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Financial abuse

Financial abuse

Financial abuse, which is also known as economic abuse, is a form of domestic violence. This is because, in these situations, an abuser will aim to control and dominate the other person, usually their partner or spouse, by denying them their financial freedom.

What is financial abuse?

Sadly, financial abuse is common. In fact, the Commonwealth Bank currently estimate that 16% of women will experience financial abuse in Australia during their lifetime.

Although it’s also important to acknowledge that men can also be affected by financial abuse, women, and in particular, those with disabilities or with long-term health conditions are significantly more likely to experience financial abuse than the general population.

Financial abuse occurs when someone uses money as a means to gain power and control over another person (usually a significant other). Once the abuser has access to the money, they use it to trap the other person in the relationship.

As financial abuse can take many forms, there’s no set financial abuse definition. However, generally speaking, financial abuse can involve:

  • Denying someone the capacity to earn money;
  • Not allowing someone to either study or have a job;
  • Withholding financial documentation, such as bank account details;
  • Fraudulently taking out credit.

As a result of their actions, your financial abuser may:

  • Control your access to money by restricting your access to bank accounts, credit cards or cash;
  • Use your money without your knowledge or consent;
  • Sign legal documents on your behalf by forging your signature;
  • Take out a loan or credit card in your name;
  • Threaten or punish you if you don’t give them money.

Who commits financial abuse?

Economic abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse, such as physical violence and emotional abuse.

Financial abusers often abuse people who are close to them, such as their partners. However, financial abuse can happen to anyone and the abuser could be your partner, a family member, a carer or a friend.

No matter how close someone gets to you, they do not have a right to control either you or your finances.

Who can obtain a Domestic Violence Order to stop financial abuse?

Domestic or family violence refers to violence, abuse and/or intimidation between people who are currently or have previously been in a ‘relevant relationship’.

In order to apply for a Domestic Violence Order in Queensland, you need to be in a ‘relevant relationship’ with the perpetrator (known legally as the defendant). These relationships are defined by the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, which states that relevant relationships include:

  • Spousal relationships, including de facto relationships, biological parents of a child and same-sex couples;
  • Family relationships, including relations by blood or marriage and cultural relationships;
  • Informal care relationships, including unpaid carers who assist with day-to-day living arrangements.

If you are not in a ‘relevant relationship’ and do not qualify for protection under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, there are other options available to you for seeking protection and we would encourage you to contact the police to discuss your options.

If you are in a ‘relevant relationship’, you should speak to an experienced family lawyer who will be able to explain your rights and outline how you could possibly free yourself from the situation with the help of the law.

Financial abuse signs

If you’re unsure whether you’re in a financially abusive relationship or not, you should ask yourself whether any of the following financial abuse signs apply to your relationship:

  • Has your partner ever prevented you from getting a job or going to work against your will?
  • Has anyone close to you ever pressured you to either stop spending or stop earning your own money?
  • Does your partner refuse to pay your child support or help you with childcare costs?
  • Does your partner control how your household income is spent?
  • Does your partner monitor your spending or ask you for receipts to show all of your purchases?
  • Does your significant other deny you access to your own money or do you need to ask them for basic expenses?
  • Have you ever been prevented from contributing to the household income?
  • Are you asked to perform tasks or favours in exchange for money?
  • Have you been forced to take out a loan or credit card in your name for somebody else?
  • Does your partner keep the family’s finances secret?
  • Does your partner ignore your opinion on major financial decisions?
  • Are you pressured to work in a family business without pay?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these financial abuse examples, then you may be a victim of financial abuse and you should consider seeking legal advice and/or other means of professional support or counselling.

Financial abuse effects

If you’re a victim of financial abuse you may feel embarrassed, ashamed or even overwhelmed. In addition to this, because financial abuse is designed to take away your independence, you may also feel vulnerable, isolated, depressed or anxious when the financial abuse effects take hold.

However, due to the nature of the financial abuse examples we’ve outlined above, it can be difficult to recognise financial abuse. For this reason, some people do not realise they’re being abused because:

  • The abuse began subtly and progressed over time;
  • It’s considered acceptable in their culture for one member of the household to control the finances for the whole family;
  • They see money as a private matter that shouldn’t be discussed and they do not want to mention the problems they’re facing.

However, financial abuse effects can be hugely damaging. Sometimes, even 20-30 years after an instance of financial abuse, people can still be struggling to financially survive. This is particularly the case for victims who have spotty employment records and a ruined credit history because of the financial abuse they’ve been subjected to.

Leaving an abusive relationship

Unfortunately, due to the financial constraints imposed by economic abuse, many people feel trapped within these abusive relationships. However, if you’re looking to leave an abusive relationship or if you’d like to learn more about whether the financial abuse indicators we’ve outlined above apply to you, then our experienced family lawyers can help.

Scott Richardson

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