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Safety Planning

Safety when Preparing to End an Abusive Relationship

August 2, 2023

If you are thinking of ending an abusive relationship, it’s important for you to know that there’s a chance the abuser will become more violent. This can happen immediately or weeks or months after ending the abusive relationship. Here are some things to consider as you get ready to end the relationship.

Getting ready to leave
After you’ve left

Getting ready to leave

When you are ready to leave: 

  • Make a plan for how you are going to leave, including where you’re going to go, and how to cover your tracks. You can consider making two plans: 
    • one in case you have time to prepare to leave the home; and
    • a second one in case you need to leave in a hurry. 
  • If you have kids with the abuser, please see our Safety Planning with Children page. If you are considering leaving without your children, please talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody before doing this. Leaving your children with an abuser may negatively affect your chances of getting custody of them in court later on. Go to our Finding a Lawyer page for a list of free and paid legal services.
  • Keep any evidence of the abuse, if possible, and take it with you when you leave. Make sure to keep this evidence in a safe place that the abuser will not find – this may mean that you have to keep it in a locked drawer at work or with a trusted family member. If the abuser finds it, you could be in more danger. 
  • Prepare a bag that you can easily grab when you leave. However, while they’re helpful to have, getting out safely should come first. You could include:
    • spare car keys;
    • your driver’s license;
    • a list of your credit cards so that you can track any activity on them;
    • your checkbook;
    • money;
    • phone numbers for friends, relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization;
    • a change of clothing for you and your children;
    • any medication that you or your children usually take;
    • your and your children’s legal documents, such as Social Security cards, passports, green cards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, will, welfare identification information, and copies of any court orders, such as your protection order or custody order;
    • information about the abuser that may be necessary for future court filings, such as his/her date of birth, Social Security number, and license plate number;
    • copies of financial documents for you and the abuser, such as pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with the abuser;
    • any evidence you’ve been collecting to show that you’ve been abused; and
    • important things you want to keep, like photographs, jewelry, or other personal items.
  • Hide the bag somewhere the abuser will not find it, which could be at the home of a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys in a place you can get to easily in case the abuser takes the car keys to prevent you from leaving.
  • Set money aside. If the abuser controls the household money, this might mean that you can only save a few dollars per week. The most important thing is that you save whatever amount you can that will not tip off the abuser and put you in further danger. You can ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you so that the abuser cannot find it or use it.
  • If you do not have your own source of income, consider looking for a program that helps victims re-enter the workforce.
  • Consider filing for a protective order. This can be an important part of a safety plan when preparing to leave. Even if you get a protective order, you should still take other safety planning steps to keep yourself and your children safe. A legal protective order is not always enough to keep you safe. Locate your state in our Restraining Orders section to find out more information about getting a protective order.
  • Leave when the abuser will least expect it. This will give you more time to get away before the abuser realizes that you are gone.
  • If you have pets and you are worried about their safety and welfare if they were left behind, consider reading through the Animals & Family Violence section in the Animal Welfare Institute webpage. They provide information about this topic including safety planning for pets and including pets in protection orders.

After you’ve left

  • Keeping your whereabouts confidential - If you are fleeing to a confidential location and you fear that the abuser will go looking for you, you might consider joining an Address Confidentiality Program if available in your state. This program can provide you with a mail forwarding service and give you a legal substitute address to use in place of your physical address.
  • Dealing with legal issues - Depending on your specific circumstances, it’s possible that you might need to file one or more cases in court. Even though ending an abusive relationship is certainly an overwhelming time, there are some legal issues that might be urgent. Please consider if:
    • there are custody issues that need to be resolved. For example, if there’s a custody order and fleeing the abuse is violating that order;
    • there’s a possibility that the abuser will hide or destroy marital assets if there’s no court order stopping him/her from doing so;
    • you qualify and would benefit from filing a restraining order; or
    • there’s an immigration case pending that depends on your relationship with the abuser. 
  • Finding support - Even abusive relationships can be emotionally difficult to end. If you’re a survivor of abuse who is prepared to end an abusive relationship, consider having a support system in place. Hopefully friends and family, domestic violence advocates and even therapists or a community of faith, can help and support you through this process. You can consider contacting:
    • local advocates/shelters in your area where you can participate in any supportive services offered; and
    • a therapist to help you through trauma you experienced. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both have links to find help in each state. Also, licensed clinical social workers can also provide therapy and they’re usually less expensive. Please note that WomensLaw is not affiliated with either of these organizations.