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How to recognise financial abuse in a relationship


The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 now recognises ‘economic abuse’ as a form of domestic abuse within the legal definition. Jenna Atkinson, associate solicitor, and Louise Shaw, trainee solicitor, from our family law team look at the signs of financial abuse and consequences it can have.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse commonly takes place where a partner within the marriage uses money to control the other party, gradually removing financial freedom and independence from that person. It is a form of coercion, whether that be by money being misused or mishandled, restricting one’s access to money or coercing their partner into debt for their own benefit.

According to the Care Act 2014, financial abuse can be where money or other property may be stolen from the victim. Examples of financial abuse can take many forms and can include, but is not limited to:

  • Refusing access to your bank account.
  • Having control of your income.
  • Limiting your working hours.
  • Control how and when money can be spent.
  • Not returning borrowed money from the victim.
  • Stealing money/other possessions.
  • Forcing the victim to overwrite financial assets, property, pensions or Will.
  • Taking benefits or pension payments from the victim.
  • Providing an allowance and having you request access to funds.
  • Secrecy in terms of household costs or finances.
  • Misuse of money.
  • Ensuring assets are in their name i.e. property, bank accounts etc.

How do I recognise financial abuse in my marriage?

Financial abuse can be difficult to recognise and even more difficult to accept. Unlike physical abuse, it is not an act which happens instantly, but rather a pattern of behaviour that develops over time.

It may initially come as a relief that your partner is willing to deal with the money aspect of the relationship, or it could appear considerate if your partner asks you to give up work to stay at home and look after the children.

It is a form of abuse which emerges slowly and subtly throughout a relationship, however the signs listed above can be key indicators that there are elements of financial abuse within the relationship.

Financial abuse can not only occur within a relationship or marriage but also between family members or caregivers. Abusers can be partners, ex-partners, parents, grandparents, children and also carers. The abuser is anyone that is removing your financial control or independence.

Next steps

Financial abusers can limit their partner’s financial freedom, therefore creating a barrier which prevents their partner from removing themselves from the marriage. Through removing their access to funds, it causes partners to feel that they have no alternative but to stay in the marriage.

Financial abuse can have long-term consequences. Although one party can physically remove themselves from the relationship, the financial repercussions could cause a long-lasting effect.

Family lawyers can offer support and recommend various options to assist such as a non-molestation order which can be used to prohibit your partner from communicating with you or entering the family home, allowing you to reclaim your independence.

If you would like any advice on next steps, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family team at Harrison Drury to discuss matters. We offer a free initial appointment over the telephone or in person to assist you and advise on a way forward. To make an appointment, please contact us on 01772 258 321.

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