Financial Abuse Is Domestic Violence

Financial Abuse Is Domestic Violence

Posted on July 30th, 2022.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse occurs when the abuser uses financial means such as withholding child support or spousal support payments to keep their “other” under their control. It is a form of coercion and control. It often occurs when the survivor is dependent on the abuser for support.

How often does it occur?

Research indicates that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that since 2016, financial abuse as a condition of a contact’s experience has grown 13% annually. Financial abuse like all domestic abuse occurs across all socio-economic, educational, and racial and ethnic groups.

It begins as “love” but becomes “abuse”

Financial abuse can begin subtly as a partner’s showing of “care and concern” but progresses over time to an exercise of “power and control” by the lover. The “lover” suggests they control the finances because after all, they work in finance and earn more than their partner. When they are told of a troublesome colleague at work or a difficult boss, the “lover” asks their partner to leave “this terrible job” and claims that they can “support them both” and it will give them “more time together.” The lover offers their partner weekly money, an allowance, to cover their needs. Trust often leads into the financially controlling situation in which the “lover” becomes an “abuser” questioning every expense and the partner is their “victim” subjected to their control and questioning of expert expense. The abuser decreases the allowance over time unless the victim complies with his demands.

KL was financially dependent on her husband. He convinced her to quit her job as a fashion consultant for high roller men so they would have “more time together”. He didn’t open a joint bank account. She was never given a credit card of her own and was not added to his credit card. She had no access to cash or credit. If she needed to purchase something, she had to ask her husband for his credit card to make the purchase. His credit card was on her UBER account – so he could track when she used the UBER account. He had to approve every purchase she made (including groceries). If she wanted to buy a dress, she had to call him from the store, photo herself in the dress and if he liked it on her, he would directly pay for the dress over the phone. If she had sex with him, he left her cash on the table.

PC’s husband used payment of money he owed her as leverage for more visitation time with their children. He convinced her to sign an agreement in which she waived her rights to any interests in businesses established during their marriage before she knew what those businesses were actually worth.

KE and NM both had husbands who refused to allow them to use the air conditioner in their homes. Both men took the wedding money depositing it in their account and claiming it was all from their side of the family.

NM was questioned about a $10.00 candle and the cost of a pair of boots. When her husband refused to purchase the baby carriage she wanted for the baby and a friend bought it, he demanded she send it back.

JE obtained an order of protection against her husband. She received Social Security benefits for their children through the husband. He changed the account where the money was deposited so she received no benefits for the support of the children.

Staying trapped in an abusive relationship

Financial abuse is one of the methods used by abusers to keep a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship. Survivors report that worry over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children is one of the top reasons given for staying in or returning to an abusive partner. Many victims return to abusive relationships because they are driven by the basic necessities of life. They are not financially secure, don’t have anywhere to go, and do not want to live in a shelter.

The courtroom is used by abusers to further inflict harm on their victims

In court, “abusers” claim their victims are credit card spenders who are incompetent to handle money, only care about money and would spend incessantly on themselves and are spendthrifts who require someone else to handle the household funds. They also claim that money was spent and can get away with purposefully hiding accounts from their spouse or partner so as to avoid distribution of the funds contained therein.

These claims of incompetence are often coupled with claims of unfitness to parent or mental instability or illness.

What can be done to help victims in the court system?

Victims seeking safety and justice for themselves and their children through family court and other legal systems may instead encounter their partners’ misuse of court processes to further enact coercive control and financial abuse on them often referred to as legal abuse.

I listened to numerous women in my practice tell me that an ex-lover or spouse is pursuing an avenue of custody not because they want more time with a child but because they want more time with and control over the mother. Courts often look at this information with a disbelieving eye believing that all parents have only noble reasons for seeking more time with their children and are too quick to believe that any mother who argues the opposite is trying to keep the father away.

Judges must be educated as to the elements of financial abuse as a part of coercive control so they can recognize it and address it to better protect victims and their children. Orders of spousal and child support should be granted simultaneously with orders of protection and the courts should order enforcement mechanisms such as wage garnishment as soon as is reasonably possible. Assets, if any, should be temporarily frozen by restraining order so no spouse can transfer or move money or property. Victims’ services personnel should be expanded to include trained social workers in financial matters who can assist women in finding hidden assets, managing money and if necessary locating places to live.


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