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What is financial abuse?

Domestic abuse is most often associated with physical and sexual violence or emotional and verbal cruelty by one spouse or partner towards the other. However, many partners seek to get the upper hand in a relationship and exert power through financial abuse.

Financial abuse can take many forms. Sometimes victims (often women) don't even realize that they're being abused because they've never known anything else or the level of control has slowly progressed over time. Many women, particularly older ones, aren't comfortable handling the family finances, so they may have been happy to let their husbands take over that responsibility However, eventually, they know little about their own financial situation or have control over their spending.

A common form of financial abuse among couples involves those spending restrictions. The husband may give his wife an "allowance" or make all of the spending decisions. He may open credit cards and bank accounts with his wife's name on them that she doesn't even know about.

Sometimes financial abuse takes the form of illegal activity, such as getting the partner to unknowingly sign a fraudulent tax return or write bad checks. They can ruin their victims' credit scores and even place them in legal jeopardy

Financial abuse can also take the form of restricting a spouse's job prospects. A husband may not allow his wife to work or even pursue higher education or job training. He may convince her not to seek a promotion. Abusers may feel threatened if they think their spouse is becoming more successful than they are.

Financial abuse rarely occurs in a vacuum. In fact, 98 percent of abusive relationships include financial abuse. One reason that many victims don't leave an abusive situation is because they have few if any funds of their own to support themselves and their kids and/or simply don't have the skills to manage money. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 85 percent of women return to an abusive partner after leaving. Many of those say they went back because they were unable to handle their finances.

If you're in a violent or emotionally abusive relationship, chances are that you're also a victim of financial abuse. The first step, of course, is to seek safety for yourself and your children. Then it's important to determine what your true financial situation is. A Massachusetts family law attorney can help you take these steps.

Source: National Network to End Domestic Violence, "About Financial Abuse," accessed May 24, 2017

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