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Florida Women's Law Group

Recognizing Financial Abuse In Marriage

Author: Florida Women's Law Group
Date: Aug 06 2021

Recognizing Financial Abuse in Marriage

Financial abuse is the most common form of relationship abuse but is probably the least acknowledged.  In a study conducted by the Centers of Financial Security they found that 99% of all domestic violence cases included financial abuse and yet it’s never talked about.  Financial abuse is in most situations, the first sign of abuse. 

As with other forms of abuse, it happens subtly and gradually, and victims may not even realize it.  At first it may seem as if the spouse is being caring and loving by providing for their partner or by paying the bills to unburden them.  Slowly, they have full financial control and victims feel isolated and completely dependent on their spouse.

What is Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is a sneaky and manipulative type of abuse.  It is not uncommon that in a marriage one spouse pays all the bills and handles all the finances for the family.  However, when that spouse uses money to control and exert power over the other spouse is when it is abusive.  Financial abuse is when one spouse denies the other the ability to acquire, use or maintain financial resources in the marriage.

Domestic abuse in a relationship typically starts with financial abuse and then escalates to emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse.  This type of abuse happens in all socio-economic categories and victims can be completely unaware.  As with other abuse, it centers on the spouse wanting total control and power over their partner. 

Signs of Financial Abuse

There are several ways that a spouse can exert financial control, some can be covert and manipulative while others are demanding and intimidating.

  • Controlling partner’s use and access to funds
  • Controls all family money and purchases
  • Gives partner an allowance
  • Requires partner to account for all money spent
  • Withholding money and making partner ask for it or get permission to buy something

  • Not allowing partner to have credit cards, debit cards or bank accounts in their name

  • Claiming to make payments on bills in partner’s name and not doing it
  • Ruining partner’s credit
  • Double standard when it comes to purchases – they are free to buy whatever, whenever but their partner goes without or must beg for money

  • Hiding assets from partner
  • Refusing to allow spouse to have a job
  • Sabotaging work responsibilities or opportunities
  • Harassing spouse at work by constant calls, texts or stopping by to check-in
  • Demanding they get spouse’s paycheck and prohibiting them access to it
  • Interfering with public assistance
  • Making large purchases without spouse’s input
  • Having all large assets in their name only, i.e., property or cars

Impact of Financial Abuse

Lack of financial resources is one of the main reasons that victims stay with their abusers.  Without access to money leaving seems impossible.  Which is why they do it, it makes victims 100% dependent on them for housing and basic necessities.  If there are children involved there is a sense of hopelessness that they will be able to provide for them without the abuser.

Victims feel insecure and may have low self-esteem due to the emotional abuse that goes with financial control.  They may have a limited or non-existent job history.  Education and job-training are usually minimal as well.  They have no credit history or bad credit so are unable to get credit cards or housing.

Escaping Financial Abuse

Victims of abuse feel as if they have no options and escaping it is not possible.  It can be done, it takes courage and determination but it can happen.  Developing a safety plan for escaping is the first step.  Look for family or friends to confide in that can provide help or a safe place to stay. 

Victims should try and save money however they can, whether it’s taking an extra $20 at the grocery store, returning items and keeping the money or buying Visa gift cards while grocery shopping.   Find a safe place or open a bank account their spouse does not know about it and start putting money away.  It may take some time, but it can happen.  Victims should also make copies of bank and credit card statements and gather all important documents like birth certificates, passports, social security cards and any other legal documents.

If you are in an abusive relationship, make a safety plan and get you and your children out of the situation.  You are not alone, we are here to represent women just like you to help you get through this and onto a better and happier life.

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