Preparing to separate from your abusive partner

Ending a relationship can be extremely difficult. The moment of leaving can be the most dangerous, if a partner has previously had controlling, abusive, or possessive behaviour. It is recommended to be well-prepared.

Verified by Women for Women France on 23/02/2024

The path to leaving a controlling or abusive partner is never easy.

Preparing yourself as much as you can is highly recommended to ensure your safety and the best possible child custody arrangements.

If you dont feel safe, don't wait to leave with your children. Your safety is the top priority.

If you live with your abusive partner, you can ask the judge to evict your partner through a protection order or “ordonnance de protection”. This measure can be decided by the judge within a week.

Before you leave

If possible, you can let someone you trust know that you are preparing to leave your partner and ask them for their help. It is important to be sure that they won’t tell your partner about your plan.

The moment of leaving can be very dangerous, it is therefore recommended to plan and prepare your departure.

  • You never know when you will need to leave your home in an emergency.

    • Make a note of all the emergency numbers as well as your own address for quick use when needed.
    • Prepare a list of plausible excuses to leave your home with your children and pets without upsetting your partner.
    • Think about a place where you can go if you need to, and how you would get there.
    • Think about a place where you can stay when you first separate.
    • Pack a bag with some clothes for you and your children in case you need to leave home urgently. You can leave it at your workplace or with someone you trust.
  • If you feel safe to do so, it may be useful to gather together all your administrative documents and any evidence of abuse before you leave.

    • Store all important documents in a safe place, at your workplace, for example, or with someone you trust:
      • your identity documents and those of your children: identity card, passport
      • your immigration documents: “titre de séjour”, “récépissé”, asylum application
      • your family record book or “livret de famille
      • your healthcare card or “carte vitale
      • your health record book or “carnet de santé”, and those of your children
      • documents from the “Caisse d’allocations familiales (CAF)
      • your immigration contract and certificates or “contrat d’intégration républicaine (CIR)
      • photos of your partner’s documents: tax notices, payslips, account statement photos, employment contracts, etc.
      • evidence of any other undeclared sources of income: photos of cash, notebooks, purchases, etc.
      • proof of your partner’s assets and property or those you share with them: real estate, investments, etc.
    • Gradually gather together any evidence of the abuse, because even if you don’t feel ready to file a complaint to report the abuse or request protective measures from the judge right now, you may want to do so in the future. This evidence will be essential to exercise your rights.
    • Contact a lawyer or an organisation offering free services known as an “association” that specialises in supporting people who have experienced abuse. They will help you understand your rights and the steps that you can take.
    • Choose an administrative address where you can receive your mail securely, known as “domiciliation”. For example, you can ask an “association” or your lawyer to allow you to use their address.
  • It is important to prepare for your financial independence, especially if you have experienced financial abuse. What you can do:

    • open an individual bank account in your maiden name and using your new “domiciliation” address if you do not have your own individual bank account or your partner controls your access to money
    • hide a sum of money that you will be able to use to cover your basic needs
    • store your valuables and property in a safe place
    • find out whether you can access money urgently

When you leave

When you’re ready to go, it’s important to take some steps to keep you and your children safe:

  • do not leave the children with the perpetrator of the abuse
  • deactivate the GPS function on your phones, computers and/or tablets in case they are being monitored
  • change all your passwords: email, social media and all other accounts and applications you may have shared with your partner
  • if you feel the need, change your phone as soon as you leave, in case it is being monitored
  • file a complaint at any police station, i.e. at a “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie”, to report the abuse to the authorities
  • with the help of a lawyer, ask the family court or “Juge aux affaires familiales (JAF)” for protective measures, such as a protection order or “ordonnance de protection”, which may allow your ex-partner to be removed from your home and/or prohibit them from approaching you.
  • Even if you have asked the judge to remove your ex-partner from your home, it could take up to a week for this to happen.

    You could ask the police to help you find emergency accommodation where you can spend the next few days following domestic abuse. You can also ask the police to go with you to your home so you can get your things.

    There are also other solutions for finding emergency accommodation.

  • It is important to take certain measures to prevent the other parent from filing a complaint against you for child abduction.

    • File a complaint without delay at any police station, i.e. at a “commissariat de police” or “brigade de gendarmerie”.
    • It is strongly recommended that you hire a lawyer to assist you with your application for protective measures, criminal proceedings, and child custody arrangements. If your resources are too limited to pay for their services, you can apply for legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle” to cover the costs.
    • Send an application to the family court judge or “Juge aux affaires familiales” via your lawyer to set the rules for your child custody arrangements, known as “modalités d’exercice de l’autorité parentale”.
    • Contact your “Caisse d’Allocations Familiales (CAF)” as soon as possible to inform them of your change of situation. You can find their contact details in this directory.

Common concerns

  • It is perfectly normal to feel like you still love your partner or ex-partner. These feelings usually develop over time, and they rarely disappear at once. But they will disappear over time.

    It is not normal to be controlled, dominated or live in fear of your partner. That isn’t love.

    It’s hard to see it now, but with hindsight, people who leave a partner who displays controlling and abusive behaviour say that leaving them was the best decision they ever made.

  • It is normal to be afraid of your partner’s reaction when you leave.

    A break-up can intensify the abuse because it signifies a loss of control for the abusive partner. It is therefore advisable to be well-prepared for your departure to keep yourself safe.

    If you dont feel safe, don't wait to leave with your children. Your safety is the top priority.

  • This fear is completely normal, especially if you have experienced financial abuse and are financially dependent on your partner. But there are solutions in France.

    You can:

    You can consult our Money, Housing, Independence section to explore all of the options available to you.

  • Even if it is not easy, many studies show that in the context of domestic abuse, separation is the best solution for children in the long term.

    Domestic abuse can have a significant and long term impact on children.

  • It is very rare in France that a parent is deprived of their rights and duties towards their children or their “autorité parentale”. In the event of very serious abuse, the perpetrator could have their “autorité parentale” withdrawn, and you would therefore have exclusive parental rights or “autorité parentale exclusive”.

    The residence of the children can be either “habituelle” if they live with one parent most of the time or “alternée” if they live with each parent for an equal amount of time.

    You can visit our child custody page to find out how this all works.

  • You can take measures to prevent them from taking your children abroad.

    There are solutions in the event of international parental abduction

  • It is common to worry about what others will think and feel embarrassed or even ashamed. But what has happened to you is not your fault and does not reflect who you are as a person.

    In recent years, there has been a rise in awareness of domestic abuse in our societies. People now understand that it can happen to anyone.

    Of course, some people may still say inappropriate things, but your safety and that of your children are the only things that matter.

  • If you want to keep your pets with you and can’t take them to the accommodation where you’re going to stay, you can approach an SPA animal shelter near you and ask them about possible solutions.

    You can also have them looked after while you find a home:

    • by someone you can trust
    • via a pet-sitting service (often subject to a charge).

    Pack a bag to take with you the day you leave with:

    • food for your pet
    • any medication they take
    • documents concerning your pet: any document proving that you are the owner, including a recent photo.

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • This telephone counselling service is intended for people facing all types of violence and those who support them.

    • This service is free of charge.
    • On the telephone, a trained counsellor will listen to you and support you. They can then direct you to relevant services near you.
    • Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • Contact: call 3919, available 24/7. The call will not appear on your telephone bill.
    • For people who are deaf, have difficulties hearing, people with aphasia or who have language impairments, you can access a service adapted for your needs by clicking on the telephone icon at the bottom right of the website
  • The role of the police is to ensure the safety of all people, whatever their situation, even for people without French residency rights. A police officer will be able to advise you and offer assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can contact the police in four main ways:

    • By telephone: call 17, a free number. Languages available: interpretation in all languages.
    • By text message: send an SMS to 114 in French, specifying your exact address.
    • Online: chat service. This service is available in many languages.
    • Go to any police station, i.e. either a “commissariat de police” or a “brigade de gendarmerie”. You can find the closest police station to you on this website. If you don't speak French, they will need to find you an interpreter, this can take some time.
  • Associations” are organisations that offer a range of services.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • The services offered vary considerably from one “association” to another. They can give you advice and sometimes they can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You will find a list of “associations” specialising in helping victims of violence near you in this directory by selecting your French department.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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