Leaving domestic abuse

Domestic abuse leaves people feeling humiliated, frightened and trapped. Many women feel unable to escape their situation because of financial concerns, and because they have nowhere safe to go. But there are solutions to the situation. This page looks at your options.

What's my first step?

Getting help

Call a domestic abuse helpline such as the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline Scotland on 0800 027 1234. Make the call from a friend's phone or a phone box if you're afraid your partner will find out.

You could also try contacting your local branch of Scottish Women's Aid, or another local women's support group. The page on getting help has some contact details listed.

Even if you don't feel ready to leave your partner yet, calling a helpline will give you the chance to talk to someone who will listen and won't judge you or tell you what to do. If you decide you do want to leave or take legal action against your partner, a helpline worker can provide information on how best to do this. They can also give you information on your legal rights concerning your children, money, benefits and housing, as well as emotional support. Helpline services are completely confidential and your details won't be passed on to anyone else.

Making an escape plan

Even if you don't plan to leave your partner permanently, it's a good idea to have an escape route worked out in case things get worse. You may want to:

  • pack a bag with clothing, toiletries and other essentials (see 'what should I take with me?') and keep it hidden somewhere safe in your home or leave it with a friend
  • ask a friend to keep an extra set of house and car keys for you
  • carry a list of useful contact numbers with you at all times
  • put some money aside in case you need to leave in a hurry.

Where can I go?

If you decide to leave your home, try to find somewhere to stay before you go. This could be:

  • with friends or family (this is perhaps not a very safe option as your partner may well be able to track you down)
  • in a women's refuge
  • in temporary accommodation provided by the council (see below).

Call the National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline Scotland or Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline on 0808 800 4444 for advice on finding a safe place to stay. An adviser will do their best to find you a place in a refuge that suits your needs, or will help you sort out somewhere else safe to stay if there are no places available.

What if I become homeless?

You don't have to be sleeping on the street to be homeless. If you are staying temporarily with friends or family or living in a refuge, hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast, you will still be classed as homeless and can make a homeless application to the council's housing department.

The council will need to look into your situation and decide what kind of help you should get. You should be offered a place to stay while they are doing this. If you have experienced domestic abuse, you should be entitled to a permanent home.

You don't have to apply to your local council. If you are afraid to stay in your local area, you can apply to a council elsewhere and they will have to accept your application. They won't be able to send you back to your local area if you are at risk of abuse there, even if you don't have any connection to the council area you are applying to.

The page on domestic abuse and homelessness has more information and advice on making a homelessness application.

What should I take with me?

Even if you are leaving in a hurry, try to take a few emergency items with you if possible, including:

  • important documents such as your passport, driving licence, national insurance number, child benefit book, birth and marriage certificates, children's birth certificates, information about your tenancy or mortgage, etc
  • phone numbers for your friends and family, your doctor, and emergency numbers for the Domestic Abuse Helpline and Shelter's free housing advice helpline
  • credit cards and bank details
  • house and car keys
  • mobile phone
  • any medication or other personal items, for example glasses or contact lenses, asthma inhaler, insulin, etc
  • a change of clothes and underwear
  • toiletries
  • nappies and a change of clothing for your children
  • children's favourite toys
  • proof of the abuse if you have been keeping notes or writing a diary, taking photos, etc.

If you can't take anything, don't worry. Just go. Staff at a refuge can provide you with the essentials such as toiletries and clothing and can help you with replacing important documents.

What about the family pets?

Many abusive partners will threaten to harm or kill family pets if their partner leaves them. Refuges and temporary accommodation provided by the council do not usually accept pets, although staff there may help you make arrangements to keep them safe if you ask. If this isn't possible and you don't have any friends or family who can safely look after your pets and you can't afford or arrange commercial kennelling, contact the Pet Fostering Service Scotland, who may be able to take care of your pets for you if you are in a crisis situation.

What about money?

Many women are reluctant to leave their partners because they don't have the financial resources to support themselves on their own. However, there are several options open to you, including claiming benefits and applying for child maintenance. You don't need to be in contact with your partner to receive child maintenance.

What options are open to me once I've left home?

Finding new accommodation

If you decide not to return home, you will need to find yourself somewhere else to live. You can consider:

A refuge worker or an adviser at a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice should be able to go over your housing options with you and help you decide on your best course of action. Use the Advice Services Directory to find help near you.

Getting your partner to leave your home

You may decide you want to return home and make your partner leave. Whether or not you can do this will depend on whether you are married or live with your partner and what rights you have to live in your home.

You may be able to apply for an interdict and/or an exclusion order to keep your partner away from your home. You may also be able to apply for a non-harassment order.

Reporting your partner to the police

Domestic abuse is a crime. If your partner physically or sexually assaults you, you can report them to the police, who may charge them with an offence. You may also be able to claim for compensation.

Permanently separating from your partner

If you are married and wish to end your relationship permanently, you will probably want to get a divorce. In this case, you'll need to get legal advice from a solicitor specialising in family law, and you may be able to get legal aid to help with the costs. You can find out more about divorce proceedings from Adviceguide.

What if my partner wants contact with our children?

If your partner wants to stay in touch with your children, they may apply to the court for a contact order to get access to your children. Talk to your solicitor straight away if you are in this position or if you are afraid this situation may arise.

The important points

  • Get help - Call the 24-hour Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 027 1234.
  • Even if you don't feel ready to leave your partner yet, calling a helpline will give you the chance to talk to someone.
  • Even if you don't plan to leave your partner permanently, it's a good idea to have an escape route worked out in case things get worse.
  • If you are staying temporarily with friends or family or living in a refuge, hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast, you will still be classed as homeless and can make a homeless application to the council's housing department.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

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