Leaving an Abusive Spouse Checklist

Originally Posted at  Shrink4Men: Leaving an Abusive Wife: Pre-Divorce Checklist  ~by Natalie Malonis.

Here is a checklist of items for spouses who are preparing to leave an abusive marriage:

1. Gather and copy important papers, and move the copies out of the house and into a secure location. Once your spouse suspects that you may leave him/her, it will become exceedingly difficult to access information that you will need to begin establishing an independent life. Collect records of vital statistics, military records related to benefits and so forth, bank statements, social security statements, information about retirement accounts, vehicle titles, mortgage and loan documents, kids’ school records and contact lists, credit card statements, checkbook, stock certificates, etc.—any papers that are kept in your home that you may conceivably want access to during a divorce process, you should copy and move to a safe deposit box or to your office or some other location away from home where you will be able to access the papers.

2. Open a separate bank account in your name. Stop making deposits into your joint account and keep an eye on your balances in your joint checking and savings accounts. If your spouse is planning on leaving or suspects that you are on your way out, more than likely you will see transfers out of your joint accounts. If that happens, it is important that you preserve enough cash for you to be able to make the move and meet expenses for a short time –please speak to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about your rights to money in marital accounts.

In my jurisdiction, I typically advise clients in this situation to withdraw half of the funds in joint accounts if the money is community property and deposit the money in a separate account. Laws differ from state to state, so it’s important that you clear this with an attorney.

3. Arrange for your paycheck to be direct deposited in your separate account. When your paycheck is no longer being deposited into your joint account, your spouse will get wise to your plan to leave. Timing is important. Check with your HR department well in advance to find out how long it takes to stop automatic deposits and reroute them to a different account.

4. Start moving small family keepsakes and heirlooms and items of particular personal value to a location away from the marital residence. Consult an attorney in your jurisdiction about this, but in most states property that is inherited or gifted is separate property. If your father left you his antique watch, it’s probably your separate property. The reason to move items of personal or sentimental value is that those are the items that are most likely to be destroyed or “lost” by your abusive spouse in the course of a temper tantrum. S/He will try to destroy whatever means the most to you—remove such items from him/her reach to the extent possible.

5. If you keep firearms in the house, remove ammunition from the house and remove or hide the guns. This is going to be the most volatile time of your relationship with a person who has a history of irrational behavior. This is the most dangerous time for you and you cannot predict what an irrational person will do under such circumstances. Your personal safety must be a primary concern and never taken for granted.

6. If your spouse has ever threatened you with false reports of domestic violence, alert law enforcement before you leave and inform them of any past threats of false reports. If s/he has ever made any kind of hint that s/he would report you for family violence, do not think they are bluffing and do not assume s/he would not go that far. They would! The fact that s/he even thought to threaten you with such a thing is a big red flag—non-disordered people do not think that way. If s/he can think it up, s/he can follow through. Protect yourself.

[NOTELawyers and women’s shelters will coach women to use every means at their disposal including abuse allegations.  Lawyers will actually coach the abusive wife saying – get him angry and then phone the police. The police then have to act and you have one huge strike against you moving forward and possibly will be fighting two court battles at the same time.]

7. Make a spare set of car keys and give them to a trusted friend or store them in your office or a location to which your wife has no access. If all goes as planned, you will not need your extra set of keys. However, if your wife finds out what you’re up to, expect her to make an all-out effort to thwart your plans, including taking your car or your keys to keep you from leaving. Have a backup plan, just in case.

8. Plan what you’ll say to the kids. If your spouse is physically violent, seek the assistance of an attorney in removing your minor children from a physically abusive parent. Custody matters with minor children require expert assistance. If you have adult children who are living away from home, you can help preserve those relationships by heading off your spouse’s inevitable attempts to turn them against you.

You will need to be honest with your children about the circumstances you’ve been enduring—chances are they do not know what’s been happening or the extent of it. Plan what you will say to them–draft a script if that helps. In most situations, it’s best not to tell your adult children that you are leaving until you are out of the house. The first discussion with your adult children should take place as soon as possible after you have actually left.

It’s likely that your adult children may feel more loyal to your spouse than they are to you because your spouse has been making negative remarks about you and planting seeds of discord and doubt over the years. If spouse rules the roost, chances are your children are accustomed to doing their bidding and accepting your spouse’s version of events without question. Do not be surprised if they side with your spouse and if at first they don’t believe what you are telling them about the abuse.

Don’t despair and don’t give up—exposure of your spouse’s abuse is what is called for. Encourage your adult children to check with you about the truth of anything negative your spouse says about you and promise to be honest with them. Eventually, most adult children will begin to see and understand the dynamics and will no longer take as true the negative things that are said about you by your soon-to-be-ex. Give it time, and don’t give up.

9. Hire a lawyer and file for separation. You may think that once you’re out of the house there’s no rush in filing legal papers. That kind of thinking is usually a mistake. Once you file for legal separation, many jurisdictions have standing court orders that protect your assets while you go through the legal process—those orders do not take effect until the some papers are filed and served on your spouse.

This will (in theory) give you some recourse if your spouse behaves badly and destroys property or runs up credit card debt. Also, your spouse may not think you’ll actually go through with taking them to court they are actually served with legal papers. Actually filing with a court of law is a very strong boundary that you can establish right away. If you have hired a lawyer, you can avoid contact with your spouse by deflecting communications to your lawyer. Remember, s/he is still trying to engage you so that s/he can maintain their control over you. If you have little to no contact with him/her, they cannot regain their footing or exercise any control over you.

10. Disengage. End all contact with your abusive spouse. This is really hard, so be prepared to struggle with this one. You will feel compelled to speak with your spouse. You will feel extreme anxiety if you do not pick up the phone when s/he calls. Even if you hate it, it is difficult to break this pattern, but it is imperative that you figure out how to stick to it.

You may have to have some ongoing contact because of minor children. It is helpful to some people to have a list of canned replies that can be given in response to attempts to engage you and draw you into conversations. For instance: ”I will not discuss our property division with you, the lawyers will sort it out” or “The children will be available to be picked up at 6:00 on Friday at <location>; please be on time.” You get the idea.

If you must communicate, keep it very short and limited to business and get out of the conversation after you have delivered your communication. You do not have to listen to what a sorry jerk you are. You do not have to explain yourself or make your spouse understand your position—there is nothing productive that can come from such conversations.

11. Tell it like it really is. You’ve probably become an expert at making excuses for your spouse’s abusive behavior and hiding the truth from everyone outside of your marriage. Now it’s time to expose what’s really been going on. That’s not to say that it’s wise to parade around with a victim sign across your chest, but now it’s important that you face the truth yourself.

It may also be necessary to expose the truth in situations where your spouse embarks on a smear campaign against you. It’s not uncommon for an abuser to tell lies about you to family members (in-laws), children, the kids’ teachers, mutual friends, the parents of your kids’ playmates, therapists, pediatricians, social workers and whoever else will listen. You can defend yourself by exposing the truth. This is especially important in the legal context—it’s crucial that you control misinformation that could negatively affect you in court.

For those having custody issues, I would add:

Keep a daily journal, log, manuscript, or whatever you want to call it. This log should include activities done by each parent with the child (include even the day to day items getting them off to school, homework, cooking, bath time, bedtime, and the special activities), a description with quotes of any abusive outbursts between you and your spouse and/or kids and any witnesses to these including the children, and any other relevant items which may be useful.

4 thoughts on “Leaving an Abusive Spouse Checklist”

  1. I am always stunned by the many “advice” sites that present the double-tongued approach to improving one’s marriage: first – tips on how to make amends for infidelity and betrayal, and – next – if your efforts do not work, how to make sure you treat your wife like a disowned possession by shutting down bank accounts, withdrawing money, hiding assets, and in the end essentially MORE BETRAYAL!
    The contradiction between honesty, intimacy, and fidelity is obviously disengenous, and perpetuates disturbing mistreatment of women.

    1. “…I am always stunned by the many “advice” sites that present the double-tongued approach to improving one’s marriage: first – tips on how to make amends for infidelity and betrayal, and – next – if your efforts do not work, how to make sure you treat your wife like a disowned possession by shutting down bank accounts, withdrawing money, hiding assets, and in the end essentially MORE BETRAYAL!
      The contradiction between honesty, intimacy, and fidelity is obviously disengenous, and perpetuates disturbing mistreatment of women…”

      While the overall content of this comment is simply a straw man, the gist of it hints at some genuine questions. Digging through a fogged message like this one can be very difficult, and the danger is always that the misunderstanding caused by the faulty reasoning of a comment’s author may lead to more confusion than any help.

      Hence, we must approach with some caution!

      The very first issue to address is the concept of ‘disturbing treatment of women’. The author of this note claims that “shutting down bank accounts, withdrawing money, hiding assets…” is the same as treating your wife like a disowned posession. This assumes that we consider the wife to be an ‘owned possession’ in the first place. To own a possession is to have the right to dispense with it as you will (that is the very definition of ‘to own’.) We do not hold such a viewpoint, a marriage is a commitment between two rational and free people. Neither one ‘owns’ the other – the husband is not free to dispense with his wife as he sees fit – any more than the wife, her husband.

      Moreover, our advice is not limited to the husband of an actively unfaithful or abusive wife. It applies to the wife of an actively unfaithful or abusive husband as well.

      Given that the objection from the author of this comment regards only how a husband treats his unfaithful wife, we are lead to assume that a blatant double-standard exists in the mind of this person – a wife may treat her husband as a disowned posession with impunity. We advise everyone to abstain from and avoid all double standards. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

      Next, a most revealing point is given: the idea of shutting down bank accounts, hiding assets, and withdrawing money is considered ‘betrayal.’ In fact, it is considered ‘more betrayal’.

      Given this, and without more data, it is quite easy to conclude that the person writing this note is invoved in an affair, or abusive, and would consider any effort by her husband to refuse to fund the affair or continue to be abused as ‘betrayal’. Not many other people would consider it this way. It is difficult to determine why not wanting to be the victim of abuse is somehow a betrayal – and taking steps to avoid being abused, or to end the abuse … is more betrayal!

      The purpose of closing a joint bank account, of withdrawing money if you cannot, and of hiding assets, is advised for two main reasons:

      1) Protect your family. If you have a home, children, pets, investments, and so on, the money in your account is for your home, your children….and NOT for the wandering spouse’s lover, nor to fund any marriage damaging activites. If the wandering spouse wishes to invest in things with a new lover, they must do so themselves.

      2) To starve the affair, or marriage damaging activity. Cutting off endless free money means that the unfaithful lovers must find their own way to fund their fun.

      If there is any betrayal evident in this entire scheme – it is in the fact that the wandering spouse – husband or wife – has chosen to be unfaithful to the marriage.

      Finally, to address the last sentence:

      “…The contradiction between honesty, intimacy, and fidelity is obviously disengenous, and perpetuates disturbing mistreatment of women…”

      There is no contradiction between honesty, intimacy and fidelity at all in what “advice” sites suggest regarding this issue. Honesty, intimacy and fidelity are all destroyed when the unfaithful spouse chooses an affair. As long as that affair continues, the wandering spouse (husband or wife) demonstrates no honesty and no fidelity to the marriage partner. Only when the affair ends is it possible for those things to return.

      We hope this clarifies at least some of the confusion.

      1. Honestly, you shouldn’t have to take half the money out of your joint bank account in an ideal world. Nor should you have to cut up the joint credit cards or file for legal separation in an ideal world. Since this isn’t an ideal world, I’m glad I took half the money out of the joint account, cut up the joint credit cards and talked to an attorney. I had no trust left in my serially unfaithful ex-husband. I figured there was a good possibility he would make a move if I didn’t. After all, he was already hiding money to spend on the mistress and the hook up site. Protecting myself was the wisest thing I’ve ever done.

        I wish I had thought to protect myself in other ways. I now have high risk hpv. I had to have a hysterectomy at 31 because I had severe recurrent pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. This was my best shot at preventing cervical cancer and it worked. I do not know for certain if I have this because my ex-husband slept with a few girlfriends before marriage or if I have it because my ex-husband slept with a few girlfriends during marriage. By the way, I was a virgin when I met my ex, I was faithful during the marriage and had been celibate for several years after the divorce when I found out I had hpv. Ladies and gentlemen, if your spouse can have an affair without thought to your feelings, they can have an affair without thought to your physical health. Please protect yourselves.

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