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What is Economic Abuse and How Does it Affect Your Divorce or Family Law Matter?

woman frustrated

Economic abuse is a type of abuse where the abuser (i.e. the person who uses a variety of tools available to him or her to attempt to control the other person in the relationship) tries to maintain control of or limits or controls access to shared accounts or assets and/or limits the current or future income earning ability of the other spouse. This is used as an intentional strategy to maintain the power and control dynamic in that the other spouse, the victim spouse, is unable to have an independent source of finances to be presently, or in the future, capable of being independent. In many marital dynamics, economic abuse is used as the primary and central tool to prevent a spouse from being able to leave an abusive spouse. In many situations, this is also coupled with isolation to try to deprive the other spouse of both, the economic resources and the family or friend support to be able to leave an abusive relationship.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse can take one of many possible forms. A common form is employment-related abuse. This can include the abuser requiring the victim spouse to be reliant for child care purposes or even intentionally planning for childcare plans to fail such that the victim spouse cannot maintain employment. Often, an economically victimized spouse has a history of losing or being terminated from one or more jobs where the abusive spouse has facilitated the loss of the job. In other situations, this can take the form of the abusive spouse demanding the victim spouse quit their job or the victim spouse being prevented from searching for jobs or even attending job interviews. In other severe situations, the abusive spouse can harass the victim at work to the point that the victim is either fired or terminated from employment, asked to leave employment or voluntarily resigns rather than allow the harassment to get to the point that the victim is fired.

In many other situations of economic abuse, the victim spouse is coerced into obtaining significant debt. While this is often credit card debt, in other situations, it is that the victim spouse is talked into obtaining or taking out a mortgage in his or her name, then later coerced into quitting a job and the victim believes that they will be homeless and have their credit ruined or destroyed due to non-payment of the mortgage in his or her name in the absence of staying with the abusive spouse. Some additional examples of coerced debt can include applying for credit cards, obtaining loans or opening credit/debit accounts in the victim’s name without his or her knowledge or consent, forcing the victim to sign or agree to loans, using threats of physical harm to convince the victim to sign for various financial transactions, or even refinancing a home mortgage, vehicle debt or other expense without the victim’s awareness or consent.

Other forms of economic abuse can include preventing the victim from accessing joint accounts or joint funds or even their own individual paycheck or funds, deciding when the victim can have access to ATM withdrawals, cash or use of credit cards, requiring a victim to withdraw funds or cash a paycheck against their will, requiring that significant assets be solely in the abuser’s name or even using the victim’s checkbook, credit card or accessing their account without their knowledge or consent.

Why Does This Matter?

Victims of all kinds of domestic violence have a very difficult time leaving their abusive situation. The purpose or goal behind domestic violence is power and control over the victim. Victims of all types of domestic violence feel controlled into staying in the relationship, but frequently, financial abuse is a part of any plan for power and control by a domestic abuser. Victims who have obtained forced debt and/or have no individual access to funds often face significant barriers to leaving their abuser and being self-sufficient.

What Should You Do If You Are Being Abused Financially or Economically?

Seek help. Share this information with your trusted family and friends and try to obtain a team who will help and support you in the process of leaving your abuser. Work with domestic violence professionals to develop a plan to get out of your domestic violence situation. Begin to work to obtain individual financial accounts, including private credit or debit cards so that your abuser cannot track your expenses and whereabouts. As part of any plan to leave an abusive situation, you should create an emergency escape plan, and compile an emergency evacuation box with important records and documents. You should also keep important financial documents, car and house keys, emergency money, and phone numbers in a safe and easily accessible place.

If you are the victim of economic abuse and you need our office’s assistance to help you develop a plan to leave your abuser, please call Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation.

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