attorney on staff, Sara Barnett, to help women navigate legal issues pertaining to family violence.

5. Get a protective order.

In Texas, you can request a protective order against an abuser if an act of by a family member or member of the household was intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury or sexual assault, or there is a threat that reasonably places you (or your children) in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or sexual assault.

Initial emergency protective orders are only valid for 20 days then expire in operation of law. Before those 20 days expire, there will be a hearing where a judge listens to evidence, and the accused abuser has the right to challenge you and provide evidence to the court denying or controverting the allegations.

If the judge finds that family violence has occurred and that family violence is likely to occur in the future, he or she can issue a protective order which prohibits the abuser from having any contact whatsoever with the victim and any other member of her household for two years.

However, it is important to advocate to have your children listed as protected persons in the protective order if there was any family violence committed toward them; otherwise, the abuser may have joint legal rights and unsupervised possession of your children.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help

As noted above, battered women who don’t reach out to the police, the court system or a family violence support organization are at an increased risk for violence and even death. To protect yourself and your children, reach out for help today.

Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas attorney with a substantial record in litigation, collaboration and Texas family law. A graduate of Fordham University College of Law, Abby committed herself to community service during her tenure at Fordham and received the Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award, summa cum laude, based on her extensive pro bono and community work for Lawyers for Children, the Innocence Project and others.