How to Identify and Deal with Financial Abuse

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We need money to survive, but financial abuse by a spouse will disrupt the balance of a relationship. This will lead to basic needs not getting met or divorce.

Every aspect of a marriage should be built on mutual trust, love, and respect. But as an attorney, I’ve counseled countless victims of financial abuse who have experienced none of these qualities in their partner. When clients come to me feeling helpless, my first goal is to open their eyes to the depth of the problem they face. After helping them understand they are not at fault for the actions of their partner, we come up with a plan for their future.

What is financial abuse?

As with any form of exploitation, financial abuse is recognized in the relationship's imbalance. Typically, one spouse will use controlling tactics, leaving the victim restricted and helpless. They depend on the abuser for financial survival or are responsible for the abuser’s financial wellbeing. This cycle can perpetuate because they have financial freedom of their own.

Recognizing the signs of financial abuse

Financial abuse can come in many forms. Some spouses are subtle in their methods, while others use more aggressive tactics:

  • Restricting access to money: Someone attempting to gain control over their spouse may limit access to finances by refusing to open a joint checking account. The victim could also face a lack of transparency when attempting discussions about money.
  • Refusing to work or contribute to household bills: By refusing to contribute financially, it places the entire financial burden on one spouse. (In a single-income household, this does not apply if there is an agreement between the two spouses.)
  • Forbidding a spouse from earning money: On the other hand, a common form of manipulation is forbidding a spouse from finding a fulfilling job. Without earning income, it’s easier to justify silencing their voice in financial decisions.
  • Hiding debts or assets: In a healthy financial marriage, spouses talk openly about all aspects of their financial health. A clear indicator of abuse is when one spouse hides anything from the other. The question remains: Why? Abusers hide information and manipulate to gain control. However, victims may also engage in hiding information out of fear of the abuser.
  • Gambling and other risky behavior: Wasting money on gambling, frivolous spending, or even addictions will cause a major strain on a relationship. Often spouses find themselves not only emotionally supporting an addict, but financially supporting one, too.