How to Get Help in an Abusive Marriage


If you or someone you know needs help please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (this is abuse, violence, assault, etc). 800.799.SAFE (7233)

Kate Miller, attorney at the Center for Hope and Safety (a shelter in NJ), helps us understand domestic violence by answering common questions. She also gives us warning signs to watch out for. Through her work, Kate has helped victims of domestic abuse become survivors; she wants you to be able to do the same if you ever find yourself or a friend in this situation. 


  • Domestic violence is all about power and control. It is also unique to the individual – there is no one case that looks exactly like another.  
  • Choosing to get help is the hardest part of the process, but once you do, the road to freedom is possible.
  • Full-service domestic violence organizations allow a client to receive shelter, counseling for her children and legal assistance, all in one phone call. 
  • Be there for friends and family who you worry are experiencing domestic violence. Start a conversation and guide them towards seeking help.



Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.

T.H.: Today we’d like to welcome Katheryn Miller. She’s an attorney for the Center for Hope and Safety in northern New Jersey. The Center for Hope and Safety is a shelter for battered women and children. It’s a full service shelter, and Katheryn is the in-house counsel for the victims that come to the center. Welcome to the podcast today.

Jessica: Thanks for being here.

Kate: Thank you for having me.

T.H.: Domestic Violence Awareness Month is coming up in October, and the exEXPERTS have chosen to align ourselves with the Center for Hope and Safety. I have a personal connection with them in terms of partnering with them on past events that I used to do. At the events, women would seek haven and come to the event for the purpose of never going home again. That was really unbelievable that people’s lives were being saved right in front of our eyes. It was because of this amazing organization and community that they have set up there. Kate, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get to the center?

Kate: Thank you. I’ve been an attorney for over 10 years. I’ve always been fortunate enough to practice in public interest. I started my career in the Baltimore City prosecutor’s office. Then when I moved to New Jersey, I started working at Partners for Women and Justice, which is a nonprofit law firm here in New Jersey and serves victims of domestic violence. Then in 2016, I started working for the center, which really attracted me because it’s a full service domestic violence organization. A client can call, she can receive shelter, she can receive counseling for her children, and she can receive legal assistance, all in one phone call.

T.H.: How does a woman even start with this? Is there a hotline that they call and then they are directed by whoever’s on the phone with them on how to help them with their immediate needs and then their long term needs? How do they get to you in the first place?

Kate: Yes, so any client can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I’ll just say the number here, it’s 1-800-799-7233. They’ll connect her to a local program that can provide her with safety planning, so that she can determine what kind of service she needs. She might be calling because she’s not ready to leave and maybe she just wants to explore what are my options, or she might be calling in a crisis and say, look, I need safe shelter immediately. Then they can see what they can provide her.

Jessica: I just want to make a quick note for anyone listening, that number is also on the exEXPERTS website right on the homepage. We’re there as a support and to put that information out to anybody who needs it. If you know anybody who would need it, you can find it there. But Kate, I wanted to ask you with everything going on in the world today with the pandemic, with COVID, talk to us a little bit about what you guys are seeing with regards to possibly the increase of circumstances of, I want to say women, but obviously it could be men too, people in situations of domestic violence.

Kate: Unfortunately, these pandemics and all natural disasters have been shown to really increase domestic violence. People are home and they’re even more isolated. It’s a really bad situation.

I mean, some of us are being driven crazy by our children even in normal relationships. Once you throw in that extra dimension of domestic violence, it gets even worse. We’ve seen an increase of domestic violence in these situations, but very troubling, we haven’t been seeing an increase in calls. We think that’s because a lot of clients are lying low. They don’t want to leave in this pandemic. It is a recipe for a disaster in unfortunate certain ways.

Jessica: Would you say that there are–I don’t know enough about the topic and which is why we’re so glad to have you here because you are the expert, but I would imagine that there are a lot of people in situations that may for one reason or another, justify what’s going on in their homes, whether it’s minor, so to speak, ‘physical violence’, oh, he just hit me this one time, or it was just a push, or whatever it was versus even if it’s emotional or verbal abuse. Well, you know, it’s just this or it’s just that. I’m wondering for anybody listening, for either themselves or anyone they know in their lives, is there just a line that to anyone who is an expert in this area would say, that may seem minor to you, and maybe you think that it’s not worth making a big deal about, but it is. What is that line? Is it any time someone raises their hand to you? Help us for people to understand what defines domestic violence?

Kate: Well, first of all, I don’t think that there is such a thing as minor domestic violence. Everybody has a right to have a happy, wonderful relationship where you are respected and you respect your partner in return.

As for warning signs, the essential element of domestic violence is about power and control. I’m just saying ‘he’, because 99% of all abusers are men, so that’s just why I’m using the pronoun ‘he’. Of course, it can be either way. But even though your abuser may never lay a hand over you, if they’re still controlling you–we have clients who had to text every time that they left. Not in a loving way, but in an ‘I’m going out, I’ll be back in 10 minutes’, and they have to be back in 10 minutes. Even if you have a behavior like that, that’s controlling, or harassment, or threats. You don’t need a physical level of domestic violence in order for you to still be in a domestic violence relationship.

Jessica: That’s really important, I think, for people to know because like I said, I think there might be people out there thinking whatever they’re going through, doesn’t quite fit the criteria. They may be afraid about reporting it or asking for help because they may be afraid that someone will minimize whatever their experience is. I appreciate that you’re saying it’s anytime you’re feeling like you’re being controlled regardless.

Kate: Right. I’ll also hear from a lot of clients that oh, well, my children don’t realize what’s going on. Unfortunately, a lot of times children can realize more than you think. Even though you might not think that your children know, they can sense things. They’re also very susceptible to trauma at such a young age.

Even if you are being controlled, even if you are getting these threats, it can still pass on and have effects on your children as well.

T.H.: Yeah. Yeah, kids are very in tune with their parents. I mean, Jessica and I are both divorced, fortunately not victims of domestic violence, but just kids in general are very perceptive. I hear many times from friends, ‘we’re going to stay together for the kids’. I’m thinking the kids don’t want you together. The kids are rooting for you to move on. They know what’s going on. That just adds another layer of stress if you have children in the house, and you have a domestic violence situation with your spouse, or whoever you’re living with.

Kate: I think that if you’re feeling you are in a domestic violence relationship, if there is any control, I encourage everyone to call the hotline so that then they could safety plan with a counselor to see what would be their next step.

T.H.: Tell us more about what you do exactly. Once a woman comes into the shelter, what does in-house counseling mean for them?

Kate: I run the legal department. For us providing in house counseling, what that means is that she won’t have to go elsewhere to find an attorney. But we also serve victims who are not in the safe house. If we get a phone call, we’ll complete a detailed intake to determine their history, the lethality of the case, just so that we can get a better idea of it. Then we can provide free representation to the client in their family law matters. We also provide representation in immigration matters, because that’s such a huge part, especially nowadays. We represent clients in restraining order cases, custody cases, support cases, and divorce cases as well.

T.H.: It could actually be all of the above [exactly] for someone. Right, that’s a lot. That’s a lot and that’s very overwhelming anyway, but knowing that you guys will offer those resources. What about centers that don’t have that available?

Kate: It is very hard to get free or low cost legal services. Some centers have that available, and other times, they’ll link up with legal services or a legal aid bureau, or like I said how I worked for a nonprofit law firm, there may be other resources available to clients who are out of state.

T.H.: But if they call the hotline and they say where they are, hopefully they can be directed by that person on the phone for legal support, whether it’s in the center or outside of the center?

Kate: Yes.

T.H.: Okay, great. So the number one place to go first is to call that hotline?

Kate: Yes.

T.H.: Okay.

Jessica: And again, that number is on the exEXPERTS website. You can find it easily, and we’ll post it in a link accompanying the podcast here. Kate, can you give us, it may sound simplistic, kind of a definition for people to really understand exactly what domestic violence means and involves?

Kate: I would again say it’s a power and control where one intimate partner has power and control over another partner. It can be so many things. There are many parts of domestic violence.

There can be the put downs, the constant insults and such. There can be financial abuse like not letting you control your own money. There can be even using the children against you like saying how you’re a bad mother, or if you don’t do what I say I’m going to keep the children from you. Then of course there can be the physical abuse. There can be hitting and spitting. There can be sexual abuse. Now with the internet-I say now that there’s the internet, there can be cyber abuse. We deal with some clients where they’ll be posting nude pictures of them on the internet or something. There are all different kinds of abuse, but if they’re happening in an intimate partner relationship, and it’s done with the purpose to have control over another person, then I would say that is what domestic violence is.

T.H.: If you’re not experiencing it yourself, but you think a friend might be going through it, what kind of signs should you look for? How do you even help? What’s the first step in helping that person?

Kate: So some of the warning signs that I would look out for

is if your friend is telling you things that make you suspect about that control like, ‘Oh, I have to be home by six.’ I mean, sometimes we all have to be home by six, but it’s more than that. It’s a warning sign. If you see that she’s not able to spend her own money, or if she says ‘I want to wear that dress, but my partner says I can’t because I look like a hooker or something in that.’ I would say that all of those are warning signs as well, of course, even bruises or phone calls if she tells you things. If she’s saying things that you’re just like, that doesn’t sound right. I think the most important thing that you can do is be there for her as a friend, because one of the things that abusers often do is they try to isolate their victims. They’ll do these behaviors or they’ll even act like a jerk around her friends so her friends don’t want to be around him. But in order to hang out with her friends, she has to hang out with him because he doesn’t let her hang out with anyone but him. Slowly he begins to erode all of her relationships so that when she does want to make a phone call to a friend, she doesn’t have any friends. If you can even just be there for her as her friend, and you can say, ‘I don’t really like the way he treats you, but I’m still going to be your friend through it,’ then that’s a big thing.

T.H.: Yeah, just probably checking in also and making sure everything’s okay. Especially in this world of COVID right now, you really need to check in on your on your friends.

Kate: Yes.

Jessica: Is there anything you could say to somebody that would not be offensive to them where if that were their situation, they would be more likely to be receptive based on something specific that you’re saying, or the way that you are phrasing it?

Kate: All of that is highly individualized. But I think that saying you deserve better or something–I hesitate to say something because it is so highly individualized in the person, in the situation.

T.H.: I would imagine, and this isn’t just imagining, that just being a good listener and just being a body in the space with someone. Because I know people who go through distress, and I just know that for them, if I’m just physically there with them, you don’t really have to say anything. Just the comfort of another person being there, just letting them be, whatever is going to happen, cry, laugh, or scream.

Jessica: I’m thinking if you are having a conversation with someone, you’re right, I agree that probably being there is huge. But then I also think they still may not say something to you because a) they don’t know how to broach it, or b) they don’t want to scare you off, or they don’t want to say something that’s going to potentially make you not want to be their friend anymore because now you don’t want to deal with their drama and their baggage. I just am wondering if there’s anything, and Kate, I’m not putting you on the spot, I’m just saying my mindset was wondering if there was something you could say that indicates to them more just that ‘I’m here for you, but I’m here, I see what’s going on, and you can talk to me about it whenever you want’, without actually saying those words. Because look, god forbid they’re not dealing with something like that, and now all of a sudden they’re like, ‘Screw you. You’re making all these horrible assumptions about me and my relationship. Maybe he’s just a dick.’ No, seriously, like, whatever. That’s what I was wondering. Is there any way to give a little bit of a signal of ‘I see it, and I’m here for when you’re ready to talk about it’? But I guess to your point, Kate, it is so individual. You don’t want to offend anybody. Everybody reacts to things differently. I don’t know that there’s actually a script, or a specific key word or safe word, so to speak, that you could use to somebody that would let them know what you’re saying to them is really, ‘this is what I’m afraid of for you’ and when the time is right, that you’re ready to talk about it. I’m here to listen.

Kate: I like your point about just listening. You do also want to give off the impression of being non judgmental, because it’s embarrassing, right? We all want to think of ourselves as strong, independent women. You don’t imagine this happening to you. By the time that it comes to something that you’d even talk to your friends about, I could imagine clients reaching out and hearing like, ‘Oh, well, if some guy did that to me, I’d leave right away’, so you don’t want to have that judgment. I think listening is the number one step and then–

T.H.: No judgment.

Kate: Yeah, no judgment. You could recommend they call the hotline. Maybe if you could bring it up in a way that wouldn’t be embarrassing to them, but it’s so individual.

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: So as far as without giving direct legal advice, are these women successful? I know every case is different just like every divorce is different, every relationship is different, but in the extreme cases, are they able to move on with their lives with all the support that you guys are giving in the legal support?

Like legally, is the legal system protecting these women and children? I guess that’s my question.

Kate: I think that the legal system is doing its best to protect these women and children. We as an agency are lucky. We have been very successful in our cases. Of course, not everybody wins, but most of the time, the vast majority of the time, we are able to obtain a favorable outcome for our clients. Say that you do go for criminal charges or something, and the criminal charges he’s found not guilty, even if they’re found not guilty, and in some ways, yes, the legal system did fail you, it’s not like you have to go back to that situation. Because of other services that we offer and also just other services that other DV agencies offer, I would say these women are successful because they’re able to leave the situation which is the safest thing of all.

Jessica: And the hardest thing of all.

T.H.: Making that first step is really the hardest thing ever, because then you’re really admitting to yourself. I’m sure the act of leaving is so scary, but also for yourself that’s like your holy shit moment, I’m really doing this. I think it is monumental when they leave emotionally as well as the actual act of getting the hell out.

Kate: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll be in court and I’ll hear clients say I never imagined that I would be here. But one of my favorite things is they’ll say how they didn’t realize how tired they were because it’s exhausting to live like that, constant conflict and you have to always be monitoring yourself. Am I doing things so that I don’t piss them off or whatever? Once they’re finally free, they’re like, ‘It’s so peaceful here and I can finally just get a good night’s sleep.’ It’s so great.

T.H.: They’re not walking on eggshells.

Jessica: That must be so rewarding. Yeah, totally.

T.H.: Will you tell us one or two really good happy ending stories?

Kate: Yes. We represented one client, and unfortunately, she was the victim of abuse for like 20 years. She had called the police before, he had been arrested, but she dropped the charges because she didn’t want him to lose his job because he supported the family. But then this most recent incident occurred where he strangled her and she scratched him in self defense. She did not have visible marks, because when you’re strangled, you don’t have visible marks, but he had scratch marks on his face. She was arrested because he learned from his previous experiences like oh, if I call the cops, then she’ll be arrested. He got temporary custody of the kids. We represented her in her restraining order trial and we were eventually able to win her back custody of the kids. We cooperated with the prosecutor’s office so then they dropped the charges against her and instead filed criminal charges against him. Now she has custody of the children. She lives in the house, well, her own house now, and she’s doing great. The last we saw of him, he was renting a room in a halfway house because he’d gotten out. It was wonderful.

T.H.: Good. Because I want people to hear this and know there is a rainbow on the other side.

Jessica: It’s possible, that’s right. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

T.H.: It’s possible and women’s resilience is amazing.

Kate: Totally. Yes. Yeah, and so that client when she first came in, her shoulders were forward, she was wearing like all black, and you could tell that she had been through a lot. Then I met her later on, and she was wearing leopard print heels, and her hair was done, and she was just holding herself in such a different manner. It was just so great to be like, you have been through so much, and look at who you are now. She found her power back, and it was wonderful. This woman, she had been through so much.

Jessica: That’s amazing. That’s such a great story. I’m sure there are a million more stories like that and there’s so much more to talk about. We really appreciate you bringing all of this information to our exEXPERTS community. I know you’ve given the hotline before but just one more time, the best way anyone listening, anyone who either needs help, or who wants to help, what are the best ways for them to reach you guys because if they want to help, the hotline isn’t necessarily the right way to go?

Kate: If they need help, again, the hotline and you said it’s also on your website, it is 1-800-799-7233. If you’re in the New Jersey area, and you want to either seek help or volunteer with us, our website is

Jessica: That’s great. Well, thank you, Kate, for bringing all of this to our exEXPERTS community. For everyone listening, if you know anyone at all that would benefit from any of this information, please share this episode and everything exEXPERTS. Be sure to click to subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. Please follow us on social media at exEXPERTS on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. Thanks Kate for being here. Thanks everyone for listening.

T.H.: Thank you Kate.

Kate: Thank you so much. Thank you, guys. It’s so wonderful that you’re drawing attention to this because it’s such an important issue.

Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts.  Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS Divorce etc… on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and our website at  Thanks for listening!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.