FAQs on escaping an abusive marriage

Victims of domestic abuse may need help from others to get a divorce. It can also help to create an escape plan and seek a protective order.

For countless people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, marriage is a nightmare that they may feel they can never escape. Tragically, domestic violence affects millions of men, women and children every year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will be abused by an intimate partner at some point during their lives. The problem is so serious, in fact, that 15 percent of all violent crimes are committed by abusers against their partners. The following questions address some that abuse victims are likely to ask when preparing to end a marriage.

Is domestic violence always physical?

In many cases, an abuser physically strikes or otherwise causes bodily harm to his or her victim. However, domestic abuse may be emotional, psychological, sexual or financial. Abusers often resort to threats and manipulation to maintain control over their victims. They may restrict their partners from seeing their family members or friends; prevent them from having access to the phone, Internet or the car; and not allow them to work or have any money. Non-violent abusive relationships do not always escalate to physical violence, but often they do.

How can I escape an abusive marriage?

It is rarely easy to escape an abusive relationship; this is why it is important to create an escape plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests implementing the following type of plan:

• Enlisting the help of trusted loved ones

• Keeping emergency cash, clothing and documents in a safe place that the abuser does not know about

• Documenting evidence of physical injuries and keeping a journal of the abuser's behavior

• Memorizing the phone numbers and addresses of abuse shelters and law enforcement offices

It may also be a good idea at this point to seek a protection order.

What is a protective order and how does it work?

A family law court can issue a protective order to abuse victims that extends certain legal protections. While the order is in effect, the abuser will not be allowed to approach or contact the victims. This may give the victim time to get to a safe place and to begin divorce proceedings. Protective orders are not initially permanent. Both sides will be given the chance to tell their side in court, and a judge can then decide if additional protection is necessary.

You are likely to need professional assistance to leave an abusive marriage. This may include help from law enforcement and abuse counselors. A Pennsylvania family law attorney with experience in domestic violence cases can also be an invaluable ally. Your attorney may be able to help you obtain a protective order, as well as start you on the road to freedom from abuse.

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