How to Protect Yourself After Divorcing an Abusive Spouse

woman showing stop hand gesture

In September 2021, a retiree was sentenced to life imprisonment for fatally stabbing his former wife in the carpark of a school campus. In court, it was revealed that the retiree had made numerous demands towards his ex-wife via email for a share of the sale proceeds of a matrimonial property. He had even threatened to commence legal proceedings against her.

In a separate case, a woman was stabbed to death by her estranged husband, against whom she had taken out a Personal Protection Order (PPO). Investigations revealed that the man had stalked his wife for a year before killing her, and there had been at least 5 incidents during which the victim made a police report that her husband had breached the PPO taken out against him.

These tragic cases highlight the need for spouses to plan a safe exit from their marriages or relationships, and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and the safety of their children or loved ones. This is especially important when dealing with an ex-spouse or estranged spouse who is abusive and manipulative.

In addition, while a divorce legally ends the marital relationship, there may still be occasions where you might have to come into contact with your ex-spouse. The ex-spouse may also still have your personal details with them, such as your place of residence or place of work, and they may want to continue pursuing certain grievances that they might have had against you.

In such situations, what can you do to protect yourself? This article sets out some possible ways for individuals to protect themselves from a potentially abusive ex-spouse after a divorce in Singapore. This article will explain:

Personal Protection Order

A PPO is a court order against family violence. It can prevent an abusive ex-spouse from committing acts such as:

  • Entering your home or place of work;
  • Approaching or confronting you at your home, place of work or even in public;
  • Assaulting or threatening to assault you or your loved ones;
  • Harassing you by way of excessive calling and messaging; and
  • Interfering with you at your place of work or acting in a way that could harm your professional relationships or work environment.

To successfully apply for a PPO, you will need to prove the following certain elements:

  1. An act of family violence has been committed, or is likely to be committed, against you, as the spouse or former spouse of the person against whom you are seeking a PPO;
  2. A PPO is necessary for your protection; and
  3. Other special circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

However, do note that even if a PPO has been taken out, there have been reported cases (such as this case highlighted earlier) where the ex-spouse repeatedly breaches the PPO despite police reports being made. In these circumstances, it may also be helpful, for your safety and those of your loved ones, to consider additional measures. These personal measures are explained below.

Personal Measures 

There are other measures that you can take at the personal level to protect yourself. These include the following:

Meeting with your ex-spouse in public and accompanied by a trusted person 

If you must meet your ex-spouse, it is best to arrange for such meetings to occur in a public place with high human traffic.

If possible, ask a friend to accompany you to the meeting if they are comfortable doing so. Your friend or companion should ideally also be aware of the circumstances under which you are meeting your ex-spouse and look out for your safety and well-being during the meeting.

Blocking access and reducing your social media presence

You may also wish to block your ex-spouse from having access to any of your social media accounts. This may prevent them from being able to keep track of your personal updates or attempting to communicate with you.

Do also be mindful of your social media presence and be sure to change the names of any accounts or social media handles that your ex-spouse is aware of, or set your social media accounts to private.

Changing your personal and contact details 

In more serious situations, you may need to employ more significant measures to ensure your safety.

For example, you may wish to change your phone number immediately and ensure that your contact details are unlisted or not publicly available. You may also consider renting a P.O. box or ask for any mail to be forwarded to a family member or friend’s address instead.

If you are still residing in the place of residence that you used to share with your ex-spouse, and he/she still has the keys to the home, then you should change the locks. Alternatively, reside with a trusted friend or relative until you can secure a different place of residence.

Obtaining assistance to ensure safety at your workplace and/or children’s schools

If you are employed, you should inform a trusted person at your workplace to be on the alert in the event your ex-spouse attempts to visit you at work. This person can help protect your safety and well-being and notify the police in the event your ex-spouse attempts to confront you at your workplace.

In addition, this trusted person can help liaise with your company’s human resources department on making any necessary changes in your work environment that would make you feel safer (e.g. providing an escort from the carpark, bus-stop or MRT station to your place of work).

Likewise, if you have children who are in school, do notify the relevant persons at their schools of the above so they can keep a lookout for your children’s safety.

In more serious cases, you may have to consider changing your job/place of work and/or your children’s schools. Do ensure that you keep any details or information about these changes within a trusted circle of friends or family members, to secure your safety and those of your loved ones.

Considering relocation

In circumstances where you fear that your safety or those of your loved ones may be at risk due to your ex-spouse’s presence in the country, you may wish to consider relocating and moving overseas.

While this is a measure that may be warranted in more dire situations, it is also a costly one in many aspects. For example, unless you have friends or family residing overseas, it may take you some time to find a new place of residence.

You may also need to eventually secure a new job. However, if you are not a national or citizen of the country that you have relocated to, you may encounter delays in securing the necessary work passes or visas that would permit you to work in that country.

Relocating to a new country to build a new and safer life for yourself and/or your family is hence a measure that you might need time to consider and carefully plan. However, in extreme circumstances where your life and safety may be in danger, it may also be the safest measure to take.

Attend family counselling and therapy

Certain families may wish to continue considering the ex-spouse/parent as family members. They recognise the pain and challenges that the abusive ex-spouse is facing and may wish to partake in post-divorce therapeutic programmes with the ex-spouse. These efforts may be tedious but may also be worth their while, especially if the ex-spouses have to continue to co-parent their children.

On the other hand, ex-spouses who are unable to let go of their resentment may wish for his/her ex-spouse to experience perpetual suffering with them. As a consequence, they may engage in anti-social or even illegal conduct to seek revenge on their ex-spouse, whom they perceive to have already moved on and even prospered after the divorce.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development has mapped out several therapeutic programmes to help families overcome divorce-related challenges. Where appropriate, a judge may order the ex-spouses or children to attend these programmes. Some of these programmes may also be attended voluntarily.

Rather than avoiding the apparent issues in the family, ex-spouses should consider attending the programmes and actively participate in resolving remaining issues before matters escalate further.

If you are dealing with an abusive spouse in Singapore and are taking steps to obtain a divorce, it is also important that you protect yourself and make a plan to ensure your safety and those of your children or loved ones.

Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that if you are dealing with an abusive ex-spouse, you are just as much a victim. You might have to go to significant lengths to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm – whether your efforts are successful or not – when you might not have done anything wrong to begin with.

At the wider policy level, more can and should be done to protect spouses/ex-spouses from their abusive partners or ex-partners. Calls have been made, most recently by a multi-stakeholder taskforce set up in February 2020, for stronger protection for victims of family violence, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders. Beyond punitive legal measures, public education campaigns can also be galvanised to better educate the public on respectful relationships and break the cycle of violence, especially from a young age.

If you need further advice on how you can protect yourself from an abusive ex-spouse after you have obtained a divorce, please contact me. I am a specialist family lawyer with almost 20 years of dedicated family law experience. To date, I have handled more than 20,000 divorce cases and will be well equipped to assist you during this stressful period of time.

For more information on my legal services, you can view my profile and get in touch here.