How To Get Out
December 22, 2013 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I've been married for ten years. The last four have a been a long downhill slide. I have to end it. Do I give him notice or just go and deal with the aftermath?

For reasons that are both too mundane and too numerous to fully explicate here, I am emotionally done being married. Unfortunately, I am still practically married. My husband has never laid a hand on me, but he has been very emotionally unstable for much of our marriage. We have two young children together. Right now, I am preparing to move out, roughly March 2014. I don't know if I should consent to a separation before filing or not- I am dunzo, and a separation won't change that, so I am afraid of giving him false hope. I also don't know how much, if any, notice I should give him that I am leaving. Practically speaking, I can hire movers and be out within a couple of hours on a morning while he is at work and the children are school. I feel pretty terrible about doing it that way, but I can't give him much notice because I know his abusive behavior becomes intolerable when I try to talk it out with him. Do I tell him in advance that I'm leaving him? Or do I just let my actions speak for themselves?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With kids -- consult with a lawyer about how to proceed from here.
posted by kmennie at 8:55 AM on December 22, 2013 [31 favorites]

Amen on the lawyer. Some states require a separation before a divorce.
posted by plinth at 8:58 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Absolutely speak to a lawyer. So much of the practicalities depend on your jurisdiction. Are you planning on leaving the kids or taking them with you? Because moving out unilaterally may affect which of those is possible. And you speak of movers, but in some places you may not just be able to take stuff as if it's only yours as it may be deemed jointly owned. In short, wherever you live there will be rules about how you leave a marriage and divide up the property and support the kids. You should find out what those actually are before doing anything else.

Ethically speaking you should tell your husband rather than just walking out.

Covering all bases, if this is an abusive relationship you should contact an organisation that helps women leave domestic violence (even if your relationship hasn't been violent) and follow their advice. In the UK, the people to contact are Women's Aid.
posted by plonkee at 9:03 AM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hi, obviously lawyer, but please prepare a clearly thought out set of short-term and long-term objectives before you do, and only hire a lawyer who thoughtfully engages with you on the list and can come to an agreed-upon strategy.

That you want to move out, rather than getting your husband to move out by order or agreement, already shows that you want to this to be a non-standard divorce, and implies that you may want other things to be handled different from the standard "Represent a Divorcing Mom" playbook upon which your lawyer will rely if not given a clear mandate to do otherwise.
posted by MattD at 9:32 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ethically speaking you should tell your husband rather than just walking out.

These sorts of ethics don't really apply in an abusive situation. Your physical safety takes precedence over his feelings.

I agree that you'll end up needing a lawyer, but I think calling your local domestic violence organization is probably a better first step (and they often have lawyers associated with the agency, too). They'll likely be able to give you a sense of the legal issues involved in your jurisdiction and have advice about how to navigate them when leaving an abusive spouse. (And emotional abuse very much counts as abuse, and legitimate domestic violence organizations will treat it as such.)

Please feel free to memail me if you want help locating local organizations.
posted by jaguar at 9:56 AM on December 22, 2013 [17 favorites]

Abusive situations can be at their worst when someone is moving out.

Resources like this may help you make lists of what you need to do and have in place.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:01 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

My neighbor was almost killed by her unstable husband when she did the ostensibly "ethical" thing and told him she was filing for divorce.

So please, everyone, avoid imposing your view of ethics on the OP.
posted by jayder at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2013 [60 favorites]

Lawyer. Lawyer lawyer lawyer. Lawyer so hard. Keep notes now of everything that your husband does and says that is abusive. Record dates and times and any witnesses. If you live in a one party recording jurisdiction (that is, only one person being recorded needs to consent) you might do well to record his verbal abuse. But you need to discuss that with a lawyer.

You need a lawyer to help you think about dividing assets, and child custody/visitation, and support payments.

While you are working in that direction, call a local hotline for domestic violence. They can give you specific tips about your location, and might even have some lawyer suggestions. The lack of physical violence does not make this not abusive.

The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is either becoming pregnant/having a baby, or leaving, depending on whom you ask. Have a strong team of support for when you leave. This can include having a police or sheriff's presence when the movers get your things out of the house.

Ethics is not a black and white prescriptive game. Your safety (and that of your children) is at stake here. Be absolutely aware that you need to prioritize yourself and your children over anyone's hurt feelings and ability to "shape up."
posted by bilabial at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

If your husband is abusive in your marriage, there is no reason to think he won't be abusive in your divorce. There are children involved here, not just assets. Talk to a lawyer (or several to find one you mesh with) before you take any more steps. You need to protect not just your half of the marital assets, but also be proactive to protect your right to see your children and your physical safety.

Things could go very smoothly, but they could also go very very wrong (charging you with kidnapping, framing you as a drug addict, manipulating your children, killing you). You hope for the best and plan for the worst. A family attorney in your jurisdiction with experience in abusive situations should be your next call; do not talk to anyone else about this until you've spoken to an attorney/advocate. If your husband has access to your calling records (on a cell bill or just with access to your phone), consider calling from work, a pay phone, or friend's house.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

As others have said, a lawyer can advise you on your rights/obligations better than us, and with such vague mentions of the abusive behaviour we can't advise whether it would be safer to let him know of your plans in advance or not. If you think you can give him notice and remain safe then it feels like it would be better giving him at least a little notice - telling him on a Sunday night that the removal firm is coming on Tuesday morning, and its non-negotiable for example - but if you in any way feel that would put you at risk, contact a domestic violence centre for advice and support.

One thing I would add, though, is have you considered the notice you'll be giving to your children? As you say you could move when he is at work and the children are at school I'm not totally clear if you are planning on taking them with you (although my assumption would be that you are.) If you bring your kids to school from your family home one morning, then collect them that afternoon and bring them to a completely unfamiliar place and announce "this is where we'll be living now, and Daddy won't be joining us" that could be hugely traumatic for them for many reasons. You don't say how old the children are so some thought needs to be given to how to tell them in an age appropriate way, and also you need to consider if they would tell their father and what the repercussions of that would be. Again, maybe this is something you could take advice on from Women's Aid or a local organisation that works with single parents. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 10:21 AM on December 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

Echoing: lawyer to make sure your legal ducks are in a row.

If you bring your kids to school from your family home one morning, then collect them that afternoon and bring them to a completely unfamiliar place and announce "this is where we'll be living now, and Daddy won't be joining us" that could be hugely traumatic for them for many reasons.

Any parental separation is going to be traumatic for kids. It could very well be much less traumatic in the long run to do it this way than to have them live in an atmosphere of anger (and possible abuse) for the next three months. I'd bet on it being less traumatic, actually.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

retired lawyer with extensive divorce experience here...

yes, you need to talk to a good divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction first thing. you want somebody experienced in the court where this will be happening, who knows the judges and their various idiosyncracies. think of it as an NFL football game. there's a pre-game warmup and preparation period, getting your ducks in a row, gathering information and what we call "divorce estate planning" and then you will take the field with a playbook your lawyer will supply you, and your team will execute the plays in sequence until the game is over with the best possible outcome for you.
posted by bruce at 10:44 AM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Agree on the lawyer. I am not just joining the chorus; I speak as one who did not involve a lawyer in my divorce until everything was hashed out between the two of us. Your post is all about how this will affect him. That should not be your primary concern. You need to make you and your children are protected physically and financially. The emotional part will suck for him and nothing you do can save him from that. Attempting to manage this divorce in a misguided attempt to be "ethical" could have terrible consequences for you and your kids. Start calling lawyers ASAP!
posted by Wordwoman at 10:48 AM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

you need to consult a lawyer if for no other reason than to understand how the laws work in your specific jurisdiction. There are places where vacating the marital home will impact your legal rights to that home's assets, for example. You also need to understand custody in your jurisdiction, and how leaving your family home with the children will impact that, if at all.

You don't know. Find out, via a lawyer you hire to help you leave.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:19 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ethics often equal "the right thing to do."

Laws try to protect everyone's rights. Fear is no reason to defy ethics. If you put ethics aside as some have advised, there is no "check" on your actions - you may be defying actual law. That can be consequential to you, and your future relationship with your children. These are his kids just as much as yours. Your beef is with him; avoid making the children power play pieces. It doesn't work anyway, and could seriously jeopardize your legal standing.

Consulting with an attorney is your very first step - not planning a child and asset caper.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:29 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went through a separation and divorce without lawyers and I often disagree with the usual chorus to lawyer up here, but I would use one in this case.

I can understand your desire not to just walk out on him without notice too, but people who've been abusive have to be treated differently. Not only is his behaviour not your fault, the fact that you almost certainly need to leave in an abrupt fashion is also determined by the things he has done.

Seconding billiebee about your kids too. You need to work out how to do this in a way that allows you to be safe but that is no more disruptive to them than necessary.

Sorry you're going through this. It's rarely easy, but you're making a move that will put you in a better place in the future. Good luck.
posted by mewsic at 2:01 PM on December 22, 2013

I'm not clear enough about the nature of his abusiveness and his relationship with the children to give you any advice. That's important to know because a battle between lawyers can get very expensive, very ugly, very time consuming (at the expense of spending more time with your chikdren), and not necessarily generate optimal outcomes. Collaborative divorce with a mediator is an alternative in some situations and I don't think people should jump to conclusions about your situation without knowing more about the abusiveness.
posted by Dansaman at 2:15 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't listen to people telling you that you're being unethical. How ethical is it to abuse your spouse in front of your kids? My friend in an abusive marriage - one where her husband keeps it pretty quiet in front of the kids - still had her kid ask her why daddy was such a bully to her. Kids know. So please. You're not using the kids as pawns. That is flat-out ridiculous.

Talk to a lawyer. I would also get in touch with a shelter for domestic violence. Whether its physical doesn't matter. Abuse is abuse and they will have resources for you to draw on. They'll be able to tell you things like "what you describe is in fact abuse and this is what we can help you with."

Good luck. I'm thinking of you.
posted by sockermom at 3:22 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ditto all of the above suggestions regarding a lawyer. It seems like it would be best to have all your outcomes all lined up and legal before making any overt moves. Perhaps you need to list them down, what to do and when, so you can stick to this plan with TSHTF. I'd also recommend looking for a third party, perhaps someone in your local network who is actively involved in preventing abuse, to stand in as a communicator for you, someone who won't be bullied. They have no dog in the fight, they are just a stand-in. Their job is to carry messages back and forth. Lawyers tend to do this and that's not really their job. They tend to make everything into a legal battle. That's not always necessary. You may find it necessary to remove yourself from the direct connection with your husband but you will still need a conduit. See if you can find someone who will support you in this way and it may make things easier for all concerned. Just a suggestion, I've never tried doing this so cannot attest to whether it would be helpful or not.
posted by diode at 4:34 PM on December 22, 2013

If there are assets, how will you protect them? You'll need money for your kids. A lawyer, or legal aid, can help. Contact a family violence program for help for your kids, change is hard on them. Document his behavior, and keep documenting. If you leave abruptly, he has a right to know where his kids are, and that they're safe, and he'll likely have visitation. Set up a good support system for your kids, through school, etc. Good Luck.
posted by theora55 at 8:03 PM on December 22, 2013

I was you ten years ago. Ten years of marriage, with the last four increasingly awful and verbally and emotionally abusive.

Lawyer up first, of course. If you think your husband is abusive now, leaving and filing for divorce may bring out a monster. Get a really good lawyer, experienced in divorce, who will fight for you.

Forget "ethics." You are saving your own life. DO NOT feel awful about hurting his feelings; abusive people don't care how you feel - if he cared how you feel you probably would not be leaving. You have to be your own hero and stand up for yourself. I don't even think it matters whether you tell him first or not - in my case, I spoke of divorce and leaving for months before I finally left. It made no difference. He didn't take me seriously until I actually left.

When you do move out, make sure you take everything that is yours. Do not assume that you will ever be able to get back in the house later - the first thing HIS lawyer will do is have him change the locks. You may be able to get the court to order him to let you in at a future date, but it's better IMO just to take all your stuff all at once. If there is a dispute about who owns it, you can always give it back.

I am so, so sorry you are having to go through this. It's going to be hard, but it will be worth it.
posted by caryatid at 9:19 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

You need a lawyer. For all of the reasons listed above.

If you own the home jointly, there are ramifications to moving out, be sure to cover your bases there.

You will also want to put your kids in therapy, since the method in which you are doing this is going to be deeply unsettling. No judgement, sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do.

It will all be okay, but the most important thing is to protect the kids, you and your assets.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2013

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