How to Divorce a Financially Abusive Spouse

Divorcing a financially abusive spouse generates problems, but there are plenty of resources available that are designed to help you make a clean break. Financial abuse is considered domestic abuse, and many people are terrorized by the behavior of their abusers.

Textbook examples of financial abuse include:

  • Controlling another person’s access to money
  • Using someone’s assets without permission for personal benefit
  • Confiscating a spouse’s paycheck
  • Forcing a spouse to pay all the bills
  • Denying access to joint assets, like bank accounts, credit cards, etc.
  • Intercepting mail to scan financial documents
  • Denying or minimizing work to keep someone dependent
  • Borrowing money without asking
  • Destroying your credit by running up bills in your name
  • Threatening to report the spouse for misuse of social benefits.

The list goes on, but the underlying idea behind all these behaviors is to render a spouse dependent on the other for the basic necessities of life while denying access to the funds needed to get away.

Victims of rampant financial abuse often have poor credit, spotty work records, and mounting bills that have not been paid in months or years. The effects are very similar to financial terrorism and include going hungry, not having decent clothes, and feelings of inadequacy because of the implied emotional abuse.

Why Financial Abusers Operate as They Do

Financial abusers seek control over their victims to prevent them from leaving home or marriage. Maintaining control over the family assets is viewed as a way to prevent the victim from leaving, getting a good-paying job, attending school to earn a better living, or assemble the resources to leave the marriage.

In short, the victim is not allowed to gain any inch of independence because that would represent a significant threat to the abuser’s ego.

Financial Abuse in a Marriage

Financial abuse between spouses occurs to keep the victim from leaving or as a form of control. Male abusers deny their spouses enough food to eat and clothes to wear while others rain down both physical and emotional abuse on the victim for being inadequate in some way.

The good news is that if you are married to a financial abuser, there are steps that you can take to regain control of your life:

  • Get help immediately. Most states have abuse hotlines and social services for both male and female victims of financial abuse. Check out the resources offered by the local chapter of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You can also contact the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund for a list of state resources you need to get out of the marriage.
  • Protect your resources. Keep any personal resources safe by calling your credit card companies, bank, and creditors and changing your PIN number or access codes. Change any passwords used on your phone or personal computer.
  • Refuse to sign any contract with an abuser. Don’t sign for any loan or credit card together.
  • Research your state’s laws on marital assets. Some states handle debts incurred as the shared responsibility of both partners. If you fear that your partner might be trying to steal your resources, don’t get married or talk to a lawyer first about protecting your assets.
  • Know your rights. Some states have laws that guarantee your right to take time off work to go to court for abuse issues.
  • Get a copy of your credit report. You have the right to check your credit report for free, and the information revealed might be crucial in detecting whether your spouse has opened accounts in your name or tried to ruin your credit.
  • Save money. It would help if you tried to save some cash to tide you over when you decide to leave your home and file for divorce. If that’s not possible, many abuse groups provide a haven for abused victims. Getting out is what’s essential – especially when the financial abuse is coupled with physical violence.

Getting Ready to Break Away

No domestic violence guide can give an abused spouse the motivation to get away from the toxic relationship, but the first step toward financial and emotional freedom is the awareness that the situation is wreaking havoc on your self-esteem, that you deserve better, and that your partner may never change.

Once you realize this, secretly work toward your financial freedom by building a cash cushion, talking to a therapist, creating a network of reliable family and friends, and hiring an experienced domestic abuse lawyer for a clean separation.

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