People who are abused in their homes feel a lot of different emotions: regret, shame, fear, humiliation, hate, etc.
Out of all those emotions, fear is usually the one that makes people stay in an abusive relationship.
Victims fear they’ll lose their money, the fear they’ll lose their friends, the fear their abuser will find out about their plan to leave and abuse them worse, and (in some cases) they fear they’ll lose their kids.
As with most things we’re afraid of, the fear is overblown.
With that in mind, I want to address one particular fear victims of domestic violence in Utah ask about all the time: will they get in legal trouble if they leave the home (i.e., will they lose out on money or custody because they “abandoned” their home and family?).
The answer is: very likely not. Let me explain why.
Home & Money
Pretty much any commissioner or judge is going to understand why you left if you’re being physically or sexually abused. No one’s going to fault you for that.
You’re not going to lose out on equity in the home, or lose marital assets because you removed yourself from an abusive relationship.
You haven’t “abandoned” the home under these circumstances. Instead, you have saved your life.
(Note: I’m addressing this abandoning the home/losing money argument because so many abusers control their victims/spouses by telling them that if they leave, they forfeit alimony, equity, assets. That’s not correct. It’s nothing more than another method of control.)
When it comes to kids and leaving the home, things become more difficult.
If you’re being physically and sexually abused and you need to leave the home, you almost certainly need to take the children with you. Please, don’t leave those children alone to be abused.
That said, if you are in such a bad way that you need to leave and you can’t get the kids out with you at the same time, leave. That’s a last option sort of thing, however. You really need to take the kids with you.
The reason for this is it bolsters your assertion you were being physically or sexually abused. If you leave your kids behind, your ex is going to say you weren’t really being abused, because if you were, you would never leave your kids alone to be abused. There’s logic to that, which is why you should take your kids with you.
So, are you going to lose custody if you take your kids and leave the home because of abuse? Not if you handle things correctly.
What I mean is you need to act quickly. Don’t leave then do nothing for months, all the while withholding the children from seeing their parent. That will make things more difficult in the future when you file for divorce.
Instead, like I said, act quickly. Here are a few examples of things you can do:
- File a protective order.
- File a child protective order.
- File a divorce complaint.
If you don’t want a divorce, then contact a skilled counselor with extensive experience helping families overcome physical and sexual abuse.
What this Advice Is Based On
What I’ve said so far is based on a couple things: (1) you or your kids have suffered physical or sexual abuse, (2) you have a pretty good ability to prove abuse.
I don’t mean to downplay emotional or psychological abuse at all (it’s real, let me tell you), but it’s much harder to prove than physical or sexual abuse. Just keep that in mind.
And if your allegations of physical or sexual abuse are seriously questionable (e.g., you’ve accused people of similar abuse in the past and those allegation turned out to be false), then you’re going to have a difficult time in court. In fact, the court may well see you taking the kids and leaving the home as bad faith behavior. This is why you never cry wolf.
If you are the victim or physical or sexual abuse, you should seriously consider leaving the home and taking your children with you.
Don’t worry about “abandoning” anything. You are doing what’s necessary to keep you and your kids safe.
After you’ve done this, act quickly by filing for divorce or a protective order. The longer you do nothing, the muddier the waters get when you do end up filing for divorce.