According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, financial abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse experienced by victims of domestic violence, with nearly 99% of survivors reporting some form of financial abuse during their relationship. Abusers often take full control of a spouse's finances in order to prevent them from leaving or exert power over them. It may start subtly and even seem at first to be a form of caring or “protection”, but if it escalates into more concerning behaviors like limiting spending, giving an allowance, or hiding money, be mindful.
This problem can become even more severe during the divorce process, as abusers may try to use finances as a tool to exert power and control over their partners. As Forbes notes, "It’s not uncommon for abusers to use finances as a tool of power and control during a relationship, but this behavior can become even more intense during the divorce process."
One of the key ways to prevent financial abuse during a marriage is to take proactive steps to protect yourself before filing for divorce. As Forbes suggests, "It's important to be financially savvy and aware, and not let your partner take control of your finances."
There are many specific things you can do to protect yourself before you even file. Begin by documenting everything you can find with numbers on it - once the divorce process has begun, abusers may start hiding assets, moving things around, and making it even more difficult to get a clear picture of the marital estate. Set up a separate bank account at a different bank and start saving money of your own. Consult with a financial professional to learn how to start building your own credit rating. And be aware of the possibility of digital abuse: this is becoming more and more common and is a very insidious way for abusers to track and monitor not only your financial moves but your physical and social moves as well.
Most importantly, of course, is to seek help if you believe you are being victimized. As the National Domestic Violence Hotline notes, "The abuser may have complete control over the couple's finances and prevent the victim from accessing money or gaining employment, creating a situation where the victim is entirely financially dependent on the abuser."
Signs of Financial Abuse in a Marriage:
- Denial of access to money
- Intense monitoring of spending
- Giving an allowance
- Criticizing and demoralizing spouse for poor spending habits, wasting money, etc.
- Financial lies, secrecy, deception
- Financial infidelity
- Preventing spouse from working outside the home or preventing career advancement
- Bullying and aggressive behaviors
- Emotionally withholding behaviors
- Co-existence of drug, alcohol, sex, and gambling addiction
- Co-existence of narcissism
If you are experiencing any of these behaviors, it's important to reach out to a trusted friend or family member, a local domestic violence agency, or a legal or financial professional for help. A CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) can also be a great first step - if you want a list of them, check out my resources page for some contacts.
Despite the challenges, it is possible for victims of financial abuse to break free from the cycle of abuse and rebuild their lives. According to a study by the Allstate Foundation, 70% of women who experienced domestic violence reported financial abuse, with 98% stating that the abuse had a significant impact on their financial security. However, with the right support and resources, victims of financial abuse can take control of their finances and build a brighter future for themselves and their families.