18th Oct 2022

Domestic Abuse Awareness Month: What is Financial Abuse?

By Hannah Greene

Domestic Abuse Awareness Month: What is Financial Abuse?

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Both criminal and family law have come on leaps and bounds in recent years in their recognition of what constitutes domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 provided a clear definition that behaviour is abusive if it consists of the following:

a) Physical or sexual abuse

b) Violent or threatening behaviour

c) Controlling or coercive behaviour

d) Economic abuse

e) Psychological, emotional or other abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act marked a more sophisticated understanding of domestic abuse, beyond physical violence. Whereas physical violence is a binary event – it either happened or it didn’t – it can be more difficult to recognise where you have been subject to psychological abuse, and controlling or coercive behaviour.

Economic/Financial abuse features in 95% of domestic abuse cases. The Domestic Abuse Act defines “economic abuse” as any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s ability to (a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or (b) obtain goods or services.

In practice, this can include:

  1. Running up debts, or taking out other financial commitments in your name;
  2. Making you hand over control of your bank accounts, or adding their name to your accounts;
  3. Setting up Direct Debits from your accounts to pay for bills which aren’t yours;
  4. Stopping you from going to work;
  5. Checking your receipts every time you spend;
  6. Controlling your access to essential items – like food, clothing or transport;
  7. Anything which stops you from having access to the financial resources you need in order to leave that relationship.

Of course, many couples divide responsibilities in their relationship and it is not unusual for one party to take more control of the finances than the other. However, if you find yourself in the position where the items on the list above look familiar it might be worth examining the power balance in your relationship. Have you found that your relationship and your financial position has left you isolated?

When leaving an abusive relationship, it is important to think about your support system – be that personal support or professional advisers. It is sadly unlikely that an abuser will cease to try and exert control initially upon their partner leaving, so these strong connections really matter. Abusive and controlling behaviour often leaves a victim feeling as though they do not have anyone to turn to and worrying that no one will believe them.

Both the family court and the criminal court are now looking at domestic abuse through a far more sophisticated lens than previously, and a perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour will be looked at too.

One of the more recent changes is that the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognises that children who witness acts of domestic abuse are also by extension victims of domestic abuse themselves. In respect of financial control – although this is less likely to directly affect children – it does affect their parent’s ability to care for them, and sometimes to remove them from risky situations where the other parent is abusive.

If you are concerned that you have been in an abusive relationship and need to regain your financial independence, specialist family law advice can help you.

To find out more about how FLiP can support you, look at our Abuse in Relationships and Resources pages below.