How to Identify Financial Abuse in a Relationship

What is Financial Abuse? These Are the Signs…

How to Identify Financial Abuse in a Relationship
 Written by Writer’s Corps member Adrianna Nine 

When we talk about relationship abuse, we typically focus on physical and emotional mistreatment. But financial abuse or the control of one’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money by an intimate partner occurs in up to 99 percent of domestic violence cases.

So, why aren’t people talking about it?

For starters, this silent form of abuse is not easily recognized. It begins with small offenses that slowly become more controlling overtime. This may involve a partner insisting they handle finances without your input or demanding you stop working altogether.

Though limiting your ability to earn money is not the only way abusive partners exert control.

They may also limit your access to “anything you haven’t paid for, a car or other basic necessities,” Jennifer White-Reid, Vice-President of Domestic Violence Programs at the Urban Resource Institute, told Bustle.

Recognizing The Signs of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can vary from situation to situation since there isn’t one way to handle money in a relationship. This makes identifying abusive tactics all the more difficult, as abusive partners may argue that “this is just how the relationship works.” Still, there are concrete tactics abusive may use to keep their partner trapped.

You are in a financially abusive relationship if your partner…

  • Gives you “allowances” or “budgets” without your input
  • Requiring you to account for everything you spend
  • Pressures you to quit your job or sabotages your work responsibilities
  • Feels entitled to your money or assets
  • Spends your money without your knowledge
  • Controls how all of the household finances are spent
  • Limits your ability to attend job training, pursue higher education, or otherwise advance your career
  • Limits your access to your own bank account or mutual bank accounts
  • Lives in your home without working or helping with household tasks
  • Maxes out credit cards in your name (and then doesn’t make payments on those credit cards)
  • Threatens to cut you off financially when you disagree
  • Uses funds from children’s savings account without mutual agreement
  • Prevents you from working by hiding your keys, or offering to babysit and then not showing up
  • Engages in other forms of abuse belittling or physical abuse when they get angry over your spending habits

The Impact of Financial Abuse

The impact of financial abuse can be felt long after you’ve left an abusive situation. Kim Pentico, director of economic justice programs for the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), said financial abuse is “devastatingly effective because it’s often not illegal.”

A person who maxes out their partner’s credit card and refuses to make payments ruins that person’s credit and ability to find housing, purchase a vehicle, or obtain student loans. And without access to economic resources, survivors often face a new set of challenges to their safety and long-term security.

Talking About Financial Abuse

A study by the Allstate Foundation found that only 3 percent of Americans thought financial abuse would ly cause long-term effects compared to emotional (43 percent) and physical abuse (22 percent). Yet financial abuse remains the number one reason people return to toxic relationships.

So how can we as a community work to bring awareness to financial abuse? As with most things, it starts with a conversation.

Christine Hennigan, a financial analyst, and advocate for women’s financial literacy says it can be uncomfortable for most people to talk about money, but it’s an imperative first step to recognizing abusive situations.

An honest, non-judgmental conversation with someone you trust can help people realize they’re being financially controlled.

Responding to Crisis

Leaving a toxic relationship is not just emotionally draining–it can also be life-threatening. In fact, the most dangerous time of an abusive relationship is post-breakup.

 In moments of crisis, it’s difficult to think clearly, creating a safety plan in advance will help protect you and your loved ones. Reach out to a domestic violence advocate before leaving an abusive partner to prepare a safety plan or personalized strategy for exiting a toxic relationship.

A domestic abuse coordinator can also connect you to other resources including legal help, counseling and safe houses.

When preparing to leave a toxic relationship make copies of your financial data credit cards and financial statements if it’s unsafe to take the originals. This will be useful later in proving who owns what. Keep this documentation in a safe place where your toxic partner can’t access it until you’re able to safely leave the relationship.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 if you believe you are in a financially abusive relationship


Financial Abuse

How to Identify Financial Abuse in a Relationship

Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships.

Yet, 78% of Americans don’t recognize financial abuse as domestic violence.

What is financial / economic abuse and what does it look ?

Financial/economic abuse is when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s ability to access, acquire, use or maintain economic resources, which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces intentioned dependence. Economic abuse is cited as the main reason victims stay or return to abusive relationships. 

Common Tactics of Financial Abuse

  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not allowing the survivor to have access to bank accounts
  • Hiding or lying about joint assets
  • Lack or access to utilities (including phone/internet)
  • Lack of control over household finances or how money is spent
  • Lack of knowledge of household finances and financial decisions
  • Lack of ownership and/or access to a vehicle/transportation
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support
  • Forbidding the survivor to work outside the home
  • Stalking of harassing the survivor at the workplace
  • Causing the survivor to lose their job by physically battering them prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Forcing the survivor to be late, or miss or leave work
  • Sabotaging the car so there is no mode of transportation
  • Forbidding the survivor from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Interfering with their partner’s attempts to further their education
  • Forcing the survivor to sign financial documents, or forging their partner’s signature
  • Forcing the survivor to write bad checks or file fraudulent legal financial documents
  • Pressuring the survivor to be a co-signor or guarantor
  • Coerced debt/forced to overspend on credit cards
  • Personal information or assets used against their will or without their knowledge
  • Converting their partner’s assets into their own
  • Keeping all assets in the abuser’s name, while forcing victim to keep all debt in their name only
  • May refuse to make rent, mortgage or utility payments

If you recognize these tactics in your own relationship, help is available at your local domestic violence program.

Find Help

Why don’t they just leave? Too often we hear this question asked of victims of domestic abuse. While the answers to this question are nuanced and unique to every individual victim’s situation, the number one reason cited by victims for why they stay in or return to an abusive relationship is because of financial abuse.

Imagine you moved in with your partner in your early 20s. This partner began isolating you from family, friends and coworkers as part of their emotional abuse. After having kids, your abusive partner insists that you are no longer “allowed” to have a job.

You become further isolated with no personal or professional network. The job skills you did have start to become irrelevant as the gap in your work experience becomes wider and wider. You don’t have your own savings or retirement accounts.

Your checking and credit card (if you have any credit at this point) are controlled by your abusive partner. You can forget about going back to school or obtaining job training.

 When you finally work up the courage to even think about leaving, you are faced with the reality that you have no money, destroyed credit, no other place to live, no job and no skills to get a job. Where would you even start? How would you leave?

Impact of Financial Abuse on Communities

The CDC has indicated that domestic violence is our nation’s number one public health issue with devastating physical, emotional, financial and societal consequences, affecting over 10 million men and women every year. The impacts of financial abuse are devastating not just for the victims and survivors themselves, but also for their communities and for society at large.

Victims of financial abuse lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year. The lack of paid sick days or other job protections prevents survivors from taking time off work to recover from injury, seek safety, or pursue a court case.

Survivors lose nearly $53,000 in lost wages over their lifetime. The estimated overall workplace productivity costs are $1.3 trillion.

Effects of Financial Abuse on Domestic Violence Victims

  • 59% credit was harmed by their abuser

  • 70% were not able to have a job

  • 53% lost a job due to their abuser

PCADV’s Response to Financial Abuse

PCADV’s Economic Justice and Empowerment Initiative was created to address the impacts of financial abuse. It is a statewide effort, implemented in community-based domestic violence programs, that helps domestic violence victims overcome immediate economic barriers and secure long-term financial independence and safety.   

About the initiative


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