One of the most difficult parts of a divorce case involving domestic violence comes when it’s time for the victim of abuse to testify in court during a protective order hearing or even a hearing on temporary orders.
For those who experience domestic violence, it’s incredibly painful to relive that abuse publicly before a Court that may be perceived to be unsympathetic to your experiences. I’ve worked with clients who have written down what they’ve experienced to prepare for their testimony but even with that preparation the actual testimony experience is incredibly difficult.
The first step in preparing someone to testify in a domestic violence-related divorce is to make sure that person is in a safe place to do so. If you’re ready to leave a marriage where you or your children are the victims of violence, it is recommended that you are living separated from your abuser before the time of the first contested hearing. It is well established, both through imperative and narrative evidence, that escalation of abuse occurs at the time of separation and shortly thereafter. The intensity of ongoing litigation may also pose a danger to the victim and the shared children.
As a victim of domestic violence, you have a lot to think about as you make the decision to leave your relationship and dangerous situation. It is helpful to think of the steps you will take to keep yourself and your children safe as your “safety plan.” You will find various resources with tips and strategies for creating your safety plans at the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, the Domestic Violence Resource Center website, and the Family Violence Prevention Services Agency in San Antonio. Ideally, your safety plan needs to account for your financial needs as well as the physical safety of you and your children.
Your safety plan should also involve those people who would notice if you were missing, as well as those family members and friends who serve as confidantes. If there are teachers, priests, and counselors who know about your situation, it’s worth letting them know that you’re about to move forward as they may be able to provide you or your children safety and emotional support during a potential period of escalation.
Your safety plan needs to be tailored to your specific situation and needs to be something you and those close to you can follow and implement.
I recommend that each of my clients in an abusive relationship and environment seek the assistance of a mental health professional. The process of testifying in court can be stressful for anyone. This is particularly true when someone has to face his or her batterer in a courtroom and recount all the incidents of abuse they have suffered.
That sounds like a lot, and it is. But it’s also something that you need to do for yourself (and your children, if you have children). Testifying in court will make it clear to the judge what you’ve experienced.