10 signs of financial abuse in a relationship (and what to do if you recognise them)

 If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing this situation, keep reading to understand the signs of financial abuse, with advice on safely removing oneself from the position of being financially exploited.

By Rose Hunt, Lawyer at Australian Family Lawyers.

Financial abuse is one of the most damaging forms of family violence. Its victims are (or are made to feel) deprived of the very resources required to leave the abusive relationship they find themselves trapped in.

In a relationship, financial abuse involves one partner coercing, deceiving or controlling the other partner, such that the latter is denied financial autonomy or financial independence. Financial abuse rarely occurs in a vacuum and is often coupled with other forms of abuse, such as verbal and psychological abuse (e.g. name-calling, belittling, gaslighting), so that victims may feel trapped in their relationships, both emotionally and financially.

Financial abuse, which falls under the umbrella of family violence alongside these other more instantly recognisable forms of abuse, usually happens behind closed doors and is often so subtle that it is not immediately recognised by the victim or detected by friends or family.

So how can you tell if you’re the victim of financial abuse?

Holding credit card signs of financial abuse

Here are the top 10 signs that your partner is financially abusing you.

1. They control your access to money.

Your partner does not provide you with access to your joint bank accounts and instead only gives you a weekly or monthly amount of spending money.

2. They scrutinise your spending.

Your partner monitors your spending and regularly interrogates you about your purchases, asking you to justify them.

3. They hide funds from you. 

For example, you’ve noticed that money is being regularly transferred into an account to which you don’t have access.

4. Your partner forces you to deposit your income.

Such as into a bank account to which you don’t have access or transfer your assets from your name into their name.

5. Your partner has racked up credit card debts in your name.

6. Your partner pressures you to co-sign a loan with them.

Similarly, they may take out a loan in your name.

7. Your partner has threatened to “cut you off”.

The threats may include your ability to access or be provided with funds if you don’t follow their various demands.

8. Your partner controls or limits your employment opportunities. 

For example, they may pressure you to stay at home after having children.

9. Your partner controls or limits your educational opportunities. 

For instance, they may prevent you from enrolling in further study that would advance your career.

10. Your partner forces you to sign a power of attorney, giving them control over your finances.

What can you do if you are experiencing financial abuse?

Green credit card online shopping

If you recognise any of the above signs and decide it’s time to leave, there are some practical things you can do to prepare yourself to leave your abusive relationship, detailed below.

First, tell someone who you identify as ‘safe’. 

Getting out of a family violence situation, especially one involving financial abuse, can be difficult and emotionally draining. Before leaving your partner, tell a friend, family member or professional what you’re going through so that you can lean on them for emotional support throughout the process.

You can also read our article on how to divorce a narcissist here, for related information on exiting a bad relationship safely.

Next, start gathering as much information as you can about your and your partner’s financial situation.

If it is safe to do so, take copies of:

  • any financial statements you can access so that you know what institutions you and your partner bank with; 
  • what companies either of you may hold shares in; and 
  • what superannuation funds you may each be members of.

The more information you can gather before leaving, the easier it will be for you to get help and regain your financial independence down the track.

It’s also a good idea to discuss your situation with your bank or other financial institutions. Most of them recognise the position that victims of financial abuse are trapped in and have programs and initiatives to help. For example, your bank may be able to put a pause on your credit card or other loan repayments or help you to open your own separate bank account. 

Related: How to spot the signs of financial infidelity

Finally, seek professional advice.

This may involve speaking to a psychologist if you are experiencing anxiety or depression or a financial advisor if you need assistance managing your debts or regaining your financial independence.

Family lawyers can also help you determine whether you are entitled to a property division, including a division of superannuation.

If you’re not sure where to start, but you need advice, the following free services can provide you with immediate assistance:

  • White Ribbon Australia, a national family violence and sexual assault counselling hotline. Call 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
  • Relationships Australia, a service that provides support and education for individuals and families and mediation services. Call 1300 364 277. 
  • Beyond Blue, a mental health and wellbeing organisation and hotline: Call 1300 224 636.
  • National Debt Helpline, a financial counselling service. Call 1800 007 007.

If you recognise any of the above signs in your relationship, you may be the victim of financial abuse. While it can be an extremely difficult situation to find yourself in, help is available so that you can break free and regain your financial independence.

Do you have a question about family law or relationship law?

Call now 03 9088 3184

If you would prefer an Australian Family Lawyers team member to contact you, complete the form below.