Financial abuse takes many forms. It occurs in a wide range of situations. As family law solicitors we usually see it in the context of divorce and separation: one spouse has subjected the other to some kind of abuse, violating his or her rights to their financial affairs or assets – often over many years.
Under statute, financial abuse is recognised as a form of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 refers to ‘economic abuse’ – regarded as
“any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on an individual’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property or effects an individual’s ability to obtain goods or services”
If you are the victim of financial abuse or have concerns during the divorce process about your spouse’s management of the family finances you should seek legal support to ensure that your current and future financial positions are fully protected.
Below we explore some of the signs that, in our experience can suggest that financial abuse of some kind is taking place, and we describe some of the ways we advise and support clients who may have been exposed to some form of financial abuse.
Signs Of Financial Abuse
Some red flags that might suggest there is financial abuse taking place include:
- One spouse micromanaging and exerting strict control over family finances, demanding that the other account for all expenditure – however small – while at the same time not constraining his or her own expenditure and failing to explain what money has been spent on
- Provision of an inadequate weekly spending budget requiring the financially weaker spouse to continually ask for further advances of money to meet day to day spending. This type of behaviour often appears designed to demonstrate financial dominance and control
- Interference by one spouse in the other’s work, often with the intention of reducing the spouse’s employability and even endanger any current role he or she is employed in
- Where one spouse prevents the other from gaining access to bank accounts, ensuring accounts are in the sole name of the financially abusing spouse
- Limiting access to independent advice, including legal and financial advice by undermining the effectiveness of such guidance and belittling or ridiculing the weaker spouse’s desire to get outside advice
- Forcing a spouse to open credit card accounts and running up debt in the financially weaker spouse’s name. This form of abuse is particularly insidious as it can often be difficult to demonstrate that the weaker spouse did not consent to opening the accounts
- Where one spouse spends irresponsibly ahead of agreeing a financial settlement. This behaviour is often intended to instill panic over finances in the other spouse
- Abusing the divorce process with unnecessary, unclear court applications and refusing to engage in constructive dialogue. By running up costs the hope is that the financially weaker spouse will accept an unfair financial settlement
Confronting Financial Abuse During Divorce and Separation
Over the years we have developed ways of supporting clients who find themselves subjected to financial abuse. Often we can anonymously describe cases we have dealt with in the past that are similar to the situation the client finds themselves in, showing how we were able to deal with the abuse. We often put clients in touch with relevant agencies and independent financial advisors we trust to provide basic financial education so that the client is better able to understand finances and how he or she may be being exploited. We work hard to provide a supportive environment for those subjected to financial abuse, ensuring that all members of the team are alert to the possibility of such abuse and are equipped with the training and tools to deal with it in a sensitive, practical way.
As we mentioned above it is often only against the backdrop of family breakdown that financial abuse comes to light. Specialist family solicitors are trained to identify signals that a client who is suffering from financial abuse might give, for example a lack of understanding or curiosity about his or her property or an apparent lack of knowledge of the family’s financial position generally. This will be revealed during the financial disclosure process when parties are required to complete the comprehensive financial disclosure form, Form E. In family mediation where spouses usually discuss finances jointly with the mediator financial abuse is often revealed when one spouse dominates discussions on finances or expresses stringent views on the other spouse’s spending or on how assets should be divided. In our experience a client who shows a real lack of confidence in relation to financial matters or who seeks to avoid going into any level of detail when discussing finances may well be exhibiting signs of underlying financial abuse.