Here’s the short version:
For those of you trying to extricate yourself from an abusive marriage or a co-parenting situation, try to find a good attorney as soon as you can. Ask around town for recommendations. Be advised that lawyers will perform a conflict check, which means they will ask for your name and your spouse’s name to make sure there are no conflicts of interest.
What follows is a list of things to consider as you make a plan to escape. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you organize and prioritize.
- Allies: Make a list of people you know you can trust. If you have friends, family, or neighbors who can help you, make contact as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Time frame: If you have the luxury of time, consider carefully when you might leave. If possible, plan far enough ahead so you will be able to make all necessary arrangements. If not, take care of the high-priority items on this list and be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice.
- What to pack: This will vary greatly depending on your circumstances (see “Assess your situation” post). The very first thing you should do is prepare a “go-bag” containing the fewest number of necessary items. It’s best if you can hide it somewhere away from home. That way you can retrieve it should you be forced to leave in a hurry.
- Diversion: Again, your personal situation will dictate the manner of your departure. Even if your AP is not prone to violent outbursts, I think the best time to leave is when she is not around.
- Kids: Unfortunately, for many of you this is a terrible reality to consider. You must decide what is best for your kids. If you are worried at all about their physical safety, don’t be afraid to take them with you. As unpleasant as the thought may be, the stories you see about women drowning their kids in the bathtub (or men shooting their wife and kids) don’t come out of nowhere.
NOTE: Telling an AP that you are leaving or planning to leave is a bad idea. Do NOT give her the opportunity to talk you out of it. If you have reached this point, if you are secretly planning an escape, the last thing you want to do is give her a foothold. She will play on your guilt, your sensitivity, your fear, whatever weapon she can use. Once you have a plan in place, commit to it. It’s going to hurt in ways you can’t even imagine, but your mental and physical health are worth protecting.
Keep reading for more detailed explanations.
Don’t just think about the emotional side of things; be pragmatic.
- Financial support: think about family or friends who can help you pay for things like transportation, housing, food, etc.
- Safety: you may need to find a place to stay that your AP doesn’t know about. When you leave, you do not want her tracking you down. A distant relative or a former coworker might be options. Anyone whose address your AP wouldn’t know or think to look up.
- Trust: figure out who you can trust. Avoid her family, friends, coworkers, etc. Also good to avoid mutual friends if possible. No matter what, keep the number of people who know about your plan to a minimum. Obviously, posting anything on social media is a bad idea.
- Transportation: if you need a ride or someone to haul your things for you, make those arrangements as soon as possible. Call a cab or an Uber if need be.
2. Time frame
Unless you are in an urgent need to leave, take some time to get everything situated. Once you pull the cord, you may never have another chance to secure valuables or important documents.
- Not so fast: your chances of forgetting something are much higher if you are in a hurry. Take a breath and relax. Make a list somewhere of everything you need to do. Prioritize that list and take care of the top things first. Save all nonessential things for last.
- Not too slowly: while you shouldn’t rush through the planning stage, don’t waste time, either. As you’re probably aware, even a good situation can deteriorate quickly. Remember, you are planning to escape from an abusive situation, so there is a sense of urgency.
- Above ALL else, be safe: no matter how long you take, do not put yourself at any unnecessary risk.
3. What to pack
This is probably one of the hardest things to plan for. Here are a few suggestions.
- “Go-bag“: I can’t stress this enough. Do this immediately, or at the first safe opportunity. Keep it as small as possible. Pack the following:
- At least one set of clothing (don’t forget underwear, socks, etc.)
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, contacts/glasses, razor, shampoo, soap. Anything you need to spend a night or two away from home.
- Money, if possible. Gift cards are also a good idea.
- A disposable cell phone and charger.
- An additional charger for your regular phone. You don’t want to have to stop and purchase one when you leave in a hurry.
- Irreplaceables (see below)
- As discussed in “Safety First,” start with the irreplaceable things (objects of sentimental value such as pictures, family heirlooms, birthday gifts, memories of the kids, etc.)
- Important documents such as pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, birth certificates, wills, anything legal or official. Make copies of everything you can. Take pictures, if necessary. I promise, you will need some or all of these things at a later point in time.
- Replaceable valuables like your favorite books, movies, CDs, etc. can be packed away as time allows. If there are a lot of them, start moving them slowly so they aren’t missed. You could even hide them away all at once under the guise of “cleaning out.”
- You probably take your clothes for granted, but wherever you end up, you’ll need them. Again, you might pack away a good portion of them as part of the “cleaning out” process. Even things like socks and underwear are easy to forget about when planning ahead. Make sure you take enough of them.
- Carefully consider what jointly owned items you might need to take. Pick your battles here; just because your mother gave you silverware for the wedding doesn’t mean you need to take it with you. I would only take what is logically “yours.” By the way, anything gifted specifically to you (by her or anyone else) is yours. It belongs to you, so do with it what you will. The nice phone or wallet she gave you for your anniversary is not hers to demand back. Likewise, the expensive necklace you gave her isn’t yours. Let it go.
- Be careful about items of great expense/value such as cars. Any assets in jointly held accounts are also tricky. Consult an attorney regarding the legality of taking a car that is titled to both of you or cleaning out a joint account.
Ideally, you will be able to pack your things and depart without much trouble by waiting until your AP is not around. If this is not possible, consider how you might buy yourself the time. Be creative, and ask an ally for help.
- Take a sick day from work. Use that time and privacy to get your things and get out.
- Suggest a weekend away for her. She can go visit her parents or friends while you make your escape.
- Use the cover of night. If she’s a heavy sleeper (naturally or medicated), you might be able to leave at night.
- As a last resort, if you are forced to leave while she is there, call the police and have them supervise the proceedings. This could be really uncomfortable for everyone, but if it’s the only way to ensure your safety, it’s absolutely worth it.
A note about the deceptive nature of this process: Remember, you are planning a covert escape because your abusive partner is unpredictable and potentially dangerous. If she will not offer you the basic courtesy of decent, rational behavior, she cannot expect you to offer her the kind of honesty that a normal couple shares. In the act of saving your life, your moral code may have to adapt to the necessity of a dire situation.
It makes me physically ill even to think about this, but if you have kids, you must be prepared to make some very difficult decisions. As you know by now, your AP is probably not afraid to use the children as pawns in her sick games. She will use them against you at the first opportunity, especially if she knows it’s the only way to hurt you. Unfortunately, there is no right answer here. This is truly a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision.
- Should you take them with you?
- If they are your biological and/or legal children (i.e., adoption), you probably have the right to take them with you when you leave. However, you must check with an attorney about the specific legal situation regarding custody in your state/country.
- Be warned, if you do choose to take them, your AP is going to accuse you of kidnapping. She may try to have you arrested no matter what the law says. She will claim that you traumatized them. She will try to convince not just the people around her, but the children themselves. Be prepared for this.
- Should you leave them with her?
- In some cases, an AP may focus her abuse solely on you and not the kids. If this is the situation you are in, consider leaving the kids at home. They will be upset by your departure, but it might be better than taking them with you and upsetting them even worse. As with everything else, this depends entirely on the details of your own situation.
- If you do leave them, be prepared for the accusations of abandonment. Your AP may try to convince you and the kids (and whoever else) that you left and never wanted to see them again. She may use this to try and prevent you from having any access to your kids at all.
- No matter what, the decision MUST be made with the best interest of your children in mind. If you fear for their safety AT ALL, do what you must to protect them.