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Should you seek an order of protection?

For many people, the holidays are a joyous time for celebrating with family and friends. But that rosy picture isn't reflected by all. Families torn apart by domestic violence often have quite a different take on the winter holidays.

For them, the season means walking on eggshells around their abusers and trying to placate them to avoid another outburst. It's a time of high stress and dashed hopes. For families with children, instead of making cherished memories, it becomes more about protecting them from more trauma.

Reasons for stress

Holidays are typically wrapped in layers of stress. There's pressure to find the perfect gifts but not bust the budget. Kids are often hyped up on sugar highs from cookies and other holiday treats. They're off of school, so parents may be scrambling to cover child care so they can meet their work and family commitments.

Adding alcohol to the volatile mix

Alcohol flows freely in many homes during holiday celebrations, but some aren't raising a cup of cheer. Instead, the effects of alcohol can cause abusers to lash out at their victims, thus increasing their anxiety and fear.

In all, it's a potent brew that should often be avoided entirely. But even making that suggestion may be enough to set off a tirade or flurry of punches.

Assess your options

What can you do if you are dreading the holidays this year? Instead of gritting your teeth and determining to plow through them, you may decide that you are finally ready to pull the plug on your marriage.

But that will not assure that you will be spared from acts of violence. The U.S. Justice Department reports that the highest number of domestic violence assaults that get reported to the police occur after the victims leave their abusers.

The Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence's executive director concurs. She states that "[t]he statistics are that women in abusive relationships are about 500 times more at risk when they leave," adding that "[d]omestic violence is all about power and control, and when a woman leaves, a man has lost his power and control."

Why get a protective order?

To be sure, a protective order is not a magic document that can prevent domestic violence from occurring. It does, however, provide swift and specific consequences for an abuser who violates it. It is also a deterrent for some abusers.

If you have been abused by your spouse in the past, you may be able to petition for a protective order when you decide to end your marriage.

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