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What Women Should Do When They Find Themselves in Financially Abusive Relationships

Updated on October 11, 2017

Money Fear Can Keep Women In Abusive Relationships

Not long after the marriage ceremony a young couple begins to realize that it takes more than love to maintain a home. Economic abuse is as much a part of the problem as is physical abuse. Money is among the most powerful weapons of control in a relationship, but little attention is being paid to the financial aspects of domestic abuse. Economic abuse occurs when one partner takes control of the other’s financial life to gain power in the relationship.

Money is power. Money and money fights are a major cause of divorce. If a couple had savings before marriage, they are surprised to see how quickly these savings can dwindle as they attempt to meet the needs of their newly established home. The amount of money and the handling of this money determine the standards of living in a given home. Thus the consideration of money is basic in the establishment and operation of all family policies. If your husband takes away your money, he has taken your voice and your power over your own life. It can happen to any woman, including the well-off and well-educated, many of whom can’t leave the relationship because they lack financial know-how or monetary resources.

In a relationship where some form of abuse is present; whether physical or emotional, it is not uncommon that an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This is known as economic or financial abuse and it can be very difficult to recognize. It can be something as seemingly innocent as an abuser telling their partner what they can and cannot buy, or something as major as an abuser restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts.

This abuse can take different forms, including

The financial problem is potential social dynamite, which, if handled carelessly, may endanger the integrity of the family unit. Exploitation occurs when the abuser damages the victim’s financial standing by running up credit card debt, taking out loans or even starting businesses in the other person’s name. The third category involves sabotaging the victim’s ability to work—disrupting child care or transportation, or harassing the victim at work until she’s let go or too embarrassed to show resent something after you give it, don’t give it. Give only what feels comfortable to give. Many women suffer financial abusive in many ways such as their partner paying their paycheck into their bank account and denying them access to it; preventing them from viewing or having access to joint bank accounts; forbidding them to work or limiting the hours that they can work; using funds from children’s savings accounts without their partner’s permission; refusing to give their partner money, food, clothing, gas or medicine.

Tension may develop when the reduction of purchasing power forces itself upon the young woman who was gainfully employed before her marriage but who now choose to devote herself to homemaking due to threats of the partner leaving if she continues to work outside of the home because he wants complete control . Prior to marriage you were entirely in command of your affairs and could purchase clothes as you chose, without consulting anyone else but now you receive an allowance and closely watched by your partner spend it or demand receipts for purchases. But in order to keep the peace, you decided to ask no questions or risk more trouble in the relationship. Some women cede control of their finances to the point that they fall into unhealthy or abusive situations because they never understood the power held in maintaining their ability to make their own money. We wake up when it is late scrambling to figure out how to stay afloat. Here’s How to Change That:

Boosting financial literacy goes a long way toward helping victims

Now imagine getting an allowance as an adult, this time not from your parents, but from your partner. This allowance comes not with excitement and joy, but with feelings of confinement, frustration and maybe resentment. Maybe this is enough to buy necessities, but it might not be — and your partner always checks the receipts. Marriage does not require that all money owned must be spent together. The need for honesty about all money owned, however, is important. You may explain to your spouse that some property you inherited needs to remain in your name. You may even have an account your family has contributed to for many years. Money commitments made prior to marriage plans should be honored. What is essential is that no secret or private plans be made by either partner. Hidden plans create suspicion and misunderstanding.

Create opportunity to improve your relationship by reaching agreement with your spouse

When it comes to discussing finances you don’t have to be frustrated. I'm not talking about agreement brought on by surrender out of frustration, but rather by each person having a voice, understanding the other's view and finding common ground. Money can be the source of much stress. Money can be a stressful factor in any relationship. When there are intermingling finances, bills to be paid and considerations to be made about saving for the future, money can become a source of conflict. When two individuals begin to discuss marriage, they are talking about going into financial partnership. Each family handles money in a unique way. Discussions about how potential mates use money can be helpful in understanding how two different people think about money. Such conversations are a natural part of planning and preparing for marriage.

Division of Labor

All couples negotiate a division of labor. Chances are, if you're married, one of you is good at working numbers and the other one isn't good at working numbers. And plenty of spouses are happy to hand off the tedium of bill-paying, budgeting and money management. Yielding control is fine in a healthy relationship—as long as you can retrieve at will your family’s financial information, including how to access all of the accounts, and you have a pretty good sense of your assets and obligations. And you still need to schedule regular debriefings with your spouse. When dealing with insensitive partner, abdicating involvement can land you in compromising situations, ranging from overdrawing your checking account, to being, at a loss when divorce forces you to manage a financial account you know nothing about.

Work on the budget together

In a healthy relationship, each partner feels like they have a say in decision-making, even when it comes to money. Most financial problems in the family involve the matter of the amount of money available from a given source of income or the amount of money to be spent in a specified way. Many have contended that the whole problem can be solved by establishing a family budget. A budget is a very fine thing and is often a great help. A family budget should not be a theoretical, idealistic sort of document. It should be a practical, workable schedule by which family funds are handled. A budget is simply a listed plan for how a person or group decides they need to spend his/their money. Many victims are afraid they’d be homeless or living in poverty if they left because ruined credit scores, erratic employment histories, legal issues, or debt threaten their future employment and financial security—which then leads many of them right back to their abusers. Some said they’d be without any income or health insurance. Others expressed that their partners exerted economic control to prevent them from leaving: keeping them from getting jobs, running up debt on their credit cards, restricting access to money. If your spouse handles the family’s money, you may not be aware of the state of your entire financial situation. Try to get a sense of what you and your spouse own and owe, and in whose name those assets and debts reside. Unfortunately, this info may not be easy to get. Some victims are scared to even inquire about these accounts for fear of violence or verbal abuse.

Gather key documents

Try to make copies of any important financial or personal documents—bank statements, birth certificates, marriage certificates, ownership documents for shared assets. Store these with friends or family or in a safe place at home. When you do leave, take these copies and, if possible, all original documents that list your Social Security number and passwords. You’ll want to have all your personal data with you to help re-establish yourself and keep your abuser from being able to commit ID theft. If your partner knows your information, or if you weren’t able to take all your records with you and fear your partner may seek financial revenge, consider changing your Social Security number, says Neiser. Look at the document to make sure that your partner did not open any lines of credit in your name that you don’t know about. If there is any fraudulent or incorrect information in the report, dispute the error with the credit bureaus.

Establish solo accounts

If you don’t already have one, set up a personal checking and savings account for yourself as soon as you can before you go. Make sure the account is listed only in your name and that statements from the account are sent to a secure mailing address or email address so that your abuser cannot access the account or have knowledge of your finances. Squirrel away whatever money you can without your spouse noticing—maybe a part of whatever allowance you receive or, if you work, as much of your paycheck as you think you can get away with. You want to have a cushion when you leave. Get your direct deposit set up so that the first paycheck after your planned departure date will go to your personal account.

Protect yourself from debt

There are only two ways to balance a family budget: to increase the income to meet the expenditures, or to reduce the expenditure to fit the income. There are all kinds of husbands –some who are overly ambitious, some who are indolent. If a husband is doing his best, he is entitled to the sympathy and cooperation of his wife in cheerfully accepting whatever circumstances may be imposed upon them. You’ll be heartbroken no doubt if your husband’s expenditure was spiraling out of control. You could find out that he was buying all these expensive gadgets, clothes, shoes and eating at the most expensive restaurants. For a family to enter into obligations that involve them beyond the funds in sight or that do not allow for proper consideration in case of illness, misfortune, or loss of employment, is foolhardy and potentially disastrous. Try to pay off any balances on joint credit cards so that it will be easier to close the account and prevent an abuser from racking up more debt. If you’re unable to pay off what’s owed, call your credit issuer and request that your name be removed from the account. This won’t protect you from the already existing debt, but it may help protect you from having to pay for anything charged after you leave the abuser.

Take your share

Assuming you have access to joint bank accounts, you will want to make a withdrawal of your share and put that in your personal account. Some of the states split property based on what each contributed while in some you are legally entitled to half of property earned or acquired during marriage in a divorce. Making this withdrawal is the last thing you should do before you leave, as this will definitely alert a spouse to your plans to go. But you do want to make sure you get this money before your partner can drain the account.

Ask for help

Need help finding a place to live or a job, recovering your money, or handling the trauma of abuse? Because when an abusive partner is in control of the finances, planning for an independent future without him becomes difficult. However, there are many organizations that aid survivors of domestic financial abuse. These groups can help create plans that will support a victim who is attempting to leave and can also help them become economically stable and self-sufficient after leaving.


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