Financial abuse is one form of domestic violence in which an abuser uses finances to gain power and control over their victim. Such manipulative tactics could include withholding money from a partner or reducing their access to income, withholding information necessary for use of personal funds, threats regarding the use of money, or restricting access to information and funds from assets and investments. Financial abuse can occur throughout the relationship or appear when one partner attempts to leave the relationship.

Financial abuse can take any form, and because it is often much less overt than physical or sexual forms of domestic violence, it can be hard to identify. It can also change form and intensity over time. Financial abuse may look like

  • transferring joint money to different accounts without informing the partner
  • not allowing access to a joint account
  • not allowing a partner to work or sabotaging their work capacity by the inappropriate presence or stalking
  • not allowing the partner to attend job interviews
  • sending joint accounts into debt without a partner’s permission
  • withholding joint money from a partner by/or giving an “allowance”
  • withholding the necessary joint-funds needed for basic supplies such as food, medicine, or children’s educational items
  • stealing the partner’s money, assets, identity, or property
  • refusing to work to contribute to the family income
  • Forcing the partner to work in a family business
  • adversely affecting the partner’s or joint credit by going into debt
  • refusing to pay child support or alimony

Who commits financial abuse?

Economic abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse, such as physical violence and emotional abuse. Financial abusers often abuse people who are close to them, such as their partners. However, financial abuse can happen to anyone and the abuser could be your partner, a family member, a carer, or a friend. No matter how close someone gets to you, they do not have a right to control either you or your finances.

Financial abuse effects

If you’re a victim of financial abuse you may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even overwhelmed. In addition to this, because financial abuse is designed to take away your independence, you may also feel vulnerable, isolated, depressed, or anxious when the financial abuse effects take hold.

However, due to the nature of the financial abuse examples we’ve outlined above, it can be difficult to recognize financial abuse. For this reason, some people do not realize they’re being abused because:

  • The abuse began subtly and progressed over time;
  • It’s considered acceptable in their culture for one member of the household to control the finances for the whole family;
  • They see money as a private matter that shouldn’t be discussed and they do not want to mention the problems they’re facing.

However, financial abuse can be hugely damaging. Sometimes, even 20-30 years after an instance of financial abuse, people can still be struggling to financially survive. This is particularly the case for victims who have spotty employment records and ruined credit history because of the financial abuse they’ve been subjected to.