Financial abuse is considered to be domestic violence, but is perhaps not as visible as the signs of physical abuse. Domestic violence is also referred to as family violence or intimate partner violence. It covers a whole range of abuse, including financial abuse – sometimes called economic abuse.

Financial abuse is often tied in with physical violence.  It is a form of abuse whereby one person in a relationship (usually the male) tries to control and dominate the other person (usually a woman) through tactics that diminish the victim’s capacity for economic independence and forces the victim to rely on the perpetrator financially.

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Financial Abuse: Four Poor Behaviours

Research has identified a typology of four behaviours:

  • controlling a partner’s acquisition of economic resources (including interfering with education and employment);
  • preventing a partner’s use of resources;
  • deliberately generating debt or exploiting a partner’s resources; and
  • refusing to contribute to expenses.

Shannon Evans, a Phoenix woman in her early 40’s, said she encountered both domestic violence and financial abuse. She lost her life savings, home and other assets that she brought into a relationship. She recommends looking out for signs or conduct that can lead to financial abuse. If your partner acts secretively or tends to be angry, be cautious. And she suggests seeking the feedback of impartial friends and family members who might be in a position to observe red flags regarding a partner’s behaviour.

financial abuse, domestic violence, family violence, divorce“Victims often are withdrawn,” said Vicky Dinges, a senior vice president at Allstate in suburban Chicago. They also worry excessively over how their spouse or partner might react to spending on everyday items. They might not even have access to spending money or credit cards. “Even getting to work can be a problem if the person doesn’t have a car or can’t afford a bus ticket,” she said. “It can snowball into a lot of things.”

It’s estimated that two million Australian women are victims of financial abuse and domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or another family member.  Lauren Harry is just one of them.

After locking her keys in the family car, her husband, Michael, yelled at her.  This wasn’t the end of the incident, though. All night he refused to let her sleep as he screamed at her and obsessively questioned her over her honest mistake.  Domestic violence has no socioeconomic boundaries. Lauren is a highly educated woman who was earning a significant salary, which her husband tried hard to control.  “Why do you need to buy that?” And “I’m not paying for that,” were common phrases Lauren would hear and they’d turn a short trip up the shops into humiliation in front of sales staff. “I became so depressed and in the end was scared for my life. He is just so obsessed with money,” she said.

The abuse has left her scarred.  The economic bullying and physical intimidation left her confidence and emotional well-being shattered. Although Lauren is now broke, she is also free from her abuser – divorced, but lives again with financial independence. “He’d have all the bills in his name and had secret assets including property that were bought and sold, and which I didn’t know about until after we divorced, which meant I saw none of it despite contributing half the family income. . . I’m not even a spender, I rarely drink, my clothes are second hand and so too is my furniture. . . I’m really lucky I survived and I got help early. But lots of people don’t and many I imagine spend decades in physical or emotionally abusive relationships,” she said.

Financial Abuse May Be Prevented In Some Cases

Julie Kun, the deputy chief executive of the women’s information and referral exchange in Victoria, said financial abuse was under-recognised as a form of family violence in which predominantly female victims were cut off from sources of money by their partner as a form of control.  She says, “In 2011 we noticed we were getting more and more women calling us and saying they were living in dire poverty, unsure how they were going to get enough food for the next week and pay the rent. We noticed a theme that they had left a relationship, or were still in a relationship where there had been financial abuse. Women themselves weren’t using the term financial abuse, so we thought there was a real disconnect of this experience happening to women but it not being labelled and not being dealt with as a form of family violence.”

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Prevention may be a help in some of these cases. CoreData Western Australia head Kristen Turnbull said that “Women who face up to reality and take control of their financial situation are less at risk of financial abuse.” Her concern is that even in modern Australia there are many women who do not have enough education about finances. She said, “A lot of women are leaving themselves vulnerable – no matter how much they trust and love their partners – by not taking the steps to financially educate themselves and attain a level of financial independence from their partner.”

In research done by CoreData, it was found that a large majority of women in relationships felt reliant on their partners for financial support, leaving them exposed to financial abuse. The research financial abuse, domestic violence, family violence, divorcefirm’s “Female Financial Abuse” findings, which surveyed 801 women nationally to assess their financial independence and literacy levels, found 70.3 per cent relied on their partner to support them financially, leaving them open to financial stress if their partner failed to manage finances correctly. The research also revealed 60.5 per cent of women did not have assets held separately from their partner and 29.1 per cent saved nothing each month.  Very few had independent bank accounts, with 39 per cent saying they had their own savings and 33.5 per cent revealing they had their own transaction account, while just 36.3 per cent of women had their own credit card.

What Financial Abuse Can Look Like

Financial abuse can take many forms. Some of the common examples are:

  • not being allowed access to bank statements or other financial documents
  • being denied control of their own income
  • may be forced to leave their job so they become financially reliant
  • not being able to buy even small items, such as a cup of coffee, without permission
  • the purchase of necessary items becomes dependent on the victim being controlled through forced ‘favours’ for the abuser

Financial abuse is not okay – it is a form of domestic violence.

If you’d like to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers, we offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.  Please contact us today.