7 Ways to Help Victims of Financial Abuse Break Free

10/18/2017 09:26 am ET

Is an abusive spouse or partner controlling your money and finances as a way to assert power over you? Financial abuse is domestic abuse. Learn how to protect yourself from this “invisible” form of domestic violence.

Why didn’t they just leave?

It’s the question that gets asked every time another tragic crime of domestic violence makes headlines.

And the answer? For an overwhelming number of victims, staying trapped in a violent relationship is not a choice. Rather, it’s a by-product of a shadowy type of domestic violence known as financial abuse.

Physical abuse can leave telltale marks and bruises. Financial abuse relies on invisible weapons to assume control. In a financially abusive relationship, a controlling spouse or partner may do things like limit or completely cut off the victim’s access to bank accounts — even their own paycheck — as a way to isolate the victim and keep them silent, controlled and dependent.

How common is financial abuse? Consider this shocking statistic: Financial abuse occurs in 99% — virtually ALL — abusive relationships, according to the Center for Financial Security. Financial abuse typically accompanies other forms of domestic violence, including physical and sexual assault, and/or emotional abuse.

- If you or a loved one have concerns about financial abuse, look for these red flags:

- Your spouse or partner controls how all money is spent and lashes out with verbal and/or physical aggression when questioned.

- You are denied access to joint accounts, even if your paycheck is deposited to the account.

- You are given an “allowance” instead of free access to joint funds.

- Receipts are scrutinized to monitor your spending.

- Your spouse runs up large amounts of debt on joint credit card accounts or has opened (and uses) cards in your name without your permission.

- You and your children cannot obtain basic items such as food and medicine because money is withheld.

Breaking Free from Financial Abuse

Financial abuse results in its victims feeling insecure and fearful about their ability to support themselves and their children should they ever attempt to leave their abuser. But here’s something every victim of any form of abuse needs to know: You can get out and get your children out; you can be safe; and you can get the money you need to live.

Here are 7 ways to free yourself from financial abuse.

Make your exit plan. In the upheaval of leaving your abusive situation, an organized strategy is key for making your resolve stick. Download our free Domestic Violence Safety Plan to start gathering together important phone numbers, address and names of helpful friends, and other “safe people” and a list of domestic violence shelters in your area that you can access in an emergency.

Document your situation. Gather important financial and personal documents such as copies of bank statements that you are able to access, pay stubs, tax forms, birth and marriage certificates, etc. Store your Safety Plan and documents with trusted friends or family or in another secret, safe location outside of your home. Your documents will be helpful for filing out court papers.

Create an emergency fund. If you have absolutely no money, get creative. One woman amassed her “get away” nest egg by every week returning one item of food at the grocery store that she knew her husband didn’t like, so wouldn’t notice it was gone. The few dollars she saved eventually added up to her bus ticket to freedom. You can also ask a close friend or trusted relative if they could help out in any way — from a monetary loan for food and clothing to a couch to sleep on.

Another possible way to generate money is to search the internet at the public library or a friend’s house for online jobs that deposit to a Paypal account or can be sent to a safe person you trust.

File for temporary support. Search your area for a family law firm that offers free consultations. At your meeting, explain your situation and ask the lawyer provide you with information about how to apply to the courts for temporary alimony and temporary child support. Alimony can help you maintain your same standard of living by paying for your rent, for example, or paying for other costs you may need to achieve financial independence, such as paying to attend school or for job training. Child support can help with costs related to your children’s needs such as food and clothing. You do not need to file for divorce to obtain temporary support and you do NOT need to communicate with your abuser each week/month to get access to the money.

Not married to your abuser? You may still be able to access money that is in your name, including joint bank accounts or an account where your partner may have forced you to deposit your paycheck. In this case, the courts can help you gain access to what is rightfully yours. Your attorney can help you determine the best path forward.

Get a restraining order. Depending on your situation, you can also request for the courts to grant you a temporary restraining order against your spouse or partner to prevent your abuser from contacting you anywhere, including at your job. Likewise, you can request the judge to order your abuser to pay your legal fees, including the cost of an attorney to represent you.

Explain your situation to your boss. If you are concerned that your abuser might turn up at work before your restraining order is in place, thereby affecting your employment, tell your boss or supervisor and get procedures put in place so that your employer can protect you there.

Establish credit in your own name. If you have no credit card in your own name, apply for one, even if it has a very low limit to start. Make small purchases and pay them off religiously in order to build your credit. Having credit can be a lifeline in an emergency and good credit is important if you need a car loan or must go through a credit check for any reason. If you do this before you leave, consider getting any correspondence sent to a family member’s address.

When you want help or advice, or need to leave, connect with local domestic violence resources. Help is available 24/7 by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233, which can then put you in touch with shelters and other helping agencies in your area. Your spouse or partner does not need to have hit you in order for you to receive assistance. Financial abuse affects all segments of society, from the super-wealthy to the most impoverished, male and female, in heterosexual marriages or LGBT relationships. Domestic violence help is available for all and identifying yourself as a victim of domestic abuse is enough. For undocumented immigrants, please know that safety is important, not ICE status.

A Worthy Conversation

October’s Domestic Violence Month is an important time to talk about issues related to partner abuse, including matters of financial or economic abuse. With so much at stake for these victims, however, can we keep the conversation going year-round? For more on the legal rights of domestic violence victims and how to get help, please view our SlideShare: Domestic Violence 101: Help For Victims of Domestic Violence or download our ebook, A Guide For Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey, for free during Domestic Violence Week of Action.

Please share. Every piece of information we put out there about domestic violence could be worth its weight in gold for a victim in desperate need of safety and support.

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