Financial Abuse: How To Identify It And What You Can Do To Help

Domestic Violence Awareness Month starts in October, and with that comes a spotlight on financial abuse. Financial abuse is absolutely a form of domestic abuse, and the two are linked more often than not. In fact, 99% of domestic violence victims also experience financial abuse, which makes it even harder for victims to extract themselves from abusive situations. Financial abuse can range from signing documents you don’t understand (or are not allowed to read) at your partner’s behest, to not being allowed to work or have control over your own money.  Christine Hennigan, a certified divorce financial analyst, has helped many clients working to educate themselves financially and get out of bad (and potentially dangerous) situations. Hennigan, who is also a chartered financial analyst at Penn Mutual’s 1847Financial, advocates for women’s financial literacy—here’s what she has to say about identifying and dealing with financial abuse.

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One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes.

Maya Kachroo-Levine: What are some key signs of a financially abusive relationship?

Christine Hennigan: The obvious sign of financial abuse is when women have no knowledge of the joint finances, accounts or information beyond the title of their spouse and where they may work. They may have no idea of the compensation structure, what types of benefits there are, or where money is located other than in their local bank account.

Another key sign is when women say that they are on a budget, which may refer to a budget that the spouse put them on. It’s common for many of these women on a budget to have to ask permission from their spouse [to spend] money. Someone who pays cash for everything may also be a sign of an abusive relationship. We live in a society where everything is electronic, so it is odd when someone is always paying in cash. It may signal that the individual’s spouse is really watching them and has them on a short leash. Using cash in a very technological world may be a sign that the individual is trying to put their social life under the radar because they will be reprimanded for spending money.

I also work with women who frequently sign documents without knowing what they are, which includes business agreements, tax returns, etc. If the husband is having his wife sign papers without her knowing what it is, or if the spouse signs for the other spouse, there is a large problem.

Kachroo-Levine: Can you share an anecdote with us of clients you have known in abusive relationships, what happened, and how they got out of the situation?

Hennigan: In one case, a woman went through a divorce and the ex-husband moved out of the house while she stayed in the home with the teenage children. Right before a snow storm hit, the ex-husband turned off the heat because the electricity was still under his name. He was able to use power and control over her, even through separation. In another case, [one party in the marriage] bought a home and business in an entirely different country and used the marital assets to build a life with someone else.

In both of these cases, the relationships ended in divorce, and the victims were able to take a portion of the assets and start a new life. In this new life, they were not under the thumb of the ex-spouse, and [were] able to gain knowledge and empowerment.