According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 24 people become victims of some sort of domestic violence every minute of every day. One in four adult women and one in seven adult men have been victimized by an intimate partner.
It only makes sense that victims want to get as far away from their assailants as possible, particularly given that more than three of every four women had been hurt before by the same offender. Unfortunately, they face many obstacles, from insufficient money to laws that can prohibit them from leaving with their children. But in many cases, leaving the city or state they live in and relocating somewhere new can be the best, safest option.
Making the Break
The National Network to End Domestic Violence indicates that victims are most vulnerable when they make the decision to leave. They should fully consider and weigh the logistics of relocation and not proceed blindly, simply trusting that everything will be better after they’ve gone.
Victims should choose their new locations carefully. A place where it can be anticipated that they’ll go isn’t always ideal because their abusers might logically guess that that’s where they’ll attempt to start over – in a city or town where they have friends or family. But the flip side to this can be loneliness and isolation when they get to the new location.
Also, victims should confide their anticipated location to as few people as possible and try to line up employment before making the change, whenever feasible. The availability of quality schools in a location matters, too, for victims who have children.
The “Disappearing Act”
The National Network to End Domestic Violence warns that disappearing and going off the radar entirely isn’t really a possibility in this day and age. Some victims think that they can simply settle down in a new town under a different name and that will be that – but this opens up a host of complications.
They’re still often traceable because of the huge amount of personal information that’s available digitally in the millennium. Not to mention the legal implications of working under an assumed Social Security number, or that many victims want to retain their hard-earned educational and work histories, and their driver's licenses. More than half of all states do have some version of an Address Confidentiality Program, however.
Relocation Assistance for Victims of Domestic Violence
The assistance of someone who’s experienced in these matters can’t be overstated. One option is to contact the domestic violence program in the city or county where the victim is relocating. This can provide tactical guidance and often counseling, as well.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a full list of domestic violence organizations that are standing by to offer assistance in every state.
Read More: Is Domestic Violence a Felony?
Relocating With Children
Victims with children tend to face the greatest hurdles, thanks largely to state and federal legislation. It’s crucial that relocating parents have a firm understanding of their state’s parental relocation laws, as well as the laws in their new state if they’re contemplating crossing state lines.
Most states will not permit a parent to relocate with children without telling the other parent where they’re going or without the other parent’s consent, and this can be a huge obstacle when the other parent is the offender. These victims need the help of a qualified family law attorney to help them sort through their options. Luckily, free legal aid is available in most states, subject to income limitations.
A list of links to state legal resources is provided by the National Center for State Courts. The Legal Resource Center for Violence Against Women can also help parent victims sort through the morass of legal issues they might face.
Two federal laws also potentially come into play when relocating with children:
- The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act requires that all states recognize and enforce custody orders from other states, although not all relocating victims have existing custody orders.
- The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act includes special rules for victims of domestic violence, and it outlines various procedures for attempting to establish a custody order in a different state.
Financial Help for Domestic Violence Victims
Financial assistance can be critical for some relocating victims. Women Against Abuse has partnered with the Mission First Housing Group to provide housing units for abused women in the Philadelphia area, and Movers Help Domestic Violence Victims Get Out provides help in Southern California.
The HUD Exchange additionally offers a website page of links to various assistance sources, and local domestic violence shelters can almost invariably provide contacts for donations, domestic violence relocation assistance and to meet other needs.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: Get the Facts and Figures
- Women Against Abuse: Safe at Home Program
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: How Can Creating Partnerships With Moving Companies Help Domestic Violence Advocates?
- HUD Exchange: Domestic Violence and Homelessness
- Domestic Shelters: Ready to Relocate?
- National Network to End Domestic Violence: Understanding the Complexities of Relocation for Survivors of Domestic Violence
- National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: Frequently Asked Questions on Relocation for Victim Advocates
- National Center for State Courts: Legal Aid/Pro Bono State Links
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.