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Separating from an Abusive Partner
you are in an abusive relationship and are seeking to separate or divorce from
your partner, your safety may be at risk and your ability to achieve a
reasonable separation agreement may be compromised.
relationships are characterized by one party seeking power and control over the
other party. Sometimes, the objective of power and control is the power and
control itself. To some persons, this alone is gratifying. To other persons, the
power and control is a means to obtain their needs and wants either ahead of or
in lieu of their partner.
strategies or tactics of the persons seeking power and control over the other
include manipulation and mind games, coercion, threats and intimidation, and
varying degrees of violence. The control can be exercised against the partner
directly or indirectly through the children, by threatening to harm loved ones
and evening threatening to hurt pets or by destroying your possessions. At
times, the risk of harm may be self-directed as in the threat of suicide while
at the same time holding you hostage through guilt.
when exiting a relationship, the person lording power and control over the other
will escalate their tactics out of fear of losing their grip on the one leaving.
As such, where there may not have been a display of violence before, the first
episode may erupt when seeking departure. Where violence has been a feature of
the relationship, the severity or intensity or dangerousness may escalate at
this point too.
and control tactics are designed to instill fear or guilt in the partner through
which the abusive party gets their way. These tactics are powerful and can fully
immobilize their victim. In some cases the victimís concern for their mental
and physical well-being is very real and as such, victims
learn to exercise extreme caution, so as not to set off their abusive
partner. Hence, these persons learn to walk on eggshells, are very mindful of
their own behaviour as well as their partnerís mood and act so as to avoid
raising issues that may increase risk.
first objective in a departure from an abusive situation is your safety and that
of your children. To leave safely, it is necessary to plan first. The first step
in planning is finding supports. A support is a service or persons you can trust
and turn to for help with departure. Many communities have shelters or
counselling services where you can go to discuss your situation and get help to
develop a plan for leaving. If you cannot go in person, phone and talk with a
worker. Be careful about emails if there is a concern that your abusive partner
may access your email records and learn of your plan. If a community service is
not available, consider contacting your clergy or physician. Your local police
and even your local child protection agency may be able to direct you to
appropriate services or may help you directly with your plan.
After you have departed and you are in a safe place, then you may consider achieving a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement spells out how your mutual assets will be divided and if there are children between you, how you and your partner will continue to care for the children and what financial supports may be forthcoming.
you are seeking to achieve a settlement agreement with an abusive partner, it is
more than likely that you will need specific support here too. You must act with
concern for safety. Further, the risk when trying to achieve a settlement on
your own is that you may give up too much out of fear or guilt or for the
purpose of achieving peace at any cost. When one person gains more than the
other in a settlement, these are known as lop-sided agreements. A lop-sides
agreement may leave you with too few resources to manage for yourself or
children. Further, a lop-sided agreement may provide un-safe access to children
in view of an abusive partner.
of you method or achieving a settlement agreement, chose a service provider,
whether a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator or social worker, with specific expertise
in abuse issues to help you through the settlement process. Your service
provider should ask about abuse issues and your safety. If your service provider
doesnít ask, this may be a sign that this person is not equipped to provide
necessary support and you may be better off finding another service provider.
Leaving an abusive relationship requires appropriate supports. Your safety and that of children comes first.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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