How to Identify Financial Abuse in a Relationship

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When you think of domestic abuse, most likely the first thing that comes to mind is verbal abuse and physical assault. But research shows that financial abuse occurs just as frequently in unhealthy relationships as other forms of abuse. In fact, a study by the Centers for Financial Security found that 99 percent of domestic violence cases also involved financial abuse. What's more, financial abuse is often the first sign of dating violence and domestic abuse.

Consequently, knowing how to identify financial abuse is critical to your safety and security.

A Closer Look at Financial Abuse

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim's ability to acquire, use and maintain financial resources. As a result, those who are victimized financially may be prevented from working. They also may have their own money restricted or stolen by the abuser. And rarely do they have complete access to money and other resources. When they do have money, they often have to account for every penny they spend.

Overall, the forms of financial abuse vary from situation to situation. Sometimes an abuser may use subtle tactics like manipulation while other abusers may be more overt, demanding and intimidating. In the end, the goal is always the same—to gain power and control in a relationship.

While less commonly understood than other forms of abuse, financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship.

Research shows that victims often are too concerned about their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children to end the relationship. Plus, financial insecurity is one of the top reasons women return to an abusive partner.

The Impact of Financial Abuse

The effects of financial abuse are often devastating.

Aside from the fact that victims often feel inadequate and unsure of themselves due to the emotional abuse that often accompanies financial abuse, they also often have to do without food and other necessities because they have no money.

In the short-term, financial abuse often leaves victims vulnerable to physical abuse and violence. Without access to money, credit cards and other financial assets it is extremely difficult to do any type of safety planning. For instance, if an abuser is particularly violent and the victim needs to leave in order to stay safe, this is particularly difficult without money or a credit card. And if she needs to leave the relationship permanently, it is very difficult to not only find safe and affordable housing, but also hard to provide for her basic needs like clothing and transportation.

For those who do manage to escape an abusive situation, they often face extreme difficulties in obtaining long-term housing, safety and security. With less than stellar employment records, ruined credit histories, and legal issues caused by financial abuse, it is very difficult to establish independence and long-term security.

Tactics Used in Financial Abuse

Overall, financial abuse is very isolating because victims often become financially dependent on their abusers.

Consequently, this financial dependence traps a victim in the relationship. Without resources, many victims are unable to see a way out of their situation. As a result, it is extremely important that financial abuse be recognized early before it escalates.

Following is an overview of financial abuse. Some abusers may use all of these tactics while others will use only one or two. Either way, whether an abuser uses one of these tactics or all of them, it is still financial abuse.

Exploiting your resources: This occurs when a dating partner or spouse uses or controls the money you have earned or saved.

Some examples of this exploitation include:

  • Trying to control your use of or access to money you have earned or saved
  • Using your assets for his personal benefit without asking
  • Taking money or using credit cards without permission
  • Borrowing money or making charges without repaying it
  • Feeling entitled to your money or assets
  • Demanding that you turn over your paycheck, passwords and credit cards
  • Expecting you to pay for his bills or his obligations
  • Using offers to help with your budget or financial decisions as a cover for gaining control over your finances
  • Requiring you to bail him out of difficult financial situations​
  • Confiscating your paycheck or other sources of income
  • Intercepting or opening your bank statements and other financial records

​Interfering with your job: This occurs when a dating partner or spouse attempts to control your ability to earn money or gain assets. Some examples of job interference include:

  • Criticizing and minimizing your job or choice of career
  • Pressuring you to quit your job sometimes even using children as an excuse
  • Telling you where you can and cannot work
  • Sabotaging or not honoring your work responsibilities
  • Harassing you at work by calling, texting, or stopping by
  • Preventing you from working by hiding your keys, unhooking your car battery, taking your car without permission, or offering to babysit and then not showing up

Controlling shared assets and resources: This occurs when a dating partner or spouse has complete control over the money in the relationship and the victim has little or no access to what she needs. Some examples include:

  • Criticizing every financial decision you make and reducing your freedom to plan or budget as a result
  • Making large financial decisions without your input; unwilling to collaborate on finances
  • Hiding or taking funds and putting them in a private account
  • Insisting you share your income but refusing to share his
  • Controlling the “purse strings” or establishing unrealistic limits or allowances for you
  • Requiring you to account for every penny you spend (may even ask for receipts and change)
  • Having a double standard when it comes to spending (he may spend money on entertainment, dining out and clothing but criticizes you when you make similar purchases)
  • Withholding financial information such as account passwords, account numbers, investment information and so on
  • Limiting your knowledge of your overall financial picture as a couple
  • Withholding money from you and/or requiring you to ask for money
  • Demanding that you ask permission before spending money but not consulting you when he makes purchases
  • Requiring that large, joint purchases be in his name only (such as car loans, mortgages, cell phones or apartment leases)
  • Forcing you to sign financial documents without explanations
  • Making threats to cut you off financially when you disagree
  • Becoming enraged over money and then engaging in other forms of abuse like name-calling or physical violence

​A Word From Verywell

If you suspect that your partner or spouse is financially abusive, contact an advocate, a counselor or a pastor right away. Financial abuse is not something that gets better with time. In fact, it often escalates over time and can lead to other types of abuse. If you do not have a counselor or pastor who can help, you also can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. The key is to address financial abuse right away.

Sources:

Adams, AE. "Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Financial Well- Being," Center for Financial Security, May 17, 2011. https://centerforfinancialsecurity.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/adams2011.pdf

Howard, M and Skipp, A. "Unequal, Trapped & Controlled: Women’s experience of financial abuse and potential implications for Universal Credit." Women’s Aid, 2014.  https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/UnequalTrappedControlled.pdf

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