In May 2016, a new Pennsylvania divorce law eased the legal separation process for women in abuse relationships. The new law removed required counselling sessions and granted the court the right to presume consent to divorce from an abuse party convicted of personal injury against the spouse.
This law removes some of the legal obstacles preventing Pennsylvania women from divorcing an abuse spouse, but there are many more reasons why women across the country stay in an abuse relationship rather than seek legal separation. According to Domestic Abuse Projects the most compelling reasons for staying in an abuse relationship include:
Fear of partner’s actions if she leaves: Many women fear that if she leaves her husband will find her and retaliate with physical punishment, take away the children or spread rumors about her.
The effects of the abuse make it difficult to leave: Women in this situation often feel helpless and confused. Their unhealthy lifestyle is familiar to them and some fear the unknown- even though the unknown may be better than the existing situation.
Concerns about children: Some mothers are afraid that filing for divorce can cause resentment from their children. Many also believe their child needs a father. Some also so fear that her partner will steal the children or turn them against her.
Personal or family history: Women who grew up witnessing their mother being abused by their father may accept it as a social norm. If her parents stayed together, she may believe that is the right thing to do.
Deep attachment to her partner: She loves him and she believes him when he says he will never do it again. Marriage vows and religious beliefs condemning divorce can also prevent a woman from leaving the relationship.
Isolation makes it difficult to get help: The abuse relationship may make the victim feel isolated from her friends and family or prevent her from leaving the house, which makes it difficult for her to reach out to someone for help.
They are taught it is their job to maintain the relationship: Women who believe it is their job to take care of their husband fear that he will have nowhere to go or that reporting the abuse could cause him to lose his job.
Not having a partner devalues them: Some women feel that they are nothing without a husband, and that the community may shun her if she leaves him.
Economic dependency: Women who make less money or no money fear that they will not be able to survive without the financial support of their husband.
To the victim, the consequences of ending an abusive marriage may seem overwhelming. But staying in abusive marriage can result in even more dire consequences. According to the Allstate Foundation, domestic violence results in 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths each year.
Victims of domestic violence are urged to seek help as soon as possible. Whether it’s a divorce attorney or a domestic violence hotline, help is available to help victims safely end an abusive marriage.