Being safe in your own home

If the abuser has left your home, keep all windows locked at all times. Change the door locks and add additional security measures like dead bolts or an electronic monitoring system.

Develop a safety plan with your children so they know what to do and where to go if the abuser causes problems.

Make sure the children’s school or day care provider has a list of approved persons to pick up the children.

Make sure your friends and neighbors know that the abuser no longer lives with you so they can report it if the abuser returns.

If you have moved away from the abuser, don’t contact or call from your home and never say where you are living, get an unlisted telephone number, and block your cell number.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline will help with your safety planning and answer your questions about dealing with domestic violence at 1 (800)-799-7233 or 1 (800)-787-3224 (TTY).

The The Texas Council on Family Violence also has information.

Obtain a protective order

A protective order is a court order that can protect you from someone who has been violent or threatened to be violent. Sometimes, applying for a protective order is a safe plan, but other times it may escalate the violence. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or a local family violence program to talk about your options.

If you have been recently threatened or assaulted and think it is safe to get a protective order, contact the local district or county attorney and request a protective order. There are also forms online you can use to request a protective order:

TexasLawHelp.org – Free Protective Order Kit

Keep in mind that each county has its own eligibility requirements for a protective order.

Once your protective order is granted, always keep it with you. Call the police immediately if the abuser violates the protective order. Make sure your friends, neighbors, and relatives know you have a protective order. If the protective order involves your children, make a copy for their school or daycare.

Planning to escape

Often, it is not practical or possible to leave the abuser immediately. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, think about setting up a separate bank account in your own name. Make extra sets of keys to leave with a friend or relative. You may want to rent your own post office box so that you can continue to receive mail. Make a list of people’s phone numbers who could help you. Make a list of emergency shelters and their phone numbers. Buy a cell phone or save up some change for pay phone calls. Don’t try to leave while the abuser is with you. Plan on a time when the abuser is away from home (for example, at work).

If you have left the relationship

  • Change your phone number and screen all calls.
  • Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer.
  • Change locks, if the batterer has a key.
  • Avoid staying alone.
  • Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner.
  • If you must meet your former partner, do it in a public place.
  • Vary your routine.
  • Notify school and work contacts.
  • Call a shelter for survivors of domestic violence.

When you leave the relationship, take important papers and documents with you so you can apply for benefits or take legal action. If you are thinking of leaving, make a copy of the important documents and put them in a secure place. Important documents include Social Security cards and birth certificates for you and your children; marriage license; leases or deeds in your name or both your and your partner’s names; checkbook; charge cards; bank statements and charge account statements; insurance policies; proof of income for you and your spouse (pay stubs or W-2’s); and any documentation of past incidents of abuse (photos, police reports, medical records, etc.).

If you are planning to leave the relationship

  • Think of a safe place to go if an argument occurs – avoid rooms with no exits (bathroom), or rooms with weapons (kitchen).
  • Think about and make a list of safe people to contact.
  • Keep change with you at all times.
  • Memorize all important numbers.
  • Establish a “code word” or “sign” so that family, friends, teachers or co-workers know when to call for help.
  • Decide how you can act around the abuser to keep him or her calm. It is usually best not to argue or threaten, although every relationship is different. Remember, you have the right to live without fear and violence.
  • Think about what you will say to your partner he or she becomes violent.

Be careful about searching for information or resources online in case your internet activity is being monitored.

Tips for Court

Have a Plan.

It will be easier if you know the details of the plan you want and have a backup plan. Get a calendar and mark up an ideal parenting schedule so you can see what it looks like.   Then, note the areas you are willing to change and the ones you feel are too important to change. Prepare one or two best alternatives to your plan. Practice explaining your plan saying it aloud, if you have time to do so.

Bring Evidence.

Although it is OK if your testimony is the only evidence that visitation should be limited, having more evidence to support your request can be very helpful and make you feel better prepared. Examples of evidence include:

  • Copies of threatening text messages, emails, letters, or voicemail
  • A list of threats (including date, place and time, and what happened) that you can show the judge
  • Friends and family with knowledge of past abuse or violence who are willing to testify at court
  • Pictures of injuries, including bruises
  • Medical records showing past history of abuse
  • Police records and other criminal records

Bring all of this evidence with you to court. Bring extra copies of everything, if possible.

Be prepared to talk with the judge.

Write down everything you want to say before you get to court. List any evidence you have to support what happened and why you are making your request. This will help you remember everything, stay on track and reduce your nervousness. This is your time to explain what happened that justifies your request for a specific visitation order.

Going in front of a judge can be scary and intimidating. A judge’s time is limited but the judge wants to hear your story and get enough information to make a decision.     Judges want to hear from each party and have to ask very direct questions to make sure they understand. Sometimes judges do not hear everything correctly, especially if both parties are talking at once. The judge does not want you to agree to something just because you want it over, or because the judge asks you hard questions. Judges know the parties are nervous and may have a hard time telling their story. Focus on your goal: ensuring you and your child are safe. A court order can be difficult to change once a judge signs it.

Ask for more time.

If the judge asks for additional evidence that you don’t have, it is OK to ask for time to gather the evidence. Ask the judge to consider resetting the case, or entering a temporary order to give you the time you need. Although the request may not be granted, it does not hurt to ask.

Take a friend.

Although your friend or family member may not get to stand in front of the judge with you, he or she can come into the courthouse with you and provide support, make you feel safer, and help you stay calm.

Have an advocate.

This may not be possible for everyone, but if you have an advocate (specifically, an attorney) to help you through the process, it may not seem so hard. Contact your local domestic violence program and find out what services it offers. An advocate can help you develop a safety plan for you and your children for before, during, and after court. Find information about local programs by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224, or online at: Texas Council on Family Violence – Service Provider Search.

The child’s parent wants the child back, but I don’t think it is a good idea.

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, speak with an attorney about your situation before taking any action.

Talk with the parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay with you. If the parent has been away a long time, talk about making any transition as easy on the child as possible. You could offer to take the child to the new home for progressively longer visits to the new home for a gradual transition.

 

I am worried about my safety if I file for child support.

If you are planning to leave a relationship, be aware that physical violence often escalates during periods of separation and around the time that someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

If you are worried about your safety, take these steps to protect yourself:

Talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises. You can get child support safely.

Office of Attorney General – Stay Safe, Get Support video

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation

If the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

Options for Parenting Time/Visitation

A standard possession order may not be in the best interest of your child if the other parent has acted violently in the past. Texas law says that a court must consider past instances of family violence or sexual abuse in determining whether to deny, restrict, or limit parenting time with a child.

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation: if the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

Supervised Visitation: allows the other parent to visit with his or her children, but requires that all visits be supervised by another adult. The adult can be a friend or family member, or supervision can be provided by a professional agency that provides the service for a fee. Call your local domestic violence shelter or other advocacy group to find out about the services in your area. You can also find a listing of supervised visitation options online [these centers often charge for their services]: