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Advice | How to start the divorce process from an abusive husband


Q: I have three wonderful children ages 7, 5 and 2. Because my husband is cruel, emotionally abusive and controlling I have realized I need a divorce. I spoke to a lawyer and she said the default is 50/50 custody unless we agree otherwise. I have no idea how my partner will react because I haven’t told him yet. He gets stressed easily when trying to manage the kids, and when stressed he yells and grabs. That’s why he currently doesn’t watch it solo for more than an hour.

I’ve tried to stay married for them, thinking I can protect them. But I don’t want them to grow up seeing this as something that’s okay, and there’s only so much I can protect. He is still yelling at the kids and me. (Usually me.)

It’s hard to imagine being separated from them for even one night, but I’m an adult and will manage. But how can I help them get through this? My husband will freak out or come to his senses and shape up. He loves the kids and is a good father when he’s not stressed or yelling. I have been abandoned by my own father and my greatest wish is for them to have a good relationship, even if it is too late for him and me.

A: Thanks for writing; I am sorry you are in this difficult situation. There is so much unknown for the future, but I commend you for clearly seeing your present as quite unsustainable.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with a few basic checks here: First, are there guns in the house? As the gun violence prevention group Everytown reports, “Every month, an average of 70 women are shot to death by an intimate partner.” And guns are often used to keep an abused partner in a relationship. You can check which states have laws supporting the removal of guns from violent households and please proceed with caution if there is violence in the home. Please know: emotional abuse is abuse. Yelling and grabbing are beatings.

As for your custody concerns, my parent heart knows how afraid you are to leave. The idea of ​​splitting time with him, as well as how he can save the kids on his own, feels unsustainable when you’re on a changing threshold like this, so I’d suggest you take it easy.

Safely find an excellent attorney specializing in domestic violence and child custody. According to Bretta Lewis, a lawyer specializing in divorce and family law, “there is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to custody matters. Your outcome will depend on several factors (in Virginia there’s a specific section of code that lists them), as well as what area you’re in, who the judges are, and how the evidence shakes out. A good legal team will help you with this.

In the meantime, find a therapist who specializes in trauma and abuse. You are just at the beginning of what could be a very long journey, and your abandonment issues will need to be addressed in order to remain steadfast and clear. You are not trying to separate your children from their father, and it is possible for him to change, but you have to work with the reality before you. And that reality is that he is still controlling, cruel, and emotionally abusive towards you, and he continues to yell at and grab the kids.

If you think your partner could be open to it, and it would be safe for you to do so, ask them to attend co-parenting classes, or hire a coach or therapist who specializes in co-parenting. Co-parenting doesn’t just mean “separate” parenting; it just means working together to create the best environment for the kids. You can do this while calmly considering your options.

While you can still get out of the marriage, working on parenting while still in the marriage also gives you time to build a case that shows your partner may or may not change, and it shows goodwill to try in a more public way. way. However, this should only be done if you don’t think you are in any immediate danger. “There’s no question that you’ll be stressed and worried when the kids are with him, and if you can’t relax knowing they’re with him, you should consider addressing his parenting shortcomings in therapy before breaking up” says Lewis.

Finally, safely find a group of people to support you through these courageous transitions. For example, family, friends, and community or religious groups can help you financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. You can’t do this work alone, so be clear about what you need and when you need it. I’ve found people are only too happy to help, especially when women take the courageous steps to get out of an abusive marriage. Take small actions every day (watch where you keep your lists and notes), and you’ll get through it. Good luck, and keep it safe.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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