How to prepare to leave a relationship of domestic violence

If you wish to leave an unsafe, abusive relationship, it’s crucial that you seek support and plan ahead to minimise the risk of harm to yourself and your children.

By Georgia Foster, Lawyer at Australian Family Lawyers in Adelaide

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. 

It is important to note that domestic violence includes:

  • physical;
  • sexual;
  • emotional;
  • psychological;
  • verbal;
  • social;
  • economic; and
  • spiritual abuse;
  • as well as stalking. 

In Australia, 1 in 4 women experience violence and abuse from a current or former partner, and women are almost three times more likely to experience domestic violence in comparison to men. 

How to leave a domestic violence relationship or situation

A female friend helps her in leaving a relationship of domestic violencebest friend pack up her suitcase and support her

You might consider taking the following steps to leave the relationship of domestic violence as safely as possible.

1. Get support

If you decide to speak out, confide in a trusted family member, friend or workmate for help.

Alternatively, you can contact one of the following national support services for information about your options and next steps:

  • 1800RESPECT is a national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service that provides information on a range of issues including (but not limited to) safe accommodation and housing, the police, law and financial issues. 1800RESPECT is free, confidential and can connect you with additional support services in your state or territory. Contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
  • Relationships Australia provides counselling, Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) and support and education programs. Contact Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.
  • Men’s Referral Service is a free, confidential telephone helpline that provides people impacted by domestic violence with general support, support services and information concerning male family violence. Contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.
  • Family Relationship Advice Line is a national telephone service that provides information, support and services concerning family relationships, family separation issues, the family law system, parenting arrangements, telephone-based Family Dispute Resolution and referrals to Family relationship Centres. Contact the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321.

Of course, if you feel unsafe or are in immediate danger, you should contact the police on Triple Zero (000) for assistance.

2. Safety planning

Packing an escape bag suitcase

Consider contacting a support service, such as 1800RESPECT, to prepare a detailed safety plan which you can implement to keep yourself and children safe when at home, escaping the home and after leaving. Support services can provide practical ideas and suggestions to suit your individual circumstances and needs.

As an example, 1800RESPECT suggests packing an escape bag with essential items, including:

  • Clothing.
  • Money and bank cards.
  • Phone and charger.
  • Spare keys.
  • Medications and prescriptions.
  • Personal identification, e.g., Driver’s License, birth certificate and passport.
  • Photocopies of important documents, e.g:
    • insurance;
    • Child Support;
    • Centrelink;
    • rental agreement; and 
    • mortgage documents.
  • Medicare card and health records.
  • Legal documents.
  • Items of sentimental value.

This way you are prepared in the event you must leave home quickly.

3. Technology and safety

Perpetrators of domestic violence often use technology to monitor, stalk, control and abuse their victims. 

It is therefore imperative that victims using technology to seek support increase their personal privacy and safety. 

Contact WESNET or eSafety online for resources, information and advice concerning technology-facilitated abuse, online safety planning, as well as for general safety tips and suggestions. 

Changing settings on devices and accounts can put you at risk of harm so prepare a safety plan before implementing any changes. 

4. Housing

Woman embraces and hugs her desperatefriend

Before leaving the relationship, arrange to stay with a family member or friend (if possible). 

Emergency accommodation can also be found at women’s refuges and shelters, in public housing and in private rentals. Contact 1800RESPECT to find crisis or emergency accommodation services in your area that provide safe and secure housing. Referrals can also be provided with respect to transitional housing and housing for longer periods.

5. Financial assistance

Contact Centrelink for immediate financial advice and information. You may be eligible to receive a Crisis Payment. Centrelink can also assist with the collection of child support. Contact Centrelink within seven days of leaving for information regarding eligibility and starting the claims process for Crisis Payment. 

Seek additional assistance from a financial counsellor for help with budgeting and access to services that provide transport, food and household items. Call Financial Counselling Australia on 1800 007 007 to access free resources and advice in your state.

6. Domestic Violence Protection Order

Apply to the courts for an order to protect yourself and your children from further violence and abuse. 

A Protection Order imposes specific conditions on a person, prohibiting them from engaging in certain behaviours, including (but not limited to):

  • Stalking or coming near you.
  • Attending your home.
  • Contacting you directly or through other people.
  • Damaging your property. 

Breaching an order is a criminal offence that can result in fines and/or imprisonment. 

In Australia, orders to protect against domestic violence are known by different names depending on the state or territory, including:

If you wish to apply for an order, you can seek assistance from the police or apply directly to the courts. 

7. Domestic violence legal advice

Leaving a violent and abusive partner is difficult.

It is essential for your well-being, safety and health that you understand your legal rights and options moving forward.

Seek legal advice from an experienced family lawyer before you leave a domestic violence relationship. They’ll be able to help you with Protection Orders, arrangements for children, child support and property settlement matters.

Free and confidential legal advice is also available from national services such as Women’s Legal Service Australia and Legal Aid. For referrals to services in your local area contact 1800RESPECT.

Do you have a question about family law or relationship law?

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