Financial abuse occurs where a person uses systematic coercion to control another family member’s access to money or assets, whether the victim of the financial abuse is currently in, or was in, an intimate relationship with the perpetrator. Financial abuse is considered a form of domestic violence.
There is recourse and assistance available for people who are experiencing financial abuse.
This information is for general purposes only and we recommend obtaining professional family law advice relevant to your circumstances.
What is considered financial abuse?
Financial abuse occurs usually between intimate partners, when one controls or manipulates the other person’s access to finances, assets and decision-making to create dependence and control such as:
- restricting another person’s access to bank accounts;
- completely controlling their finances and money or forbidding a partner to work or make their own money;
- not allowing a partner to use their own money or taking it away from them;
- monitoring how a partner spends money or makes financial decisions;
- using a partner’s money without their permission.
Financial abuse can be subtle or overt and is often not the only type of violence perpetuated against a partner. It can be accompanied by other types of abuse such as physical violence. Perpetrators of family violence usually use financial abuse as a means of stripping a victim of resources to leave the abusive relationship.
Examples of financial abuse
An example of financial abuse can occur where a spouse relies on the other spouse to earn an income for their family. The other spouse constantly pretends they’re searching for a job while in actual fact, they are instead at a friend’s house, or out indulging in leisurely activies.
Another example can include a husband insisting his wife provide him with every grocery receipt for his approval. If the husband doesn’t agree with any food purchases, he lectures his wife for hours. This can lead to a person not being able to choose what type of foods they want to eat.
What can I do if I’m experiencing financial abuse by my partner?
The most important thing is your safety and wellbeing. The police may either charge the violent person with assault and/or apply for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) for your protection. If you prefer to remain in the house with your children, you can ask the police to remove the violent person from your house. If you need to speak to someone about advice on leaving your relationship, you can call the domestic violence hotline. The hotline can refer you to other services available for people in your situation.
If you are experiencing financial abuse, it is important to take legal action as soon as possible which may involve commencing court proceedings to prevent your financial situation worsening. This is because your assets are at a risk of being stripped or all your money being spent by your abuser.
You can apply for an urgent application in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCA) to get an injunction to prevent your assets being moved to other accounts, spent or your mutual funds disappearing. An urgent application for an injunction will usually get your matter before the court within weeks as opposed to the three months (plus) it can take to have a non-urgent proceeding heard before the court.
It is important to keep a list of documents that can confirm the existence of financial abuse, and to ensure that collecting this evidence is done safely. For example, credit card statements that can prove that a partner has money even though that partner is refusing the victim access to purchase goods they need. Credit or other financial product/service applications made in the victim’s name without their knowledge, is good evidence to retain safely, preferably in a trusted family member or friend’s home.
This area of law can be complex, especially given the urgent nature of court applications, which is why we strongly recommend you seek advice from an experienced lawyer.
If you are experiencing financial abuse and are worried about your health and safety, it is important to seek help from the police who can assist in applying for an ADVO.
You should also seek advice from an experienced lawyer about ways in which you can protect your wealth and assets being jeopardised and how to collect relevant evidence that can assist in you applying for an urgent injunction if you choose to go down this path.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 02 4322 0251 or email [email protected].