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Sheltering-in-Place and Intimate Partner Violence: Seeking Help During an Emergency

There are sometimes unintended consequences that are associated with the decisions that we make. This is true in our personal lives. If you decide to go to a restaurant for lunch with a long wait time, it may cause you to be late for a meeting that afternoon. This is also true in our public lives. The State of Texas has issued a shelter in place and stay-at-home orders that have mandated only "essential" workers be able to go to work daily physically. The rest of us are either working from home or have possibly lost employment altogether.

The shelter in place order means that families are near one another for long periods. Human nature being what it is, disagreements, anxiety, and the warmer weather can make for explosive situations. You need only check out the local news reports to learn that domestic violence and family violence, in general, is on the rise across the State of Texas. While every family's circumstances are a little different, the key thing to remember is that you do not have to sit idly by and be a victim.

If you are in a relationship where you are being abused, you have options at your disposal. You have undoubtedly come to realize that while it may be "safer" for most to avoid working and recreating in public during the virus pandemic, it is a scary proposition for many folks to stay at home all day with an abusive partner (yourself included). If you are caught in the middle of a stay-at-home order and a spouse, family member, or significant other who has a history of abuse, then today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is for you.

How is the coronavirus impacting family violence negatively?

A considerable part of the power that abusive persons exert over their partners is controlled. You have probably seen firsthand what your partner is willing to do to show you that they are in charge of your actions. Often false information can be shared with you to frighten you into submission. If you feel like this pandemic is even worse than it is as far as risk to your life, then you are much more likely to be controlled by them out of fear for your safety.

If you have to order medication electronically and then pick that medication up from the local pharmacy, you may rely on your partner for money and transportation to ensure you can get your hands on that medicine. On an immediate level, simple things like food, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies for your home may be harder to come by due to your partner keeping them from you to exert maximum levels of control over you and your kids.

One other aspect of this whole scenario that I would keep in mind is that you should do whatever you can to learn about the symptoms of COVID-19 so that you can seek appropriate medical care for yourself or your child if symptoms are being shown. You do not and should not have to rely on your partner for knowledge of the symptoms. Seek out information on the computer or the television about testing locations, symptoms, and how to obtain clearance to be tested in the first place. I know that in Harris County, you will need to fill out paperwork or be pre-cleared before going to a testing site.

Finally, you should start to (if you have not already done so) collect information about shelters where you and your children can stay during this crisis if the need to do so arises. However, keep in mind that you are unfortunately not the only person in our area who is in this situation. Therefore, it may take multiple phone calls to find a place that can accommodate you all. If you have symptoms of the virus, it is unlikely that any facility would be willing to take you all in.

Where you can go to seek help may be limited at this time.

If you have had incidents of violence impact your family previously, you may already have exit strategies in place. Family members, vehicles to transport you and your kids- even rooms in the house that you can lock and keep yourself inside until help arrives. These are the sad realities of living in fear of a spouse, partner, or family member who has violent tendencies. The need to plan for difficult circumstances does not end just because we are on lockdown right now due to a virus.

However, it would help if you kept in mind that the avenues that you have chosen for your "escape" may be shut down at this point- literally. For example, this crisis points where people from Louisiana traveling to Texas would have to self-quarantine upon arrival in Texas. Flights to and from areas that the coronavirus has hardest hit have changed how travelers can (or cannot) immediately blend in with local citizens.

On a local level, the shelter near your home may not accept new residents due to concerns over the coronavirus. Or, due to the economic shutdown, various shelters or non-profits may no longer be in operation due to their heavy reliance on donations from individuals who find themselves out of work.

Your ability to use public transportation, get on an airplane, or even safely travel across state lines may be in question at this stage. Your backup plan to keep yourself and your family safe may need its backup plan due to changes in our lives brought about by this pandemic. Plan accordingly so that you do not run into any issues should you need to leave the house.

School schedules are still dictating possession/visitation schedules.

Even if you no longer live in the same household as a person who previously was violent towards you, there is still ample opportunity for them to use this pandemic to control your behavior through fear. For example, suppose you are a non-custodial parent who relies on weekend visitation for most of your school-year opportunities to see your child. In that case, the custodial parent may try to tell you that your possession schedule is no longer in place since the schools have been shut down. That is not true. The school schedule will continue to dictate possession for your child.

Next, suppose you live with extended family and have a possession schedule that allows your child to stay with you at your home. In that case, an ex-spouse cannot withhold visitation from you due to concerns that your extended family may be carriers of the virus. It would help if you use discretion when exposing your children to anyone right now; I think that goes without saying. However, you don't have much choice when it comes to a person that you live with. If you live with extended family, there is nothing that your ex-spouse can do (legitimately) to limit your visitation based on this circumstance alone.

What can you do to decrease the odds of your being harmed physically by a partner?

One thing that this pandemic has caused many of us to do is reassess many areas of our lives. Hours spent at home will tend to do that. If you have reassessed your life and your relationship, that could be the first step towards making good decisions for yourself that benefit you and your children. Safety is the number one priority of our society; it would seem. It is the apparent reason why we are all on lockdown right now.

What is probably a good idea right now is to create a plan (if you have not done so already) to figure out how to handle yourself if your partner/spouse/family member becomes violent with you or your child. The time to plan and think about these things is now- not while the event is ongoing. You will not be able to think clearly while the event is going on. At that point, your behavior needs to be reflexive.

If you are working at home due to social distancing restrictions, you have the advantage of at least having an income. With unemployment rising across our area and the country, you may not even be that fortunate. Depending upon your resources, you should plan to have a place to stay if violence occurs in your house or the threat of violence is apparent.

Again, keep in mind that many, if not most, hotels and motels are not operating right now due to the virus. You will likely need to contact family members and friends to determine if there are alternate places for you to keep safe during this time if the need to do so arises. Staying a night in your vehicle is preferable to being the victim of a violent act- no matter how intolerable it may seem to have to sleep in your car.

Keeping yourself clean right now is also essential. Usually, we would not share a tip like this- but these are not standard times. You should keep hand sanitizer on your person at all times and wash your hands frequently. The last thing you need is to get sick when you may not have a steady place to stay, a consistent income, or a vehicle.

What to do if a friend or family member has been the victim of abuse

Let's spend some time discussing some tips that you can implement if a friend or family member has been the victim of abuse. You do not control this friend or family member's behavior. Part of being an adult is being able to make your own decisions. As such, you may need to take a step back and watch your friend or family member figure out on their own that they are in a relationship that is abusive/harmful.

In other cases, you may need to intervene to keep your loved ones and their children safe. That is a challenging part for you to have to distinguish. When is it necessary for you to take action and protect this person? Are you endangering yourself by doing so? What plans do you have in place to ensure the safety of all parties involved?

You should engage your loved ones in dialogue to help them come to an understanding of their situation. Listen more than you talk. Talk to therapists, counselors, and shelters in your area to better appreciate their situation and the resources available to help him or them. Be aware of what your loved one is in and try to identify warning signs that the situation is going from bad to worse. Remember that there is no set blueprint for how you or your loved one should proceed. All you can do is offer support and assist when called upon.

Questions about navigating a difficult circumstance during the coronavirus pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations over the phone and via video six days a week. If you are in a position where you need an emergency protective order, contact us today to begin the process to provide you with guidance and oversight. Thank you so much for being so attentive today and we hope that you and your loved ones stay safe during this time.

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