What is Financial Abuse? Domestic Violence isn't just physical violence
All, Domestic Violence

What Is Financial Abuse? Domestic Violence Isn’t Just Physical

“Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me”.  We have all by now reached the point where we understand that domestic violence is not just physical.  Emotional abuse is insidious.  It often results in a victim feeling so worthless, that if the abuse escalates and becomes physical, they are powerless to leave.  So how does emotional abuse restrict your ability to leave?  What is financial abuse?

A lesser understood form of domestic violence, is financial abuse.

The Family Law Act and the Family Law Courts recognise financial abuse as a form of domestic and family violence.  The Family Law Act  includes the following as examples of family violence:

  • an assault; or
  • a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour; or
  • stalking; or
  • repeated derogatory taunts; or
  • intentionally damaging or destroying property; or
  • intentionally causing death or injury to an animal; or
  • unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had; or
  • unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support; or
  • preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or
  • unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, or his or her liberty.

What is Financial Abuse?

I have had many family law clients in the last 20 years who describe to me their marriage, without realising that they have been in a coercive controlling financially abusive relationship.  It just creeps up on them, and becomes their new normal.  The result, unfortunately, is often a woman with very little access to money and next to no knowledge about the true financial position.

Financial abuse, just like emotional and psychological abuse, can be hard to recognise when it is happening to you.  It can also be hard to recognise the warning signs.  This is where friends and family can help, if you spot something that is ‘off’.

Perhaps you have been to coffee or out shopping with a friend and she comments “No I can’t buy that I will get in trouble.”  Maybe you laugh it off as part of a respectful use of joint money.  But maybe you start to notice it goes beyond that and she seems stressed by it.

Maybe your friend never has much cash and can’t spend money on the kids when you are out.   In a way that isn’t about teaching them to be appreciative, but more about not being allowed.  So what is financial abuse exactly?  What are the signs and how can you get help?

Examples of financial abuse

The ASIC Moneysmart website offers some suggestions of some of the warning signs you may be in a financially abusive relationship

Restricting access to money

  • your access to bank accounts is controlled
  • you have an allowance that is insufficient (or only just enough) to meet basics living expenses
  • you have no access to money at all and your partner insists on controlling all the money
  • being made to feel you are incapable of handling money
  • being made to feel responsible for financial mismanagement by your partner
  • information about household finances being hidden from you
  • being forced to sign financial or loan documents without reading them

Tracking spending

  • having to produce receipts for all your spending
  • having to ask permission to spend over a certain amount
  • punishment for overspending

Forced or restricted work choices

  • not being allowed to go to work
  • not being allowed to accept promotions
  • made to work in a career not of your choice
  • being denied access to the internet, transport or work preventing you from applying for jobs or studying

Lazy partner syndrome

  • refusing to work and making you work
  • incurring debts in the your name which you cannot service, tying you to the abusive party

Continual/Forced pregnancy

  • unable to get work due to constant pregnancy and care of young children
  • refusing to allow children to be in childcare so preventing work
  • complete dependence on the abusive partner

Financial abuse is often accompanied by anger, verbal abuse, or the threat of violence.

If you are experiencing domestic or family violence of any kind, help is available.  You can find a link to services in your state by contacting 1800Respect on 1800 737 732 (24/7)


Jennifer Hetherington is an Accredited Family Law Specialist with over 20 years experience.  She heads Hetherington Family Law, a Brisbane family law firm.  Her goal is to empower women escaping violence to make informed, supported decisions to move forward with their lives.  Jennifer is a finalist for Sole Practitioner of the Year in the 2017 Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards.