How to Keep Yourself and your Children Safe During a Separation from Your Spouse/Significant Other:
Most domestic violence occurs after separation from batterers. In fact, about 75% of the calls to law enforcement for intervention and assistance in domestic violence occur during this time. (Barbara Hart, Remarks to the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, April 1992). This shows that domestic violence increases when a victim decides to leave an abuser.
Many victims of domestic violence are forced to repeatedly interact with their abuser after the separation, resulting in further problems. This is generally because the victim and abuser have children to co-parent. Therefore, it’s vital for the victim of domestic violence to learn techniques to deal with an abuser after their separation, especially during custody exchanges. Below are a few helpful hints:
- Meet in a Public Place: Certain situations make it often unsafe to meet the abuser at home (yours or his/hers). You may ask to meet in a public place for a custody exchange. One “safe” place may be your local police station, ensuring that you check the hours that officers or civilian staff will be on duty. It’s always best to do an exchange when staff would be available to assist you. If the abuser will not agree to this, you can attempt to obtain a Court Order requiring both of you to meet at a designated public place.
- Have a Witness Attend the Custody Exchanges: Having a witness attend custody exchanges can serve several of purposes. Primarily, one is less likely to cause abuse when there is a witness present. If there is inappropriate behavior towards you or your children, the witness can corroborate dates and times when it occurred. This may assist you if criminal charges are pressed against the abuser or you decide to try and modify your custody order. A witness can also help keep you and your children remain safe by providing an extra set of hands to assist you.
- Have a Substitute do the Exchanges for you: In extremely difficult cases, it can be helpful to have another person with whom your children are familiar conduct the custody exchange, whereby you avoid the abuser all together. Often the abuser will rebel against this idea, insisting that you attend the exchange, or else he/she will not return the child. In this case, you can request a Court Order allowing a substitute to complete the exchanges. By eliminating yourself from the equation, you may be able to provide for a more peaceful custody exchange for your children.
- Ask about the ‘Child Access Center’: Centre County has a ‘Child Access Center”, providing a safe environment for the exchange of your children. The parents do not see each other in this situation, since each parent uses separate entrances to the building. However, the center is generally open only at certain days and times. To use such a place, you would likely need to obtain a Court Order directing both parents to utilize these services. If you are interested, I would suggest that you consult an attorney to inquire about this option.
Please note that there are several other techniques a victim can use to keep himself/herself and his/her children safe after separation from an abuser. It is always helpful to consult with an attorney, legal advocate, or counselor who has experience dealing with domestic violence to discuss your specific situation.
If you have any further questions about how to keep yourself safe at custody exchanges, or how to keep yourself safe in general, it may be a good idea to call your local Women’s Resource Center or Domestic Violence Hotline.
This article is not intended for the purposes of providing legal advice for any specific legal problem.