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Financial Abuse: How to Recognize it & Recover your Financial Independence

September 28, 20233 min read

Financial Abuse How to Recognize it & Recover your Financial Independence

Did you know that 69% of married women between the ages of 25-54 don’t make financial decisions inside their marriage and instead rely on their partners? And once the couple has children, this actually increases to 76%. Yes, that means only 24% of married moms are making financial decisions for their family.

If this all sounds startlingly familiar to you, keep reading. In some cases, not making any of your own financial decisions and not having a clear sightline to your finances can be how financial abuse starts. But what actually is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse (just like emotional or physical abuse), and is commonly used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse occurs in a whopping 99% of domestic violence cases — sometimes it’s more subtle (such as using tactics to conceal information), while other times it’s much more severe and overt (such as restricting access to funds and providing an allowance, or racking up debts through the partner’s name).

Of course, it’s normal for couples to divide up responsibilities in a partnership — so just because you aren’t the one in charge of financial decisions, that doesn’t automatically mean that you’re in a financially abusive situation. But if you’re now considering separation or going through a divorce, and you aren’t aware of your financial standing or you don’t have a plan to achieve financial independence, that’s a problem. Fortunately, it’s one that can be fixed. Let’s take a look at two different situations, and how you should handle them:

You’re not knowledgeable about your finances because you haven’t taken responsibility in the past: Just because you weren’t focused on your finances in the past, that doesn’t mean that you can’t change this for your future. Maybe finance isn’t your strong point, but you’re absolutely capable of becoming more aware and more knowledgeable — especially if you choose the right team to support you. Hiring a financial advisor, a financial coach, an accountant, and an investment manager can help you understand your current financial situation, and make the right decisions moving forward. When choosing your team, make sure that you hire people who are able to help you uphold your personal goals, and who have a desire to help you understand and be informed at your current level.

You’re not knowledgeable about your finances because your partner has withheld your access: This is the red flag situation — if your former partner limited your access to your money, granted you an allowance, or otherwise tried to subvert your ability to have control over your own finances, this is financial abuse. This type of abuse often gets underplayed, but it is very serious and can have harmful and lasting consequences for the victim. Financial abuse is a systemic issue — it’s not just something that happens within romantic partnerships, but the financial system itself is male-oriented, meaning that more men are working in financial planning roles, and of course, women are making less money than men on average. If you’re going through a separation and are suffering from financial abuse, your first priority is to tell your lawyer that you need to have access to your money and you need to be able to pay off your debts. You can’t become financially aware and responsible without full access to your own money, and the ability to undo any damage your former partner might have done to your credit. Work within the legal system to have your rights upheld, and then you can move forward with hiring a financial team to support you as you work towards financial independence.

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Alicia Robertson

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