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Step by Step Guide to Getting out of an Abusive Relationship


Our Domestic Violence Attorneys are Here to Help You Escape Your Bad Situation

Kent County Circuit Court records reflect that the court issued 2,400 Personal Protection Orders, sometimes called Restraining Orders, in 2017. That’s the number of people who felt threatened or harassed or were attacked by someone.

For abuse to be ongoing, the abuser needs to isolate the victim.  Ongoing physical or sexual abuse may increase due to the stress of constant contact, raising children, lack of money, or lack of work. In some situations, domestic violence may occur for the first time.  The abuser had been able to control his or her temper in the past when they were able to find other outlets for the stress, and now they are dealing with increased stress.   The victim may also feel stuck due to loss of employment, lack of funds, and not know where to start to find help. 

What steps should a domestic violence victim take? Our Grand Rapids domestic violence law firm offers the following advice: 

  1. Report any incidents. 

Call a hotline, your religious leader, a trusted friend, or family member – someone who will help you take action.  Even if you don’t leave yet, someone needs to know what has been happening to you, and this person or organization can help you set up a life after leaving.

  1. Investigate your options.

Where can you stay after reporting the incident and when are you ready to leave?  What kind of transportation will you have available? What kind of jobs will be available to you, or will you qualify for governmental assistance while you get back on your feet? We’ve provided some options below.

  1. Keep your children safe.

If you are safe enough, before you leave the abuser, call an attorney.  Most attorneys will provide you with a free consultation.  Several organizations provide free legal services for victims of domestic violence.  When you leave the home of the abuser, take your children with you!  Shelters are an excellent resource to provide you with a good escape plan.

  1. Get a Personal Protection or No Contact Order.

Most abusers will continue their abusive behaviors after you move out.  Get a court order to eliminate all contact.  This type of court order is called a Personal Protection Order (often called by its acronym PPO).  Do NOT answer the abuser’s texts, calls, or emails. After leaving, victims often remember the better elements of the relationship (i.e., having children in common); the abuser often apologizes, and the victim considers returning to the abusive relationship based on promises of counseling and better days ahead.  If you are considering a continued relationship, visit a counselor first and start the reunification process by following the counselor’s advice.  Your counselor should require the abuser to go to individual counseling and group anger management classes.  

  1. After you leave, get counseling.

In addition to being physically harmed, you sustained emotional harm.  Give yourself time to heal and recover and learn from counseling what you can do to avoid such harmful relationships in the future.

What to Do During an Assault

If you are physically assaulted, call 911.  If you can show the police evidence of the physical assault (redness from hitting, bruises, cuts, lacerations, property damage, damaged cell phone, disconnected 911 calls, etc.), the police may arrest the assailant immediately when the assault was significant, or they may ask the assailant to leave the home.    If you have minor children, insist that the minor children stay with you for their safety and to decrease the cost of divorce litigation or custody disputes.


The National Domestic Violence Hotline is still available 24/7.  They are a National organization and do not have a local shelter.  However, they can refer you to shelters, provide advice, etc. The number is 1-800-799-7233.  If you are unable to speak on the phone, visit or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

Locally, the YWCA’s Nurse Examiner Program (for sexual assault exams) and the emergency shelter are open.  Additionally, the 24-hour helpline is available:  616-454-9922.  For more information:

Safe Haven Ministries provides shelter service.  Their hotline is open 24/7. The telephone number is 616-452-6664.

How to Get a Personal Protection Order

Once you have moved away from your abuser, you will need a court order to keep the abuser away from you.  If your abuser continues stalking or visiting you, you will need a court order so that law enforcement can be put on notice about the situation. The PPO allows law enforcement to arrest the abuser when the order is violated.

There are two ways to obtain a court order:

  1. If the abuser was arrested, the prosecutor might obtain a ‘no contact’ order for you.
  2. You can obtain a Personal Protection Order (also known as Restraining Order) yourself by following the procedures described below.

If you need a Personal Protection Order:

  1. Download the appropriate form from Michigan Legal Help and follow their directions to fill out the form. Michigan Legal Help – Do It Yourself PPO.  Start this process when you have enough time. 
    1. The interactive process to finalize the form takes 40-60 minutes.
    2. Start the process only if you can print the form.
  2. Visit the PPO office at your local court building when it is open. They will help you with the process. During the COVID crisis, check with your local court whether it is open for PPO services. Most are not open.

Final and Most Important Step: Get a Child Custody Order

Even if you believe that your relationship can be restored with extensive counseling, you still may need some court orders to protect your interests:

  • If you are married, you need a Mutual Restraining Order to protect your assets.
  • If you have minor children, you will need a child custody order that keeps your children safe and prevents the abuser from picking up the children at a third-party location and sets forth that no or supervised parenting time will occur.
  • You may need a court order to determine who pays the rent, the mortgage, whether you will receive spousal support, child support, and who will pay the utilities, joint credit cards, etc.

Our divorce and child custody attorneys can help you with obtaining a divorce or child custody order and temporary orders for the exclusive use of the home, alimony, or child support.  Call our attorneys at 616-285-0808.

If you cannot afford an attorney, Legal Aid of Western Michigan may accept you as a client.  If they accept your case, you will receive a free attorney.  You can apply online: or by calling 616-774-0672.

What to Do if You Suspect Child Abuse

If you believe that the other parent or someone else physically or sexually abused your child, you may call Child Protective Services.  Their hotline remains open 24/7.  The telephone number is 855-444-3911.  Child Protective Services will investigate complaints regarding physical or sexual abuse or neglect. CPS caseworkers are still investigating cases, including conducting visits to homes where suspected abuse occurred.

If you are in an abusive marriage or need help with establishing a child custody order, call our divorce and custody attorneys at 616-285-0808.  We can help.