Leaving an abusive relationship

It’s not easy to leave. You may still love them. You may still hope they can change. You may feel alone and afraid, and not know what to do. Most of all, you may be scared about what they might do to you.

Leaving an abuser takes courage. It can also be dangerous. You may have to leave in a hurry, but if you have time you can get advice, consider your options, and make a plan – for example, to work out where you’re going to live and how you'll take care of your children.

Help is here for you to make the right choices and get your life back on track.

In an emergency, call 999.

Get support from someone who understands

Get support, information and advice from people who understand what you're going through.

Call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Specialist advisers are on hand to talk to you in confidence. They can help you to make a plan, find support services in your area and get a place for you and your children in a refuge if you need it.

Men can get specialist help by calling freephone Respect Men's Advice Line on 0808 8010 327.

Find other organisations that can help you.

Get legal advice and support here.

Consider your options

Find out about your rights and the law, and consider your options, such as:

You may also want to think about:

Stay safe at home

While you're still living with your abuser, you could think about how to keep yourself and your family safer at home:

  • Is there a safe room (preferably one without easy weapons that could be used against you, such as the kitchen) you can barricade or lock yourself in while you call 999 for help?
  • What's the quickest way out of your home in an emergency? Do you need to carry certain keys with you at all times, just in case?
  • Can you put space between yourself and your abuser so you spend as little time with them as possible? Can you arrange to see friends, go out for a walk, do the shopping, run household chores?
  • Do your trusted friends, relatives and neighbours know to look out for you? They could regularly check you're ok. You could also agree a code between you to show you need help, such as a blank text, a certain emoji, or an object placed on the windowsill.
  • Are you taking care to cover your tracks while you make a plan? The most dangerous time can be when your abuser finds out you're leaving. Browse safely. Consider having a hidden pay-as-you-go phone for secret communication and emergencies, and keep it charged.
  • Can you read the early signs of trouble? Listen to your instincts.
  • Do your children know how to call help on a phone? Teach them to dial 999 and ask for the police.
  • Do you know if there are safe spaces schemes in your area, where you can secretly ask for help when you're out if you need it? For example, the Safe Spaces scheme in pharmacies, and Ask for Angela in London pubs and bars.

Keep a record

You can keep a record of abusive behaviour against you and your children. This could be useful if you need to get a court order for protection, give evidence to the police or make a statement. If you report abuse to the police, they will also make their own investigations, but your evidence may be very helpful.

Be careful. You'll need to store everything somewhere your partner won't find it. If it's physical documents, you could make copies and give them to someone you trust. Digital things you can store and hide on a memory stick, an online cloud, or email to yourself at a secret account.

Evidence you could get could include:

  • emails, texts, chats and voicemail recordings
  • photographs of injuries or damage to property
  • screengrabs of abusive posts or messages
  • medical records (including whether your abuser has accompanied you to appointments)
  • financial records and bank statements
  • notes about any abusive incidents including times, dates, names and details

You may also want to keep a regular diary showing abusive, coercive and controlling behaviour that is less easy to document, such as:

  • how your partner is making you feel
  • whether you've had to change your normal day-to-day life
  • whether you've lost touch with friends and relatives
  • whether you've had to stop working, training or studying
  • any patterns of threatening, intimidating or harmful behaviour against you

Get ready

Leaving an abuser can be dangerous, particularly if they are controlling and coercive. In an emergency, you may have to leave in a hurry. But if you have time, you could take steps to get ready and make a plan.

Make a plan

  • Choose a safe time to leave when your partner's not at home, and a safe route where they won't spot you.
  • Work out where you'd stay, such as a friend or relative's place (ideally where you won't be looked for), or a refuge.
  • Think about your children and anything they'll need while they're away from home.
  • Put some money aside for when you leave if you can.
  • Tell someone you trust what you're planning. You could make a secret code with them – a blank text message or certain emojis, for example – so that you can let them know what's happening.

Pack a bag

Have a bag ready for an emergency or for the day you leave. You could store it at a friend or relative's house for safekeeping. You may be able to keep some of these things on you all the time.

You may need:

  • important documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, visas, driving licence and car registration forms
  • copies of any court orders, restraining orders, police records, medical records
  • any essential medication
  • keys for home, work and transport (you could make a spare set)
  • money, credit cards, bank account details and numbers
  • welfare and benefit documents
  • national insurance number and other insurance details
  • copies of your tenancy agreement, mortgage details or property title deeds
  • a spare phone charger
  • diary, address book and emergency phone numbers
  • jewellery and small items of sentimental value
  • clothing and toiletries for you and your children
  • your children's favourite toys, if small enough

Once you've left

After you've left, you may still experience some kinds of abuse. You may also have to deal with your ex, perhaps in court proceedings about your children or a divorce – but this doesn't mean you have to be in contact with them directly.

Whatever's happening, support is still available to you.

There are some important things you might need to do once you’ve left:

  • continue to get specialist support to give you the information you need to make the right choices
  • get protection from the courts or police
  • make your home more secure
  • make it difficult for the abuser to find and contact you or continue the abuse
  • block your ex and their friends and contacts on social media
  • make sure your ex isn't tracking you on your phone or device, or through spyware
  • make sure benefits and other income goes only to you and not your ex-partner
  • freeze any joint accounts if you haven't already done so and tell your bank the situation so they don't share your address
  • redirect your post so your abuser can’t interfere in your affairs
  • contact utility companies, your local council, landlord or mortgage provider, so you’re not charged wrongly for bills or taxes
  • consider telling your children's school about the situation
  • collect your things only when safe, perhaps with a police escort if possible

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