Client Compass, Divorce Law Monitor

Navigating Financial Abuse

June 14, 2023


Domestic Violence includes more than just physical and emotional abuse; it also includes financial abuse. A financial abuser blocks their spouse or partner’s access to resources and thereby controls not only where and when a partner can spend money but creates barriers to their partner leaving the relationship. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 27% of people in physically abusive relationships also reported experiencing financial abuse. Financial abuse can start off as subtle but frequently progresses to the point that a victim feels helpless and trapped. Many victims stay in abusive relationships due to fear about how they will support themselves or their children without their abuser.

Financial abuse takes many forms and can include the following behaviors by an abuser:

  • Demanding the victim leave a job or forgo advancement opportunities to “benefit” the family.
  • Causing the victim to lose a job by refusing to provide transportation or blocking access to transportation.
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay for the work.
  • Convincing the victim not to have credit cards in their own name and to be only an “authorized user” on the abuser’s credit cards, which allows the abuser to cut off access to credit.
  • Not allowing the victim to have checks or a debit card to the joint bank account.
  • Refusing to have joint bank accounts and depositing all earnings into the abuser’s individual account.
  • Not allowing the victim to see bank statements or to understand what resources the family has available.
  • Providing the victim with an “allowance” and dictating where that “allowance” is spent, or berating the victim for spending on something “unauthorized.”
  • Using the victim’s social security number to open credit accounts and incurring substantial debt.
  • Demanding, often through emotional or physical violence, that the victim turn over any monies the victim earns or inherits.
  • Tracking the victim’s movements by monitoring the debit and credit card use.
  • Threatening to leave the victim penniless if the victim leaves the marriage or ends the relationship.
  • Making the victim perform sexual acts to receive “payment” to buy groceries or to pay everyday living expenses.
  • Demeaning and degrading the victim relative to job skills to the point that the victim believes they have no skills with which to earn an income.

Financial abuse, like all other forms of abuse, does not discriminate based on race, gender, or socio-economic class. Even people who appear to “have it all” find themselves in relationships where financial abuse leaves them feeling isolated, frightened, and trapped. Experienced legal counsel can help victims find their way out of abusive relationships.

If you are the victim of financial abuse, here are some starting points on the road to leaving the abusive relationship:

  • Open a post office box in order to receive private mail, including a debit or credit card in your own name.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report via one of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) or call for your free annual credit report at 877-322-8228.
  • If you have debit or credit cards, contact the financial institutions by telephone to change the PIN number and/or passwords to something your partner cannot guess. Set up two-factor authentication so that you know if someone tries to change the password.
  • Change the password on all email accounts.
  • Open a checking account in your own name, even if you only have $10 to deposit. Have the statements mailed to a friend’s home or to your post office box.
  • If you have access to financial records, make copies or take photographs of them.
  • Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE to obtain emergency financial assistance, rental assistance, affordable housing, or public benefits and to learn about resources available to assist you in leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Contact a family law attorney in your area.

receive news & alerts

Yes, I’d like to receive updates with firm news and insights that are relevant to me.