The idea of leaving a violent relationship can be scary to navigate on your own, even more so when you must consider how to protect not only yourself but also your children. It takes many victims months or even years to take the final step of leaving the relationship. As you prepare for this transition, here are a few key legal protections you should know to ensure that you and your children are safe.
Keep Detailed Records
If you haven’t begun to already, start to record information about each incident of abuse, physical or domestic, that involves yourself or your children. Keep track of details when it occurred, where it happened and a description of the event and any resulting injuries. If possible, take photos of the injuries. Be sure to store this information in a safe place where your partner will not find it. Detailed records will be very helpful in painting the full picture useful to you when the time comes to file for protection orders, divorce and custody.
Create an Exit Strategy
As you prepare to leave, make sure that you have a clear plan of where you are going, how you will pay for it and who will be helping you along the way. Try to store some cash, clothes and food somewhere outside of your home so you have access to resources when you leave. Arrange a place to go where you partner would not automatically think to look for you. That could be a friend or coworker’s house or a shelter/hotel nearby. There are many organizations across the country that will help you prepare a plan for leaving, in addition to providing you shelter in a safe house once you leave. Visit the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence website to find your local program.
Consider Applying for a Protective Order
Immediately go to court and file for an Emergency Protective Order to protect you and your family. A protective order, if granted, may result in you acquiring legal custody of your children. It could also limit the interaction your spouse can legally have with you and your children. For more information on how to file in Maryland, visit the MD Court’s Domestic Violence Help Site.
While this type of order is only temporary, your lawyer can help you apply for long-term custody in the divorce proceedings. During the hearing, a judge will make a custody decision which is in the best interest of the child. Information you recorded about instances of violence in the house, and unsafe atmospheres, will play a large role in the judge’s decision.
Plan for The Future
Begin to think through what your family’s lives will look like years down the road. Many courts will grant visitation rights to parents, even in cases of domestic violence, when the parent in question hasn’t been abusive. Structure a plan for how you and your children will handle that. Additionally, consider having your lawyer request that certain rules to be in place during visitation.
If you do not feel comfortable meeting your abuser during these visitation hours, a court appointed supervisor can be assigned to watch over your children. It is important that you make any concerns and ideas known to your lawyer and the judge right away. Many judges are open to hearing suggestions for custody and visitation arrangements provided everyone is kept safe.
Get Legal Representation
An experienced lawyer can help you smoothly navigate this difficult time and ensure that all proper actions are taken to protect your family. Many domestic violence shelters and hotlines will provide you with free or subsidized representation. Alternatively, if you have the means, hire a seasoned professional who can help you make the best choices for you and your children.
No matter where you are in this process, if you are ready to leave or still making the decision, making a plan and obtaining the help of a Domestic Violence advisor and a seasoned attorney will help make the process easier. Know that you are not alone in this.
For more information:
- Contact the Maryland Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline 1-800-MD-HELPS (1-800-634-3577)
- Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- Call 2-1-1 from a cell phone or landline to be connected with a specialist who can help you reach shelters and service providers in your area.
- Contact Rodier Family Law online or by phone at (410) 803-1839 for experienced legal assistance and advice.
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