Q: I have a dear friend who is in trouble—her and her daughter’s dad, who is very verbally abusive, live together and it’s not a good situation. Both of their names are on the house but she doesn't want to uproot her daughter from her home; in the meantime, he is absolutely putting them through hell. How can you get someone to leave when he says it’s half of his house and he isn't leaving? – Jessica S.
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You’re a good friend for wanting to help. Many survivors of domestic violence are in this same boat—they’re asking why they have to leave their home when it’s their partner who’s abusive. Why should they have to uproot themselves and their children, possibly move into a shelter temporarily and completely turn their lives upside down when they did nothing wrong?
It’s unfair, to say the very least. But sometimes, the laws that are in place to protect people can end up working against others. If your friend’s ex-partner is a legal owner of the home, getting him to leave involuntarily is going to be a challenge.
I talked to Rebecca Gill, associate professor and director of the Women’s Research Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for her input, and she agreed that the cards are not stacked in your friend’s favor.
“This is a very complicated and potentially dangerous situation. Women who [are abused] are at their most vulnerable when they try to leave,” Gill says. “Survivors are by and large the ones who end up sacrificing their home and other shared assets, since trying to keep access to those things requires giving the abuser advanced notice of the victim's intent to leave.”
The first concern here is whether your friend and her daughter are currently in danger. Verbal abuse can quickly escalate into physical abuse—if it hasn’t already. See the escalation red flags in “When Abuse Goes From Shouting to Striking” and, when it’s safe to do so (when her abuser is not around), talk to your friend about these red flags. Has she noticed any? She may want to consider getting a safety plan in place—what will she do if she’s in danger and her and her daughter need to leave in a hurry? Is her daughter old enough to be a part of that safety plan (see “Safety Planning With Your Kids”)?
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Take caution in sending your friend these links via text or email, which her abuser may be monitoring. It’s best to show them to her on your device or instruct her to find a computer that her abuser can’t access, such as one at work or a public library. Also, it’s best to make a safety plan with a trained domestic violence advocate. She can find an advocate near her by visiting our Find Help page.
Also be aware that helping her may also put you in danger. Some abusers will try to intimidate, threaten violence or even become violent toward a survivor’s support persons. Make sure to take the proper precautions to ensure your safety and, if you ever feel like you’re in danger, don’t hesitate to reach out to police or a domestic violence advocate for further help.
Next, your friend’s home options. An order of protection might be her best route here, says Gill, one that comes with something called a “kick-out order.” When granted, it decrees the abuser is court-ordered to move out of a residence. However, this isn’t available in all states, it's notoriously difficult to obtain and it most often requires evidence of a criminal activity, like physical abuse—police and hospital records would most likely work. Verbal abuse—as damaging as it is—is one of the hardest types of abuse to prove in court because it isn’t often associated with a hospital stay or a visit by law enforcement.
Gill says your friend is best off finding a lawyer or legal clinic that specializes in family law. “Obviously, a restraining order might be a way to force him out while the civil legal proceedings go forward, but it is difficult to predict how judges will react to such orders when the folks cohabitate. It is even more difficult if the victim's name is not on the deed,” says Gill.
If your friend cannot afford an attorney, the local domestic violence shelter may offer lay legal help, something she should inquire about when she calls.
The alternative is for your friend to leave and find a safe place for now, and then try to have the home sold or be bought out of it. If she is still married to her abuser, a divorce could help her collect half of any shared assets, including property. If she can at least recoup some of the money, she could hopefully start fresh in a new home. See our “Housing” section of articles for more tips on relocating either temporarily or permanently.
As hard as it may be to face the reality of leaving a beloved home, the most important thing is the safety of your friend and her daughter. Whether or not a kick-out order can be granted shouldn’t deter her from pursuing an order of protection if she feels she needs one. Here’s a list of 23 ways she can collect evidence of abuse.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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