Financial / economic abuse: the fear and the reality

As a family lawyer, I deal with cases involving abuse in relationships every day. I see just how far-reaching abuse is, and how it can affect anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, class, and economic standing.

Increasingly, the domestic abuse cases I deal with are less about physical abuse, and more about the subtle levels of abuse, including:

    • Coercively controlling behaviours
    • Manipulation
    • Isolation
    • Pressure

and increasingly

    • Financial / economic abuse

What is financial abuse?

Economic/ Financial abuse is defined in law as:

Any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on (a victim’s) ability to

(a) acquire, use or maintain money or the other property or

(b) obtain goods or services

That makes it sound very straightforward. In my experience, it is anything but. Economic abuse includes a wide range of controlling activities that separates a victim from access to the finances they would need to escape from an abusive relationship, and for their future life.

Many of our clients have failed to recognise that financial abuse has in fact been happening for a number of years. They have been in denial or found it just too difficult to face. Similarly, they may not need to have considered it, as everything has been paid for. Sadly, on separation, that can lead to financial ignorance, extreme dependence and even not having any credit history if assets have been in their partner’s name.

I have particularly seen a rise in high performing professionals who are almost living a double life. They appear to be successful and powerful to the outside world but are virtually powerless at home.

Whilst the statistics would support the case that women are more likely to be abused, men can be victims too, and the harm caused is just as damaging.


How financial abuse ‘works’

The primary aim of any financial abuse is to create an uncertain economic situation such that the victim becomes reliant on their abuser for all things financial.

This isn’t just about withholding cash or access to bank accounts. An abuser may also:

    • Place all assets in their name and have complete financial control
    • Put debt in the victim’s name
    • Misrepresent the parties’ financial position
    • Enter into financial agreements in the victim’s name, such as credit cards, loans, phone contracts or leasing a car
    • Coerce their partner into signing over property or assets
    • Close joint accounts and cancel credit cards
    • Only give the victim an ‘allowance’ and demand a breakdown of all expenditure

Financial control also enables abusers to trap their victims in abusive relationships through fear of being left financially destitute if they leave.

Financial abusers are often very skilled at covering up their abuse, often saying they are being helpful by “managing the family finances”. They can also make outward displays of generosity to others to hide the situation.

The result of this abuse heavily impacts on everyday life. According to a 2019 report by Women’s Aid:

“A quarter of respondents did not have access to money for essentials during abusive relationships”


Post-separation financial abuse

Financial abuse can also continue long after a couple are divorced or separated.

It can start when victims of abuse who want out so desperately have failed to reach any definite arrangements for children and / or money, or have reached arrangements that are not in their interest. They also may not have made child arrangements with protection around financial arrangements, to provide them with security and regular payments.

Even with an agreement in place, an abuser can make life financially difficult for their ex-partner by:

    • Withholding funds
    • Concealing information and failing to provide financial disclosure
    • Refusing to pay child maintenance or withholding it to manipulate the victim
    • Using money as threats of means to control
    • Litigation abuse through repeated applications or conduct that can increase the victim’s legal fees whilst they continue to be able to pay for their solicitors. This leads to a huge imbalance of power.

There have been cases where the abuser has stayed in the shared home with the children, without contributing anything financially or refusing to pay child maintenance following a separation.

For male victims, their main concerns around post-separation financial abuse include:

    • Fear that they will be left with nothing: no home and no ability to rebuild their future
    • Financial recklessness / excessive spending by their ex-partner
    • Accruing debts to fund their single life
    • Unreasonable expectations by their ex, including refusal to seek even part time employment
    • Unreasonable positions on who pays school fees which is no longer possible due to the same income now running two households
    • Fear of being presented negatively to their children


Escaping domestic abuse

If you are experiencing any form of domestic violence or threats of violence, the time to act is NOW.

    • Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.
    • Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women) or the Men's Advice Line on 0808 8010 327 (men).
    • Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.


Financial abuse - how LGFL can help

As a boutique family lawyer firm, our primary role is to focus on what happens next once you are in a place of physical safety (as far as is possible).

If your separation or divorce has not led to an end to your financial / economic abuse, there are legal measures we can put in place to help you, including:

    • Your options for funding legal fees
    • Protective orders or injunction to secure the safety of you and your child or children
    • An order to exclude a person from a property
    • Securing arrangements for children, or protective orders to address any threat of them being removed from a parent’s care. This puts a framework in place around when your children will see the other parent and the process of safe handovers.
    • Financial orders, interim and long term to protect financial security and a common way in which coercive control is asserted
    • Payment of maintenance mortgages and even school fees

To book your initial reduced fee consultation:

- Call us

- Email us

- Request your consultation online

Rest assured, we will listen, we will advise, and we will take action as required.