Risks of Separation

It is important for us to recognize the complex decision-making process people go through when considering leaving their relationships. They weigh many different aspects of risk, including risks related to the abuse, additional challenges beyond their relationship, as well as other personal factors (1).

Examples of risks related to the abuse

  • Physical violence
  • Isolation
  • Financial issues
  • Risk to the children
  • Loss of family and friends

Leaving can be a dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship. There is evidence that the risk of violence may increase when a victim attempts to end the relationship or separate from the person who is abusing. While only a small percentage of abusive intimate partner relationships end in murder, there is an increased risk at separation (2).

Examples of challenges beyond the relationship

  • Loss of a job
  • Mental and/or physical health
  • Substance abuse
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Discrimination

Examples of personal factors

  • Beliefs and values
  • Culture
  • Community

Each person may weigh these aspects differently. It is important to partner with people to better understand their assessment of their safety and well-being in their decision-making process. Research shows that people who are experiencing abuse can be more accurate than others in identifying the risk of severe and potentially lethal violence (3). At the same time, people may underestimate the risk of lethal violence. Thus, it is critical for people working with families experiencing intimate partner violence to be equipped with tools such as the Danger Assessment tool. Click the following links to download the Danger Assessment tool in English and in Spanish.

Module Seven of this curriculum explores safety and safety-planning in more detail.

Some strategies for partnering with parents 

  • Exploring what areas of their life they would like support
  • Acknowledge that leaving is complex and can be dangerous
  • Support parents’ choices
  • Be present and open
  • Offer options that match their life circumstances


  1. Davies, J. (2008). When abused women stay…advocacy beyond leaving. Publication #20 in the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence series, Building Comprehensive Solutions to Domestic Violence; Davies, J., Lyon, E., & Monti-Catania, D. (1998). Safety planning with battered women: Complex lives/difficult choices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 
  2. Campbell, J. C., et al. (2003). Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: Results from a mulitsite case control study. American Journal of Public Health 93 (7), 1089-1097; Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Validation Study https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/209731.pdf
  3. Roehl, J., O’Sullivan, C. Webster, D., Campbell, J. (2005) Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Validation Study, Final Report