Abuse isn’t just about bruises. Not all forms of abuse leave bruises where we can see them. Although physical abuse is terrifying and needs to be addressed immediately there are other forms of abuse that can cause significant damage. One type of abuse that is very difficult for outsiders to detect is financial abuse. Marriage should be a partnership but when one spouse completely dominates the finances to the point that the other spouse has no control and no options financial abuse may be occurring.
Signs of Potential Financial Abuse
Every married couple handles their finances differently. In some cases one spouse handles the majority of the finances. They manage the accounts, pay the bills and deal with creditors. That does not by itself equal financial abuse.
Financial abuse occurs when one spouse is treated like an irresponsible child. They are cut off from funds and their knowledge about the couple’s finances is severely limited. Some signs of financial abuse include:
- Strict Allowances. This isn’t an amount that the spouses have agreed to limit themselves to but is instead a set amount that is grudgingly handed out from one spouse to the other and is all that will be given.
- Constant accounting for every penny spent. If the controlling spouse requires that receipts be presented or that an explanation for every expenditure be made to them by the other spouse they may be financial abusive.
- Controlling employment. If one spouse limits or controls the type of work the other spouse does they may be abusive. Examples include refusing to allow the other spouse to work outside the house or take a higher paying job that might allow more freedom or a job that pays in cash such as tips that would be difficult for the controlling spouse to monitor.
- Disappearing salary. If the controlling spouse allows the other to work they often require that their salary be turned over immediately and do not account for it’s use.
- Hiding or refusing to discuss finances. The controlling spouse rarely wants to share the couple’s finances even with their spouse. They don’t want the other spouse to know how much money they have or how much debt they are in.
- Accusations of poor spending habits. Controlling spouses generally have a justification for their actions. They generally accuse the other spouse of being an out of control shopper or having a gambling problem.
Why Financial Abuse Occurs
Many abusers don’t fully understand why they act the way they do. Some reasons include:
- Need for control
- Fear of poverty
- Need to feel superior to their spouse
- Disregard for their spouses intelligence or ability to handle finances
How to Prove Financial Abuse in a Divorce
Claims of abuse by one side or the other are common in divorces. Some forms of abuse can be easier to prove. Pictures of black eyes, police reports and hospital bills tell a story that is easy to understand. Proving financial abuse is substantially harder.
Generally if one person is claiming financial abuse the other defends by saying that the abused person couldn’t be trusted with money. They will point to poor financial decisions in the past such as large credit card debts, unnecessary purchase or gambling addiction. The easiest way to combat this charge is to not fall into the trap or if you have made mistakes don’t make them again. If you spouse claims that you created unreasonable credit card debt the best defense is to point out that it happened 10 years ago.
The testimony of the financially abused will also be important. You need to be able to clearly state why you feel you were abused. Give examples. Remember that you don’t want to be seen as petty or complaining, but genuinely abused. If you explain what is happening to yourself in a mirror and you think you sound like you are whining then you need to come up with a new way of explaining things. Keep in mind that you will be telling a judge your story. The judge has heard these types of accusations hundreds of times and has seen people attempt to use these types of accusations for leverage in a divorce. Your story needs to stand out from the others by first being true and exaggerated and second by being clearly and passionately told. Your attorney can help you prepare your delivery as part of your preparation for the hearing.
Documents, documents, documents. Written evidence is incredibly strong and can range from credit card bills showing that there is a credit card but that you aren’t named on it to emails from your spouse that show the financial abuse.
Other witnesses can be incredibly powerful on your behalf. Financial abuse is hard for people outside the relationship to detect. So when someone credible comes in and tells the judge that it is happening and they can see it the judge will listen.