How to break the economic ties of an abusive relationship
Money and financial stress keep many women in abusive relationships. This is especially true for mothers who worry that their child or children might suffer, lose their home, or go hungry if they separate from the abuser. Often this sense of being trapped in an abusive relationship for financial reasons is no accident: it is a result of financial abuse, a deliberate action or pattern of behavior by the abuser to make the victim more financially dependent on the abuser.
Financial abuse includes limiting or preventing the victim from having their own money, jeopardizing the victim’s ability to further their education or hold a job, sabotaging the victim’s credit by deliberately running up debt in the victim’s name, and forcing the victim to use money she is trying to save.
Here are nine ways to protect yourself and your children from the effects of financial abuse.
While you are still in the relationship:
- Know the signs of financial abuse, in general and as they connect with other forms of abuse. This will help you to see the bigger picture. For instance, the partner who blocks your exit and shoves you repeatedly during an extended argument on the morning you’re supposed to have an important job interview is probably, in addition to physically abusing you, trying to keep you financially stressed or dependent. You can’t start protecting yourself against something you don’t even know is happening. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness has information on economic abuse and the variety of forms it might take.
- Gather and store important documents. If you are living with the abuser, store important documents somewhere safe outside the home, if at all possible, such as a safe deposit box or a friend or family’s home. These include birth certificates (yours and the children’s), marriage certificates (if applicable), social security cards, bank statements, and ownership documents of jointly owned property. Abusers frequently prevent a victim’s access to these after the victim leaves, so it’s important to do this as part of your preparation for leaving.
- Find at least one trustworthy ally who understands financial abuse to help you sort out your thoughts and make a plan of action. Many victims feel ashamed and isolated, and this, along with financial pressures, can contribute to staying stuck. Some places to find support include your friends and family (as long as you can be sure they will not talk to the abuser about what you share), a local organization helping victims and survivors of domestic violence, a counselor or therapist who understands domestic violence, or a hotline such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (or TTY 1-800-787-3224).
- Research the programs and services in your area that help domestic violence victims. Knowing how to apply for public assistance or your options for temporary or longer-term housing will help you feel more confident that help will be available when you need it. Often programs and financial assistance sources have waiting periods and complex application requirements, so being armed with information can help you prepare ahead of time.
- Cancel joint bank and credit accounts by calling the issuer and asking to have your name removed. This won’t undo damage the abuser may have already done, but it will prevent new attempts to rack up debt in your name, take money from you, and damage your credit.
- Find out your state’s laws about protective and restraining orders, and talk to a domestic violence court advocate about the pros and cons of a protective or restraining order in your situation. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has an overview of the state laws. This year Connecticut became one of several states where judges are able to offer increased economic protections for people seeking protective or restraining orders. This means that the abuser can be ordered during the initial transition period to continue paying rent or mortgage on jointly owned property, for example. Generally speaking, protective or restraining orders can be enormously helpful to some, but are not the right option for everyone. Your local court’s domestic violence advocate can help you to understand the legal nuances and apply them to your particular set of circumstances. If you are not sure about what resources are available in your community or how to access them, you can get this information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
After you’ve left the relationship:
- Ask for help. Let your loved ones know that economic abuse has been part of the problem, and ask for their support in helping you stay out of the abusive relationship, especially during the difficult early days, weeks, and months. Seek assistance anywhere and everywhere, including financial help, but also emotional, psychological, and social support. There is no shame in what’s happened, and in fact there’s much to feel proud about in taking steps toward you and your family’s self-sufficiency. Freeing yourself from abuse can be tough; you don’t have to do it alone!
- Learn about financial concepts, habits, and well-being. One terrific resource for this is collaboration between the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation called Moving Ahead through Financial Management, a free curriculum for helping survivors of domestic violence move from safety to long-term security. You can download it or ordering a printed copy online.
- Request a free copy of your credit report to check for credit damage related to economic abuse. You can get a free credit report online each year.
Always remember: Being trapped in a relationship due to financial abuse is common, but you don’t have to stay. You can break free and start over.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Susan Lemere is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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