financial abuse
Book Domestic Violence

What is Financial Abuse?

Abuse comes in many different forms leading to different consequences and reactions. Abuse ultimately is always about power and control. The partners’ goal is to maintain power in the relationship and figure out how to control the other person. Financial abuse is one of the ways an abuser gains control of the situation. Financial abuse occurs when one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources, such as their source of income, credit cards, etc. This form of abuse is often prevalent and very subtle. The partner slowly works their control over the victim to take control of all possessions. When women or men leave a relationship, most people don’t have much beyond what is on their back or in their purse. The first time I left I had more possessions however it was due to the safety plan I had created with a friend.

Ways financial abuse can happen

There are many ways in which this subtle type of abuse can happen. The abusive partner wants total control of the finances and will do anything to maintain it. There are several examples below of how someone can financially control.

  • Try to prevent you from having access to bank and retirement accounts.
  • Placing your paycheck in their bank account (I always recommend direct deposit.)
  • Limiting the hours you work or where you can work.
  • Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities such as groceries, medical care or clothing.
  • Maxing out credit cards in your name.
  • Not paying bills and possibly ruining your credit.
  • Living in your home, but refusing to work.

As you can see, this type of control is all about who has the power in the relationship. My ex-husband would do anything to maintain that control when were married. I still remember having only $200/month for groceries. We worked at corporate jobs and made plenty of money, but he wanted to invest 40% of our income in mutual funds. Saving was his biggest priority, not taking care of his new family. Having money for necessities is still a trigger for me. Making sure our fridge is stocked with food and my kids are well fed is a big priority. This is due to the financial abuse I experienced for 3 years.

Safety planning

When safety planning to escape, I setup a credit card and bank account in my name. All paper correspondence for those accounts went to my work address. The last thing I needed was for him to find out what I was doing. When I finally left, I had set aside enough of my money to cover expenses while looking for a job. Not everyone can wait three months while saving to escape an abusive situation. You have to plan according to your safety and needs. Always do what’s best for your family and don’t wait if the situation is dire. InCharge Debt Solutions has some great resources for women escaping. While I’m not a fan of debt now, there are times when credit cards are absolutely necessary to use.

Harassment at work

There are many components to financial abuse, but another one being highlighted in the news is intimate partner harassment at work. The trends are alarming as you can see below. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the United States reports that:

  • 25% – 50% of victims of abuse from a partner have lost their job due to domestic violence.
  • 35% – 56% of victims of domestic violence are harassed at work by their partners.

While I never lost my job I was constantly harassed at work by my ex-husband. Before I left that position, it had effected my performance making my boss question my personal life. She had seen such a change in my demeanor, she recognized something outside of work was weighing on me. She was kind enough to talk to me about it and how we could turn my performance around. As the divorce proceedings started, she could see the shift not only in my demeanor, but in my work performance. It took having the courage to leave to turn my life around. Again, I’m lucky because I had an understanding work environment. Not everyone is so lucky as the above statistic indicates.

This is where Safehouse Denver does a phenomenal job of educating companies in the Denver area. As part of the Community Engagement Committee, we work with employers to watch for signs, how to help employees and when to report the issue. All work environments can educate their managers to help employees when appropriate.

Each day I come home to a loving spouse, 2 kiddos, a house, and an abundant life. I’ve built this way of life intentionally over the last 15 years. Overcoming the repercussions of financial abuse can last a while. It takes time to come out of financial abuse and create a life free from debt. Once you find financial freedom, you feel alive. You create momentum in your life to go out and intentionally build the life what you want. My biggest take-away for any woman, man or child overcoming financial abuse is to believe you are enough and that you deserve to live financially free.


Heather V Shore is a wife, mother and domestic violence survivor. Check out her site for book updates and more!

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