Financial abuse takes many forms and can sometimes be more subtle than physical, verbal or emotional abuse. One of the insidious aspects of financial abuse is that it can occur in any interpersonal relationship, from those with family members to a romantic relationship with an abusive partner.
The first step to disentangling from the power and control of a financially abusive relationship is learning what constitutes financial abuse, common signs, what to do if you recognize these signs in one of your relationships and how to financially recover.
What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is characterized by the actions of an abusive person who uses finances to exert power and control over another person. Some of the same tenets that mark a physically abusive relationship are often present in financially abusive situations, such as coercion, threats, manipulation and fear.
Elderly adults are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse because the combination of advancing age and declining cognitive ability causes them to rely on others to help with financial matters.
Signs of Financial Abuse
Forms of financial abuse may vary depending on the power structure of the relationship. Some situations have multiple characteristics of financial abuse; others may have just one.
This is the reason it is so important to recognize that financial abuse plays on fear and control the same way that other forms of abuse do. Even one aspect of financial abuse is too many, no matter what kind of relationship in which it is found.
Signs you may be in a financially abusive relationship include:
- Stipulating rules about spending money and demanding to see receipts as proof of spending limits
- Withholding money, refusing to pay, or controlling your spending
- Spending your money without your consent
- Deception about financial information
- Pressuring or demanding that you stop working or purposely taking action to get you fired from your job
- Refusing to work to force you to take care of all the financial obligations in the relationship
- Refusing you access to shared bank accounts or hiding assets
- Selling/renting property that belongs to you without your consent
- Identity theft (opening lines of credit in your name/filing fraudulent tax returns)
- Withholding child support to make it harder for you to support your children
- Opening accounts in your name without your knowledge or consent
- Withholding food, clothing and other resources
- Making financial decisions that impact you without consulting you
- Forcing you to work in a family business against your will for little or no pay
- Forcing you to sign a power-of-attorney giving the abuser control over your finances
- Giving you an “allowance” and threatening you to stop you from spending more
These are just a few of the specific signs. However, it is important to remember that financial abuse is characterized by any situation in which someone uses finances to control your actions. This is not a sign of a healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise.
There are numerous resources available for victims of financially abusive relationships. If you suspect you might be in a financially abusive relationship, it is important to take action before the situation escalates even further.
Leaving an abusive partner is never easy, but it is imperative to your physical, mental, emotional and financial well-being. The first step to getting help is developing a plan that will ensure you and your family’s safety while you focus on getting out. Work with an advocate or someone you can trust to help you cultivate a safe exit strategy.
Start an emergency stash while you figure things out. This will be helpful if you need to leave the relationship on short notice. This can be as simple as saving change from purchases, depositing bonuses or other money you receive outside the norm into a personal account.
Two people you need on your team as you plan your exit: an attorney who specializes in financial abuse and domestic abuse, and a therapist that can help with the mental/emotional fallout. Both can help you to cultivate a safe exit strategy and walk you through the resources available to help with this process.
Financial Recovery After an Abusive Relationship
Financial recovery after an abusive partner can be challenging, but it is possible to get on the road to monetary recovery. Here are a few tips:
- Take a financial literacy class or workshop for victims of financial abuse. Often, financially abusive partners can make you feel as though you know nothing about your finances, undermining your efforts in this area. A class or workshop for victims of abuse can help you regain your confidence in your abilities to maintain access to money and manage your finances.
- Gather as much information as you can about your finances to begin to get back on track. Pull together every financial statement you can find and request copies of those you don’t have. This includes bank and credit card statements, tax returns, pay stubs, property deeds, insurance paperwork and anything else related to your finances.
- Open your own financial accounts separate from the abuser. This will help on the road to financial independence and recovering from financial dependence.
- Check your credit report and issue a freeze if you think that the abuser may still be opening lines of credit in your name.
- Work with your attorney to determine your legal rights. If a financial abuse case has been established and well-documented, you may be able to work out arrangements for your debt. However, this is a case-by-case situation, which is why it helps to work with someone that has experience in this area.
- Create a budget for financial recovery. This may include paying off any outstanding debts, saving money and creating a financial plan for daily living.
If you are unsure of whether or not you are a victim of financial abuse, want to make a safety plan or know more about your options, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to learn more.