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What is Financial Abuse?

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month starts to wind down, I felt I would be remiss if I did not write a post regarding financial abuse.  Financial abuse occurs in nearly 98% of all domestic violence relationships and may be an undercurrent, underlying theme, or even the first types of abuse a woman experiences.  I am using the term woman because it is generally women who experience financial abuse. There are several articles and statements out there that give broad examples of financial abuse.  However, in order to truly understand financial abuse, it should be examined more at a micro level, as it is experienced by the victim. The following items separately may not constitute financial abuse. However, if these incidents happen on a regular basis to one person, they may constitute financial abuse.

What Financial Abuse Is
-A woman may not be allowed to work outside of the home or for some reason obtaining work is difficult for her. Each time a woman gets a job, she is forced to quit for one reason or another. The spouse may interfere with her employment or tell her when and where she can work. She often finds it difficult to maintain a job and may need to leave several jobs. This makes her look unstable to employers and also does not provide her with a regular or stable income.

-A woman is told not to pay her bills such as student loans, car payments, personal credit cards, or household bills in her name. This is to make the woman look irresponsible and/or to destroy her credit. Another method in this category would be to claim the woman is "spending" all of the partner's money when she is actually paying bills. This is to make her look like she is irresponsible with finances. However, the partner's credit score is high and the partner's bills are paid with regularity.  It is a "him versus her" mentality, whereby the spouse shows himself as responsible but does not view his partner's finances as important and may claim "that is her problem."

-An unequivocal amount of the family resources are spent on the spouse and children, and the woman receives little money for herself. The spouse and children may always have nice clothing, new shoes, new haircuts, regular visits to the doctor or the dentist, but the woman is told she cannot have those things or money is not available for her to have those things. She may be told she does not deserve them. She may also be told it's not her money, so she cannot have things unless she buys them for herself. If she does buy things with the "family" money, she is made to feel guilty or the spouse accuses her of spending all of "his money." The spouse also may spend a great deal of money on himself, and then leave the woman little money left to pay bills.

-A woman is required to spend a great deal of time and energy on the spouse and the children rather than herself.  She is demanded to make several meals a day, clean the house, work a part-time job, and many other things. In a financial abuse situation, these things are not valued, and she is told that her contributions are not worth much. She is told that her only valuable contributions are when she makes money.  When she does make money, the spouse and the children spend a considerable portion of the money she earned on themselves or manipulate her so she will spend her money on them and not herself.

-Children are allowed to be disrespectful to the woman and also are allowed to demand money from the woman, even when money is short.  The demands of the children and the spouse may cause undue financial strain on the family finances, making money tight.  When the woman tries to set a household budget, she is told she is controlling the children and the spouse by putting financial plans in place. The woman is being made to look like the abuser rather than the victim.

-In a dating relationship, the woman may be required to provide for all expenses for the couple. The partner never seems to have any money.  He convinces the woman to buy him clothes, take him places, and may even convince her family he needs them to help him with money.  He asks the woman to buy him gifts that she cannot afford, making her believe this will make him like her.  He may ask her for rides frequently, ask her to cosign on a vehicle, or even convince her to pay his bills.  When she does not have the financial resources to buy him a gift, he claims she is "abusing" him. He may claim he cannot get a job because it will cause him to do poorly in school or he has an illness that prevents him from working.  He requires the woman to provide his financial needs for him.  When she no longer is able or willing to do so, he becomes angry or frustrated or manipulative.
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What Financial Abuse Is Not
-A woman who chooses to leave her job after considerable thought and discussion with the spouse is not financial abuse. When a man and a woman agree that one partner will stay home while another works, financial abuse is not present. A woman who leaves her job after being harassed at work is not abusing the spouse. A woman who cannot find a job despite multiple efforts is not committing financial abuse. A man who is laid off from his job and cannot find work is not committing financial abuse.  A man who is injured at work and cannot work due to the injury is not a financial abuser.

-At times, families simply do not have enough money to cover all of their expenses.  This may be the result of job loss, unusual expenses, or another type of change in the family finances. In this case, although paying bills late may be "intentional," the intention is not abuse related. Having a tight budget or not having much money left after paying bills is not financial abuse.  It is simply that the family does not have the resources to pay all of the expenses. In this same category, a family that lives according to a monthly budget that requires documentation of where dollars are spent and an accounting of expenses, is not committing financial abuse. Rather, that family is being fiscally responsible.

-When family members receive equal amounts of spending money allotted to each member, then financial abuse does not occur. For example, there may be four members of the family. The amount of spending money per month for the whole family may be 20% of their budget. Each family member may then have 5%. Some months, it may vary based on each family member's needs, but overall it is equitable among each family member.

-A woman's contributions are treated  equally to the family, even when her primary responsibilities are at home or she works part-time.  All of her contributions are valued.  The fact that she does not have a job outside of the home is respected. If she does have a job outside the home, that is respected as well.

-Children are given guidelines or responsibilities in order to "earn" money in the home. Parents who ask children to do chores for allowance, to maintain good grades, to get a job, or to pay their own phone bills or car insurance are not financially abusing children.  Rather, children who refuse to do these things may actually be financially abusing the parents.  Parents who put limits on children's spending or who do not give children what they want are also not financial abusers.

-In a dating relationship, both partners agree who will pay and who will not pay for dinners out, dates, and other events.  The partner may not have money, but the woman is not manipulated into buying things for him or to feel sorry for him or to feel guilty if she makes him pay for things himself.  The woman's partner does not falsely claim that he cannot get a job.  He may admit he chooses not to, but he also is up front and honest about the situation. A woman does not feel like she has to pay for things but rather because she wants to. She does so as a sort of gift, but not as a form of obligation, guilt, or manipulation. The male partner is understanding when she cannot do everything he wants her to do. The relationship is not financially one-sided.  In a healthy relationship, both partners reciprocate as much as is reasonable for them.

Sources Financial Abuse. Found online at: Are You the Victim of Financial Abuse? Found online at:
P. Powell, M. Smith. Domestic Violence: An Overview. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Found online at:
C.K. Sanders. Economic Abuse in the Lives of Women Abused by an Intimate Partner. A Qualitative Study. Violence Against Women. Vol.1, Iss. 1, 2015.