Most people today understand that the definition of domestic violence can extend beyond physical abuse to include emotional and psychological harm and manipulation.
But there’s also another form of domestic violence that relatively few people know about: financial abuse.
The lack of awareness around financial abuse, however, doesn’t mean it’s a rare phenomenon. In fact, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) estimates that an astonishing 98% of domestic violence cases involve some form of financial abuse.
So what is financial abuse, and what can you do if you suspect it’s happening to you or someone you love?
Defining Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is a type of mistreatment or fraud where someone attempts to exert control over another person’s finances or assets in order to gain power and leverage in a relationship. In some cases, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship; other times, the abuse begins when the victim attempts to leave. We’ve even seen financial abuse begin when the abuser wants to leave and tries to manipulate the victim into accepting an unfair settlement. While financial abuse occurs across all ethnic, socio-economic, and age demographics, experts agree that the majority of victims are women.
Financial abuse is one of the most powerful and effective methods that abusers employ to keep a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. Surveys of abuse survivors show that the victims’ concerns over being able to provide financially for themselves and their children is often one of the top reasons that victims stay in or return to a relationship that involves physical abuse.
Financial abuse often starts subtly. For example, according to the NNEDV, a financial abuser might start out by framing their abuse as a form of concern for the victim, making statements like: “I know you’re under a lot of stress right now, so why don’t you just let me take care of the finances and I’ll give you money each week to take care of what you need.”
Once the victim agrees to this situation, the financial abuser will typically start to restrict the victim’s “allowance,” giving them less and less money or control over time. When the victim finally gets fed up with the situation and tries to take back control of their finances, they often find that the accounts have been moved or that they no longer have access.
While the abuse may start out with the abuser asking the victim to voluntarily give them control of accounts and assets, financial abuse can (and often does) involve outright fraud. For example, once they have control of certain key accounts and financial documents, the abuser may use the victim’s information to apply for loans or credit cards, even forging their information and signature if needed. They may max out these accounts and destroy the victim’s credit, leaving the victim with very few financial resources.
The Most Common Forms of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse can take dozens of different forms, and each case of financial abuse is unique. However, there are some broad patterns that tend to recur again and again among cases that involve financial abuse. Some of the common tactics that financial abusers often resort to include:
- Forbidding the victim to work or sabotaging their current job or employment opportunities (for example, by stalking or harassing the victim at work or preventing them from attending important meetings)
- Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts and/or not including them in investment and banking decisions
- Controlling how all the money in the household is spent
- Concealing assets from the victim
- Withholding money or giving the victim an “allowance,” especially for basic needs such as food and medicine
- Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
- Ruining the victim’s credit by running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts, taking out bad loans, or refusing to pay bills
- Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
- Stealing the victim’s money, identity, property, or inheritance
- Filing false insurance claims
- Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for of “cheating” or “misusing” benefits (usually without any basis for these allegations)
- Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out (for example, by hiding or not disclosing assets)
All of the above behaviors are often wrapped up with threats or actual incidents of physical battering as well as psychological abuse, leaving the victim feeling trapped, isolated, and hopeless.
Even those who successfully escape financial abuse often face frustrating uphill battles to repair their credit, resolve their legal issues, and gain employment after an extended period marked by a spotty or nonexistent work history.
How to Get Help for Financial Abuse
If any of the above descriptions of financial abuse reflect your situation or the circumstances of someone you love, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. If you’re not sure whether the abuser has opened fraudulent accounts or lines of credit in your name, you can run your credit report for free at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action and look for any activity you don’t recognize.
In addition, if you believe you may be a victim of financial abuse, you should start organizing important financial and personal documents like bank and credit card statements, birth and marriage certificates, and any other relevant financial documents you can think of. Store these documents with friends and family if you can, or keep them in a secure location outside of your home.
At the Devolder Law Firm, we’re always ready to assist victims of financial abuse or domestic violence. We can also help prevent the harm that comes when your spouse hides, conceals, or dissipates assets. If you get in touch with us and schedule an initial consultation, we’ll work with you to help you understand your legal options. The law offers protections against abuse, but it takes time and knowledge of your options to protect yourself and your assets.
We understand that people who are suffering from financial abuse have limited resources, which is one of the reasons that we offer easy and affordable online financing options to all of our clients. Don’t let concerns about paying for an attorney keep you from picking up the phone; this is exactly what a financial abuser is hoping you will do, and every day you wait will make it harder to break out of the abusive relationship later.
If you’re not ready to talk with an attorney just yet, consider calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visiting their website at http://www.thehotline.org/. The NDVH has trained advocates who are available 24/7 to speak confidentially with anyone who is experiencing domestic violence or seeking information about it.
The Devolder Law Firm: Domestic Violence Lawyers for Victims in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Bay Area
If you or someone you love is suffering from financial abuse or any other form of domestic violence, the team at the Devolder Law Firm is here to help you put a stop to abuse and take charge of the situation. We understand that breaking out of the cycle of an abusive relationship can feel like a monumental step, which is why we work with domestic violence victims to explain their rights and legal options with clarity and compassion. As experienced family law attorneys, we can also assist you with any related legal matters, including divorce, child custody, child support, and alimony.
Call us at 813-724-3880 or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get in touch with you right away to schedule an initial consultation.
About financial abuse. (n.d.). National Network to End Domestic Violence. Retrieved from http://nnedv.org/resources/ejresources/about-financial-abuse.html
The content provided in this website/blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.