Welcome to Ivy Law Group’s Podcast – The Family Five! 

Financial abuse is not a topic that is often spoken about. It can sometimes be difficult to detect and someone may not even be aware they are in a financially abusive relationship or a victim of it. 

In this podcast episode, we look at what financial abuse is, how to spot the signs and what you can do to protect yourself. 

Transcript: Am I in a financially abusive relationship?

Jessica Hamilton (JH): Hello and welcome to the Family Five Podcast with Ivy Law Group where we tackle the tough family law issues in the time it takes you to drink your coffee. I’m Jessica Hamilton, I’m the Marketing Manager for Ivy Law Group, and I’m joined by my boss Shane Neagle, who is the director of Ivy Law Group and the family lawyer extraordinaire. In this podcast, we will take a five in five approach, five questions in five minutes. Our aim is to keep the podcast light, easy to understand, and to give you some valuable information to take away with you.
JH: Shane, how are you today?
Shane Neagle (SN): I’m awesome, thank you. How are you going, Jess?
JH: Yeah, pretty good. Pretty good. All right, so episode four. Today we’re going to be talking about financial abuse, but it’s something that is not well known to people. So I guess to start off with, maybe we just look at what is abuse in a relationship in general.
SN: We’ve been speaking last week and the week before about healthy relationships and one thing that can feature in relationships with people is around narcissism. Of course abuse (can) range (from many things). Originally many, many decades ago (it was primarily focused) around physical and sexual abuse. But now we’ve learnt so much over the years about emotional and different psychological abuses that are out there, (in particular) something that’s been presenting over the last few years called gaslighting, when the bully or abuser misleads what they call, ‘the target,’ in creating a false narrative and making them question their judgement in reality.
JH: So (with) financial abuse, it’s something that I guess people are not really aware of or maybe they’re not aware that they’re a victim. So in layman’s terms, what is financial abuse?
SN: Here you go. It’s one partner being coercive and deceiving or controlling, such that you feel denied of (and I’m sorry about this), but your autonomy, financial autonomy or financial independence.
JH: So, if we’re going to look at an example, what if a couple have a shared credit card, one person is spending a lot of money on that credit card and the other person is then questioning all those purchases. You know, “why did you buy this? Why did you buy that? It’s really expensive.” Is that financial abuse?
SN: We’ve spoken about this where we’ve always said we’re not the arbiters of happiness.
JH: No, we are not.
SN: There’s all different types of sizes and shapes of relationships and some of them are born out of culture, where sometimes it’s not unusual for one person to be the financial controller. Where it’s probably bordering into unhealthy is where the person doesn’t have a say at all. And that happens a lot. We’ve had a client who didn’t know that the husband owned three different properties, two commercial businesses and had share holdings here, there, and everywhere and was lied to throughout the relationship. And I suppose that’s the key factor, where there’s deception. Now with the credit card example, I suppose it’s when it’s done secretively and I imagine it starts to become abusive if the person’s entering into, for example, the credit card without the other person knowing. To say that there’s a black and white rule about it, it’s pretty hard because all relationships differ. But if you felt uncomfortable and that it was unfair, it’s possibly a chance that this could be financially abusive.
JH: So I guess in terms of financial abuse, it could be either you are trying to have complete control over the finances and limiting someone else from spending money, or it could also be that you are being secretive about the money that you spend and not telling your partner.
SN: Correctamundo.
JH: Correctamundo. So then how would you know if you are a victim of financial abuse?
SN: Some of the signs would include that a person’s using or accessing your money and your account without permission. Taking your funds with a credit card is one example, accumulating a bad credit history using your identity, borrowing money without paying it back, asking for you to disclose passwords to your bank accounts, etc.
JH: What about if they signed an important legal document in your name?
SN: Um, well that one’s actually leaning over into what we call fraud, but that’s a classic example of what often happens.
JH: So what could you do to protect yourself then? If you think your partner is being financially abusive and you either want to leave or you just want to make sure that you are aware of your own financial autonomy, what could you do?
SN: There’s a concept called coercive control and it is a formulation of all those things about abuse. Now the reason I raise that is a classic example in my experience has been a client who had a former spouse living overseas who had been financially, verbally and emotionally abusive throughout the relationship, who was having a lifetime view of her bank account, which included her going through tolls and (he) would text her repeatedly and abuse her about her using tolls, where she was the main breadwinner back here in Australia. And where they had assets (in excess of) something like five to six million. It was off the charts in terms of abuse. What I wanted to add there is when I put it to her that this was really, in my view, really serious, (it really was) and she was numb to that and that’s what ends up happening a lot at the time.
JH: So what could you do to protect yourself then?
SN: One part of coercive control is people try to isolate you from family and friends. And I would say one of the best things that you can do, and I know it can be difficult, is to keep trying to maintain those relationships, if not, try to read widely about these topics. And what’s really important is to go speak to people in the profession, but also in particularly with lawyers who can explain to you that this is what the law is and where the behaviour is, and where it stacks up in terms of what’s socially and legally acceptable.
JH: Alright, so we’re at time now. So just to lighten the mood a little bit, give us your best dad joke.
SN: Am I allowed to do two?
JH: Sure.
SN: Did you hear about the first restaurant to open on the moon? It had great food, but no atmosphere.
JH: Oh God.
SN: All right, next one. Two windmills are standing on a wind farm and one asks, what’s your favorite kind of music? The other goes, I’m a big metal fan.
JH: Bye!
JH: Thanks for tuning in and don’t forget to save us to your favorites wherever you listen to your podcast so that you don’t miss an episode. It’s important to note that the contents of this podcast are intended as a general guide to the subject matter. If you are looking for specific advice about your individual circumstances, then we would recommend getting in touch with one of our friendly family lawyers.

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