Domestic Violence: Your Safety Plan

As unpleasant as it is to say, domestic violence is a reality that some people must deal with regularly. When you live in a home where domestic violence is a reality there are so many considerations that you need to give to your safety that should not be necessary. However, anyone who has been through situations involving domestic or family violence can tell you that it is a matter of survival to be vigilant about how to develop a strategy and to think proactively about how to get through the day and think about the future.

Domestic violence comes into play not only in the day-to-day lives of people in our community but also in their family relationships and legal matters. Whether you are going through a child custody or divorce case, one thing is for certain: if you are in a situation where family violence is ongoing you need to have a plan on how to act when the situation turns towards violence and your physical well-being (and that of your children) becomes compromised. This blog post will help you develop a safety plan and start to think intentionally about how to get out of a messy and dangerous situation.

While you do not have control over your spouse or co-parent’s anger or propensity towards violence you can choose how to respond to their actions and how to develop a plan that may be necessary to help you get you and your child to a safe place. If you are a woman who is going through a situation involving domestic violence, then you should be sure to have a variety of strategies ready to implement if need be.

For instance, you may decide to leave the home that you share with your spouse or co-parent. That is easier said than done in many situations, especially if you know that he or she will be home during the times in which you choose to leave. In that case, you will need to work on practicing getting out of the home safely. There need to be multiple ways for you to exit the home. The doors, windows, stairs, or even a fire escape may be necessary to use when it comes to leaving home.

Next, are your belongings and the car keys going to be ready for you to leave the house with? Being unprepared means having to return to the home later to retrieve these items such as medicine for you or your children as well as clothing, equipment for work, and other necessary items. The key to exiting the home is to do so quietly and quickly. Not being prepared and having to search repeatedly for your necessary items wastes time and energy. Have all your things ready in advance. Be organized and keep things clean so you do not have to look through the laundry, piles of junk, or anything else laying around the house when it comes to finding what you need to make a clean escape.

Preferably, you will have a neighbor who can contact law enforcement if he or she hears anything suspicious coming from your home. It is not a comfortable topic to have to discuss matters involving family violence with your neighbors. I will readily admit this. However, it can be the difference between life and death for you to do so. Many people keep these sorts of matters to themselves thinking that it is a burden for other people to have to listen to these stories and hear about the struggles that they are going through regarding family violence. In actuality, most people are more than glad to help someone who is trying to protect themselves and their children from harm. If you have neighbors who you can trust, make sure they are aware of what is going on and what signs may be observable from a distance as far as when acts of family violence are being perpetrated.

Depending upon the age of your children, they too can act as allies in the effort to protect you and themselves from harm. Again, the reality of the situation is that it is not pleasant to have to teach your children how to act in the event of family violence occurring in the home. However, it is necessary in this situation and something that you should not hesitate to do if your children are of the right age and maturity level. For young children, there is not much you can do in the teaching department. However, if your children are school-aged, they should know how to use a cell phone or home phone if you have one to contact law enforcement, the fire department, a neighbor, etc. in the event of an emergency.

Many people in your situation develop code words to use with their children to be able to tell them that danger is afoot without coming right out and saying it. Or, if you decide that “now” is the time to leave then you can use a different code word that tells your children to quickly meet at the agreed-upon location in the home to order to leave at a moment’s notice. The code should be rehearsed with your children so that it becomes second nature as far as what it means. Do not underestimate what stress can do to the memory and reaction time of your children, or you. Teach them the code word, teach them the responsorial actions, and then rehearse it with them regularly.

When you do leave home, it is integral that you have a place to go to. Not just a hypothetical, I could go here or here type of place, but a specific location that offers you a specific advantage. It could be that you decide to go to a family member’s house. However, you need to be sure that your co-parent or spouse would not suspect that location so that he or she could come over and cause problems for you at that home. Preferably you will choose a location that is unknown to your spouse or co-parent while you plan your next steps.

If you do anticipate that you will need to engage with your co-parent or spouse in a discussion that could turn into an argument, you need to be strategic about where that discussion takes place. Having the talk in an open space without tools, cutlery, silverware, or other objects nearby which could be used as a weapon would be ideal. We realize that it is impossible to always be in a position where you can always be free from danger in the form of household objects. Sometimes these discussions just take place at random times in random locations. However, if you can manage to be around other people and away from objects that can be used as weapons then you will be better off.

At the end of the day, the safety of you and your children is what matters the most. It does not matter what is being discussed or argued about. If you can give the other person what he or she wants at that moment in time you need to consider that option. It may be that you need to play along with what your co-parent is saying or just agree to disagree on a subject that is important to you. This is especially true if you do not yet have an exit strategy for leaving the house. Keep yourself safe and protect your family until you can develop a proper exit strategy.

How to keep yourself and your children safe when you are preparing to leave the home

Control is what many violent co-parents and spouses seek when they act in violence towards you or any other victim. To that end, when you decide to leave the family home then you need to figure out a plan for exiting with safety in mind. Be careful about leaving the home but listen to your instincts about the situation. If you get the feeling that something is “off” or that the situation seems even more dangerous than usual, then you need to leave your home. The more of a plan you have and the more intentional you can be the more you position yourself to be able to maintain your safety and that of your children soon. Since your spouse or co-parent may be looking to prevent you from leaving the home and your relationship, having a plan means the difference between wandering around outside the home and being intentional about your and your child’s safety.

Having some extra cash in hand, ready to go when you need to leave the house is a wise decision to make. Taking out large sums of cash in one withdrawal may bring attention to your plans to leave so it is better to take out small amounts over time. For this reason, you should develop your safety plan as far in advance of actually leaving the house as possible. That way you can think through these plans and be as prepared as you can be. Include with that cash a list of your contacts, medication, and anything that you and your child rely upon every day and you are already off to a good start when it comes to trying to keep your family safe.

Important documents may be found in the file cabinet or on your home computer. In this day and age, you may have important documents saved on the “cloud” or in a drive that you can access outside of your home. However, if you have documents saved on your home computer and nowhere else it pays to print copies of those documents or save them in a location that is accessible from outside the home. Keys should have copies made in case you lose your set or for some reason must leave home without your keys. Then, choose a location to keep these important documents of key copies. Whether it be a relative’s home, your vehicle, your friend’s home, or at work it should be a secure location that is relatively convenient for you.

Sharing finances with your spouse is normally a good idea, in my opinion. If you and your spouse are on the same page with finances, spending, and things of that nature then combining finances and attacking your challenges, and building a financial life with your co-parent is a great idea. However, if you all are not on the same page with your finances, disagree with how one another handles money, or otherwise have some financial issues which are more complicated then combining your finances may not be a great idea. In that case, you should open up a separate checking or savings account from your spouse or co-parent. This way you can be prepared to separate yourself from him or her after your family law case. If you have concerns about your spouse or co-parent spending your money, then this should be something do sooner rather than later.

Talking with family and friends about this situation with your co-parent or spouse is just as good an idea as talking with your neighbors. The people who are closest to you should be aware of the struggles you are having. This way you can build your safety net and support system in anticipation of your family law case. Having a safe place to stay which your spouse or co-parent is not aware of is critical for your safety. Do not underestimate the power of a safe place for you and your kids to sleep at night can have on you all at that moment in time. When everything else is going wrong in your life being able to lean on some close friend or relative for a favor like this can be the pick-me-up that you need.

Working through your safety plan with your family is a good thing to do. As we discussed earlier in this blog post it pays to take the time to think through your plan periodically, practice it with your family and determine if any changes need to be made. For example, what if you have moved residences since the last time that you created a safety plan? Your former safety plan likely would not work in the new house. For that reason, you talk through a new plan with family members and even seek their input into the new plan. Talk to your new neighbors, as well, so that they can help you remain as vigilant as possible.

Not leaving the home quite yet? Here’s how you can stay safe in your home

The circumstances are not always right for you to leave your home. While you wait to plan a move here are some tips that can keep you and your child safe at home while you plan. For starters, if your co-parent or spouse is not living with you currently that does not completely rule out the possibility that you could become the victim of family violence at home. For that reason, it is a good idea to consider changing out and replacing the locks on the doors in case your co-parent still has a key that could work.

A security system installation does not have to be something that costs an arm and a leg. If you contact a local home alarm system installation company then you may be able to find someone to install the system at a discount or even free of charge. A motion sensor sticks to keep in the window to prevent them from being opened easily and stronger doors/door locks are simple additions that can make a big difference for you in terms of safety and peace of mind. An outdoor lighting system can be installed which can notify you of anyone being near the home in the evening time especially.

Final thoughts on safety plans

There are legal means that you can choose to take advantage of as far as protecting your family is concerned. For instance, you can work with an experienced family law attorney to help you obtain a protective order in your case. A protective order can allow you to bring law enforcement into the equation if your co-parent or spouse attempts to contact you, approach you, approach your children, or visit you at work. If you can obtain a protective order you should keep it near to you at all times. Law enforcement locally to you should have a copy of the protective order, as well. If your co-parent somehow destroys a copy of the protective order do not fear. You can obtain a new copy from the clerk’s office or even online in many cases.

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