While restraining orders (RO) can serve as a strong deterrent to violent behavior by aggrieved spouses or domestic partners, they aren't a guarantee of safety.
In a tragic turn of events, New Jersey resident Ruth Severino and her two children were murdered by her estranged husband, Eugenio. According to a lawsuit filed in November of last year, Severino had “begged” the management of her apartment complex, the Penns Grove Gardens apartment complex in Penns Grove, N.J., to change the locks on her home.
They failed to do so, and Eugenio—who allegedly threatened on numerous occasions to kill Ruth—used his set of keys to gain entry and stab his wife and children to death.
There are steps you can take to lower the risks of such a tragedy.
Before the Restraining Order
There is an inherent danger in seeking an RO. Separation and divorce can bring out the worst in anyone, but particularly in abusive spouses. Planning is key, and a safety plan is critical.
Gather the Essentials
Figure out what you'll need should you not be able to get back into your home after the RO is issued. In addition to clothing and toiletries, put important things in a safe place where you can easily access them. These include:
- Driver's license, social security card, and passport (if you have one)
- Cash, credit, and debit cards
- Legal documents
- A list of important phone numbers, should your spouse take your phone
- An extra set of keys to your car
Be Prepared for the Moment You Will Leave
The most dangerous time in the process of separating is when you physically leave.
Think through your escape. Which windows, doors, or stairs are the safest? Have a “code word” to use with trusted neighbors and friends and let them know your plans. (Ask the same neighbors to call the authorities if they hear abuse.)
If you can, remove guns or other weapons from the home.
Get a post office box of your own, outside of the home, so you can receive mail privately and safely. Open your own checking or savings account and try to get a credit card in your own name: Even if you get a very low spending limit, it's a start to getting your own credit rating.
Be Mindful of Technology
Control is an abuser's priority, and it will extend any technology that supports the power dynamic. There are a few ways to protect your digital life:
- Keep your current devices, email, and social media profiles intact since deleting them could alert your abuser that you are looking to sever ties
- Change your passwords and PINs often
- Establish new, secure means of communication, including a cellphone your partner doesn't know about and a new email address for your new bank and credit card accounts and certain safe contacts
- Use a computer or tablet your partner can't access, such as one at a friend's or at the public library
- If you notice tracking devices, such as cameras or tracking devices, don't remove them but meticulously document them to present later in court
When You Live on Your Own
As soon as the order is in place, inform your landlord and request that the locks be changed. If they fail to comply, have it done yourself and give the landlord the original locks for when you move out. Put in window locks and make sure they remain secure at all times.
Tell your landlord and your neighbors that your partner no longer lives with you and ask them to call the police if they see your partner anywhere near your home.
If you find a new place to live, don't let your partner know where it is.
Getting Legal Help With an RO
While you can file a request in NJ for an RO on your own, hiring a lawyer to present evidence to the court to support it can give you a better chance of obtaining one.
Having a knowledgeable, compassionate lawyer in your corner can be invaluable as you process your separation from an abusive partner.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm help clients through some of the most stressful times of their lives. When you need family law assistance, call 888-535-3686.