Financial abuse in marriage

This article looks at what financial abuse means, its impact and what you can do to regain control of your finances from an abusive partner.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse. It involves a partner or spouse deliberately controlling your money (and access to it) and could also include spending it in detrimental ways without your permission. Money plays such a huge part in our lives that not having access to it (or to enough if it) has a knock-on effect in all areas. Victims may be left without enough money to feed themselves or their children. They may find themselves isolated from their friends and family as they can no longer afford to travel or go out.

Examples of financial abuse and exploitation include (but are not limited to):

  • Having no control over or restricted access to your own bank account.
  • Being forced to hand over your wages,  benefit payments[CR1]  or pension.
  • Being prevented from spending money on yourself.
  • Needing to seek permission from your partner before you spend money.
  • Having to account for everything you spend.
  • Your partner stealing money from you.

Abusive partners could also be financially sabotaging you. They can do this by preventing you from getting or keeping a job to ensure you stay financially dependent on them. They might also be spending money in your name, running up debts (fraudulently put in your name) thereby building you a poor credit record. Perhaps they insist that all bills and loans are in your name.

According to research in 2015 conducted by Refuge and the Co-operative Bank (the UK’s largest study of financial abuse to date), 1 in 6 adults are victims of financial abuse, with 6 out of 10 victims being female. One in 3 victims don’t tell anyone about what is happening and 8 out of 10 women experience other forms of abuse at the same time.

The impact of financial abuse

Financial abuse is an example of controlling and coercive behaviour being used in a relationship:

  • Controlling behaviour: designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
  • Coercive behaviour: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

We depend on money so much and in so many situations where we take it for granted. What would you do if you didn’t have the money to get a bus to visit your family? Maybe your landline has been cut-off because you’ve not been able to pay the bill. Debts your partner runs up in your name could prevent you from being able to get credit again. You can be left vulnerable, isolated and dependent – exactly how an abusive partner wants you to be.

What to do if you’re experiencing financial abuse

If any of the above sounds familiar to you, then you may be experiencing financial abuse. The first step is to talk to someone. If it is safe to do so, contact us on 08 088 088 088 to talk confidentially to someone trained to help you find support. If you have already made the decision to leave your partner, here are a few things that could help:

  • Create an escape fund: if you can, put aside small amounts of cash that your partner won’t notice. If you are concerned about leaving the money in your house, then ask a trusted friend or family member to look after it for you.
  • Be careful about setting up a new bank account. It is highly likely that documentation will be sent to your home address and there is a chance your partner will see it.
  • Get together all your important documents and IDs: e.g. driving licence, vehicle registration papers, National Insurance number, birth and marriage certificates, passports, medical cards, utility bills, and payslips. You will need these to set up bank accounts, claim benefits, etc, after you have left. Put them in your emergency bag or leave them with a friend for safe keeping.
  • If there is any way your partner can run up further debts in your name once you’ve left – e.g. utilities, credit cards – make sure you contact the provider to cancel them.

Of course, there is a chance that you will need to leave your home in a hurry, without having had time to put in place any plans. If this happens then there are sources of immediate financial support:

  • Friends and family
  • Local council grants
  • Charity grants
  • Short-term benefit advances.

This may all sound daunting. There is a lot to think about but you are not alone – call us FREE on 08 088 088 088 and we can help you navigate the options.

If you leave your partner and continue to use any existing bank accounts, please do remember that activity on those accounts could give your partner information about your location.

Sorting out your finances after you’ve left an abusive relationship

When you are ready to review your long-term finances, we can signpost you to organisations that can give you advice relevant to your individual situation.  Broadly speaking, however, there are two key things to think about: (1) separating your finances from your partner, and (2) getting your own finances in order.

Separating your finances could include:

  • Joint accounts: contact your bank and ask them to freeze the account. (Withdraw any money you need beforehand.)
  • Credit report: get a report to see what debts you’re responsible for and identify any arrangements that your partner has set up in your name.
  • Notice of Disassociation: this is a request to credit agencies to remove your partner’s credit rating from your own.

When you are getting your own finances in order:

  • Change all your passwords and PIN numbers for cards and online banking services.
  • Open a new bank account.
  • If you are in debt, speak to a professional debt advisor, your bank or credit providers who can talk through your options.   Prioritise the most important debts to pay off first.
  • You may be entitled to benefits so speak to an advisor, for example Citizens Advice or your local Jobcentre.

Remember – you’re not alone. Our experienced call operators are here to help advise you about ways of getting better control of your financial position.

You can contact Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline seven days a week for advice and support. Our FREE confidential helpline is set up to support anyone who is impacted directly or indirectly by Domestic Abuse. Call 08 088 088 088 to speak to a local expert who can offer bespoke advice and signposting to support groups and the most appropriate agency support. REMEMBER, in an emergency, always call 999.

Refuge and the Co-operative Bank have produced an excellent, detailed financial guide for victims of domestic abuse: My Money, My Life.