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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Hernandez

This family lawyer explains what financial control is & how to spot the red flags

Economic or financial abuse is a non-physical form of control, often hidden or invisible within relationships and is not immediately recognised by the victim or detected by friends or family. In most instances the victim is unaware of their financial situation because their partner takes care of the money.

A communication disparity is more common than we believe considering money is something that couples don't often talk about openly—particularly in the early stage of the relationship. We tend to overlook the power structure that we subconsciously consider as normal, and in some cases there might be an expectation gap between the couple’s actual financial position versus what they understood it to be.

Having income withheld or controlled by an abusive partner was the most common type of financial abuse experienced by Australian men (22%) and women (27%) in 2020 according to a recent study conducted by Deloitte and commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank (CBA).

is my partner financially abusing me

More than 623,100 Australians were subjected to financial abuse in that time frame— one in 30 women and one in 50 men—resulting in an estimated $10.9 billion economic loss suffered by victims and the wider community.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data analysed by the Australian National University in 2021 revealed that when women earn more than their partners, the risk of domestic abuse increases by 35%. They also are more vulnerable to emotional abuse.

So how do you spot red flags?

Sometimes financial abuse is hard to identify because it can be subtle and develop over time. A partner may have other accounts and assets that they never disclosed, or they may have credit cards and loans in their own name that their partner is unaware of.

For some couples, red flags in financial control and abuse include:

  • A partner’s refusal to share bank accounts or discuss financial matters,

  • Demanding that their partner hand over their income,

  • Refusing access to funds other than those provided for,

  • Demands to see all receipts to check their partner’s spending, and

  • Inconsistencies in what a partner says and their actions.

  • Monitoring and questioning all spending including calling their partner whilst they’re at the checkout to ask why they spent what they did

  • Cancelling access to money so their partner has no access or does their shop only to find a card that was full is now declined

  • Providing unreasonable allowances that are clearly insufficient e.g. not enough to do a grocery shop

  • Anger and interrogation when their partner spends something the weren’t meant to, even a small amount

  • Ultimatums to “earn” money (for example, we have seen a client be told by her spouse that she had to go for a 1 hour run each day and lose weight before he would give her money to buy clothing for herself)

  • Forcing the victim to sign financial documents without allowing the opportunity to read them or obtain advice on them sometimes landing the victim with incredible debt

  • Telling a victim they will be financially destitute if they leave

It’s important to have an ongoing and open discussion about the strategies they're going to use as a couple. This is especially important if one party earns considerably more than the other, or if either side intends to take leave from the workforce to raise children.

Tips to avoid the hardship that can result from financial control and financial abuse include:

  • Making financial discussions part of a healthy relationship,

  • Maintaining your earning capacity when you can,

  • Obtaining joint financial planning early on and developing your own financial literacy,

  • Be wary of debt particularly if you’re uncertain of the nature of investments to be funded by the debt and your ability to repay it,

  • Get your own advice before agreeing for your assets to use as security for debts for your partner and adult children,

  • Carefully check any financial documents that you’re asked to sign and get independent financial advice to ensure you fully understand them,

  • Speak with your bank to see how you can reduce the risk of debts being increased or to prevent funds from being withdrawn without your knowledge and agreement,

  • Keep a record of what assets and liabilities and accounts that you do know about. For couples who do separate, having some knowledge of assets and liabilities can be helpful if their partner was secretive about money.

Setting up legal consultation before a relationship is over can help in the long run. Ending a long-term relationship is challenging, and inadequate financial knowledge may add to the difficulties. A family lawyer helps explain how a legal process works and how assets must be declared and divided. They will also help people obtain information on income and assets.

If you recognise any of the above signs in your relationship, you may be the victim of financial abuse. While it can be an extremely difficult situation to find yourself in, help is available so that you can break free and regain your financial independence.


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