When It Comes to Money, Knowledge is Power
As October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important that we take a look at a form of abuse that isn’t always discussed - financial domestic abuse. Financial domestic abuse is defined as “a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources, which diminishes the victim's capacity to support him/herself and forces him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially”. This can range from signing a document you don’t understand, not being allowed to work, and having no control over your money. 99% of domestic violence victims also experience financial abuse, making it easier for the abuser to control the victim. With domestic violence affecting 1 in 4 women in their lives, how can we make sure women can take back control of their finances?
The number one reason women stay with their abusers is that they do not have the financial resources to get away. Financial abuse is a weapon, trapping women in horrible and often unhealthy relationships. When you are a victim of financial abuse, you are purposely put in a position of dependence, making the abuser have total control over what you can do. Christine Hennigan ChFC, CDFA of Divorce Wealth Strategies, LLC, speaks frequently to women about this very issue. Christine states, “money is a private matter, and people don’t talk much about their private finances. As a result, women end up not knowing whether their experiences with marital finances are normal or not. The more we raise awareness of financial abuse, the better we can reach those who are most vulnerable. Speaking even more broadly, the more we can empower women to take an active role in controlling their own financial health, the better.”
One of the signs that women are in a financially abusive relationship is having no knowledge of the joint finances, accounts or any information regarding their family’s financial plan. When you don’t know what benefits there are, the compensation structure, or where any of the money is, other than the bank account, you put yourself in a precarious position. Another sign of control might be when women are put on a budget, and they need permission to make any purchases, big or small. Spouses may open accounts in the woman's name without their knowledge, withdraw monies from joint accounts and take on debt which can jeopardize a woman’s credit score. This can have devastating consequences such as sabotaging employment opportunities, preventing someone from obtaining a mortgage or even interrupt the ability to open accounts in their name to cover utilities such as water, oil & gas or electric.
In order to get a handle on what is going on, Christine recommends that if you feel something is off in your relationship when it comes to finances, talk to a trusted friend or family member who can help you identify that your situation is unhealthy. Be aware of the signs, and know that it is not hopeless. Think about actually meeting with an adviser, to have a face to face conversation to learn how you can gain the information you need to feel more in control. Taking this important first step, getting into action and co-creating a plan, will provide the confidence needed to feel more secure about what is happening.
Financial abuse may not leave physical markings, but it traps the victim in the relationship. It affects all income and age levels and leaves victims feeling like they can’t break free. It’s important as women that we educate ourselves on financial matters and stay in the know. If your relationship with your spouse scares you and you need to talk or get help, reach out to National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).