With one woman killed each week by her current or former partner, there’s a common misconception that domestic violence is purely physical.

Before any physical assault takes place, other forms of domestic violence are often building behind closed doors – whether verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial abuse.

In fact, 99% of domestic violence cases involve some sort of economic abuse. Limiting your access to money, swindling your savings and excluding you from financial decisions are only some of the abusive tactics a coercive partner can use to control you.

Importantly, this financial enforcement is often the first red flag in a violent relationship. It begins with seemingly trivial comments and subtle actions – all outwardly innocent given the right narrative, despite the silent mounting of tension.

That’s why understanding the warning signs of financial abuse is key to your safety. Below, we explain this economic exploitation and its various manifestations so that you can seek the support and security you deserve before the violence escalates. We are here for you and with you.

What is financial abuse?

A frequent yet often silent form of family violence, financial abuse involves intentional coercion to control a partner’s ability to earn, spend and save money.

Arguably the most manipulative manifestation of domestic violence, financial control forces the victim to become dependent on the abuser and their access to resources. In turn, the perpetrator can use money and its provisions to dominate or punish their partner.

That said, it’s important to note that taking the lead on family finances is not necessarily abuse – it’s often the case that one partner is more financially savvy, and therefore assumes the primary role in managing household funds. The trick is determining whether this is a mutually agreed responsibility or a detrimental imbalance of power.

When gender comes into play

Although anyone can be a target of financial abuse, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men against women. Recently, An RMIT University study reported that 16% of women have experienced financial abuse in a past relationship, compared to 7% of men.

Why the divide?

It’s long been the case that Australian women experience poorer economic outcomes than men. From the female-focused nature of childcare to the gender pay gap, a multitude of factors have resulted in women living with:

– Lower levels of workplace participation
– Lower levels of pay
– Higher levels of financial stress
– Reduced retirement savings

While these economic setbacks facilitate financial control in abusive relationships, know that you are not powerless. There are warning signs to watch out for, and steps you can take to remove yourself from the situation.

Signs of financial abuse

The subtleties of financial abuse can quickly spiral into debilitating exploitation. To protect yourself and your family, you’ll need to be aware of the red flags below:

Blocking your ability to earn

– Insulting and downplaying your profession
– Stating where you are allowed or not allowed to work, and with whom
– Pestering you when you’re at work, whether on the phone or in person
– Intentionally disrupting your work duties to harm your performance
– Stopping you from going to work by taking your car, hiding your car keys or refusing to babysit
– Demanding that you to quit to look after your children

Taking advantage of your assets

– Controlling how you use your own savings
– Spending your money without your permission
– Borrowing money and never repaying you
– Expecting you to cover their expenses
– Promising to make payments on your behalf but not doing so
– Damaging your credit rating by not paying bills
– Insisting that you hand over any pay checks, banking passwords and financial records
– Offering you support with your finances as a guise for gaining control
– Threatening to tell the the authorities lies about your financial behaviour

Controlling joint resources

– Making significant financial decisions without your involvement, such as attaching overdrafts to the family home
– Rejecting any sort of collaboration on finances
– Restricting your freedom to plan financially, and criticising your decision when you do
– Keeping important financial details like bank account passwords and investment records from you
– Making it so that you must ask permission to access money
– Setting unfair limits or allowances on your spending, but spending as much as he wants
– Demanding that you report back on every cent you spend
– Threatening to cut you off from household finances
– Transferring funds to a private account you cannot access
– Keeping important financial details like bank account passwords and investment records from you
– Purposely delaying settlement proceedings to drain your finances
– Refusing or avoiding child support payments

Effects of financial abuse

Survivors of domestic abuse can experience a range of negative outcomes as a consequence of the violence. These include:

– Reduced access to savings
– Difficulty arranging any type of safety plan
– Lower levels of workforce and education participation
– Damage to credit records
– Significant debt accrued by the abuser in the survivor’s name
– Feelings of financial dependence on the abuser

Faced with a lack of financial resources, removing yourself from a violent relationship is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Resource-centric tactics can leave you feeling insecure about your ability to provide for yourself and your children after separation, trapping you in a cycle of violence. Indeed, financial uncertainty is a primary reason why survivors go back to their abusive partners.

Understanding your options

Know that you do not have to go through this challenging process alone. There are many support services available to help you gain financial independence and lead a life free from the coercive control of your abusive partner.

While money can be uncomfortable to talk about, speaking to a trusted friend about your situation will take some of the weight off your shoulders and remind you of the love you deserve. You can also call 1800RESPECT, the Domestic Violence Hotline, for professional counselling and information on support services in your area.

In some cases, another key support system might be your bank. For instance, NAB has paid $1.4 million in Family Violence Assistance Grants to implement a counselling service that offers:

– Safety planning
– A new, separate transaction account
– Funding towards additional support services

Visit NAB’s website for more information on how they can assist in safeguarding your finances throughout and after an abusive relationship.

Your strong female voice during the family law process

Financial abuse occurs when your partner exploits or controls your economic resources, making you feel dependent and trapped in the relationship. This silent weapon often escalates into more physical forms of abuse over time, so recognising its warning signs early and knowing where to turn is central to your safety.

At Joplin Lawyers, we know it takes courage to seek support. That’s why we are here to provide you with the utmost care and protection from start to finish of the family law process. Please get in touch with our trusted team for discreet assistance with your unique circumstances.