One tool in the arsenal for escaping abuse
Escaping an abusive situation is never easy, but it is even harder when children are involved. Solo Moms, in particular, might struggle with leaving an abusive relationship because of fears related to their own safety, their children’s safety, and because the abuser might have parental rights of his own. Restraining orders can be a tool in escaping an abusive situation, but it is important to remember that restraining orders are only one tool in an entire arsenal. If you are thinking about obtaining a restraining order, here’s what you need to know.
One of the best resources that a Solo Mom can have when assessing the safety of her situation is the support of other women. Women’s shelters offer services free of charge to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, and they provide advocates who are trained in helping survivors break free from abuse. Generally, one of the first services that an advocate will offer is helping the survivor design a safety plan. A safety plan is a personalized plan designed to assist a survivor in staying safe while planning to leave or while actually leaving a relationship. Because the most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she is leaving, a safety plan can be critical to survival.
Each situation is unique, so safety plans are tailored to the individual, and in the process of creating a safety plan, you may realize that you need a restraining order. If you determine that you need to obtain a restraining order, you might seek out the assistance of a lawyer; or, if you don’t have the financial resources for a lawyer, your advocate should be able to guide you through the process.
Alicia McDermott, a Solo Mom and survivor of domestic violence in Idaho, describes the complicated process she went through to obtain a restraining order against her ex-husband. In Idaho, she could obtain an order only if her abuser was in the same county as her. When McDermott learned that her abuser had arrived in her county, she immediately went into action: “After learning that my ex had arrived in the town I live in, I first contacted our local women’s shelter. I had worked with them when I arrived here and hoped they would advise me on what to do, since they already knew my story. They had the application for the protection order brought to my home by an advocate. (I was working and, honestly, terrified to leave my home.) I filled out the application and had it brought to the courthouse for evaluation by the judge.”
Still, even with the assistance of an advocate, McDermott ran into obstacles. The judge initially denied her request, citing that it had been too long since the last abusive incident. McDermott had already gone through the ordeal of describing the abuse, including answering such questions as, “Were you abused enough? How brutal was the abuse? Did anyone witness the abuse? Did you report the abuse?” She was dismayed to learn the order had been denied. Fortunately, the next day, after reconsidering the details of her case, the judge retracted his decision, and the order was issued.
McDermott is hesitant to claim that the order protects her entirely, but when asked if she would recommend a restraining order to other survivors of abuse, she definitively says yes: “My advice to other women would be to do it. Take the steps to obtain a restraining/protection order. Yes, it is draining and frustrating, but it is your life that you’re gambling on if you don’t.” It is important to remember that a restraining cannot guarantee that an abuser will stay away, but it does offer some measure of legal recourse in the case that the abuser doesn’t.
If you decide to apply for a restraining order, the first step will be to go to the courthouse in the county where you live and ask the clerk for a restraining-order request form. If you need immediate protection, you can apply for an emergency order. Your abuser will be served with a summons to attend a hearing, and the hearing date should be set within seven to 14 days. There is an option to obtain an order with no hearing. You should be prepared to offer testimony as to what happened, and bring along any photos or evidence that you have related to the abuse, as well as a picture of your abuser and his work and home address.
If a restraining order is issued, in addition to being ordered not to harass you, the abuser may also be ordered to continue paying certain bills, child support, or financial support in other ways. You may also be given temporary custody of any children from the relationship.
None of this is easy, and reading the above steps may make the process of obtaining a restraining order seem daunting, but with the support of an advocate or lawyer, you can escape; and, as McDermott says about her restraining order, “It is better than the fear of another attack. At least my fears won’t be ignored.”
Escaping abuse is not easy, but I know that freedom is possible. You can read my story here. Taking the steps to leave is difficult but tremendously empowering, and you are not alone on this journey.
Are you a victim of domestic violence? Abuse requires healing, assistance, and someone to listen. Meet other Solo Moms who’ve been been where you are.
Kelly Sundberg, an Ohio-based Solo Mom, writer, and editor. She blogs about surviving and thriving after domestic violence at Apology Not Accepted. You can follow her on Twitter at @K_O_Sundberg.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.