When we think of domestic abuse, it is usually in the context of physical or emotional trauma. For the abuser, however, the motivation for inflicting harm on an intimate partner is to gain control over them. The abuse can take whatever form, including financial, that is the most effective to achieve this end. A study of financial insecurity in domestic violence cases in 2011 revealed that 99% of victims also experienced economic abuse.
Victims of domestic financial abuse in New Jersey and elsewhere often find that over time they have lost control of their lives and cannot even leave the relationship, as they have no job, no money, and no credit. This feeling of powerlessness keeps them chained to and dependent on their abuser. Recognizing the signs is the first step toward ending financial abuse.
How an abuser gains financial control over a domestic partner
Because a marriage or other romantic relationship begins with the expectation of love and mutual trust, the victims of financial abuse do not recognize the red flags, as the abuse usually occurs over time and incrementally. It can begin with one partner’s restriction of the other’s access to funds that can escalate to hoarding, theft and exploitation. Some of the most common forms of economic abuse include:
- One designated CFO in the relationship: Although it is not unusual that one partner takes over the financial details of household income and expenses, if that person prevents the other from having access to their funds and only gives them an allowance that may get smaller over time, or keeps them in the dark about financial transactions, they are exhibiting abusive financial control over them.
- Preventing the partner from working: Forbidding a partner from working, sabotaging that person’s employment, or trying to make them feel guilty of neglect for pursuing a career are all attempts to block the partner from having economic independence from their abuser.
- Economic exploitation: The worst form of financial abuse occurs when the abuser intentionally and systematically destroys the other partner’s credit and financial resources. They can do this by gambling shared assets, not paying bills under the victim’s name, or opening up a line of credit in the victim’s name without telling them.
Getting out of an abusive relationship
Victims of domestic violence can obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) that can become final after a hearing in which a judge will hear testimony from both sides, evidence and witness statements before issuing a ruling.
But for victims of economic abuse that is not yet physical or overtly abusive, it is important to have an escape plan. This can mean squirreling away funds or seeking a domestic violence shelter where their basic needs can be met while they get back on their feet. It is important to bring essential documents such as a passport, Social Security and health insurance cards for both them and their children.
For residents of Hackensack and surrounding communities, having legal assistance as well as resources on credit restoration and debt management will help victims of financial abuse to find protection while they recover their financial security.