Not all family violence involves physical attacks. Often, control of the finances can be as debilitating as an assault. It has been estimated that 50-90% of family violence cases involve economic or financial abuse.
Financial abuse occurs when one person in the relationship, which may be a spouse, family member or even a friend, takes control of your finances or property without your consent, in a way that removes your own financial freedom. Most people don’t realise this, but it is a form of abuse can occur at any time, even after the relationship with the abuser has ended.
So what are the signs of financial abuse? It can involve things like:
- Taking control of your finances, money or access to bank accounts.
- Taking and withholding your income or property.
- Monitoring your spending, refusing to contribute financially or providing an inadequate allowance to cover living expenses.
- Forbidding or preventing you from working, perhaps by denying access to internet, phones or transport, such as by taking your keys.
- Taking out loans or running debts in your name, or pressuring you to do so, or using your credit card without your permission.
- Making you feel that you are incompetent with your finances.
We agree with the sentiment of fellow lawyer Talya Faigenbaum, who recently spoke to Lawyer’s Weekly in relation to how lawyers can assist clients suffering from financial abuse.
As Ms Faigenbaum highlighted, “it is crucial … that lawyers in all practice areas are able to identify the signs of financial abuse and take appropriate steps toward assisting their clients.”
Lawyers are in a unique position to identify the occurrence of financial abuse and assist victims, given their access to information about a client’s own personal experiences and their financial circumstances.
They can then provide victims with referrals to financial counsellors, or information on how to access such services, as well as providing legal advice as to the next step.
As Ms Faigenbaum also noted, when lawyers take an active role in helping clients to effectively identify and deal with financial abuse, they drive “[an] increased awareness of this often invisible form of family violence.”
You can read more about financial abuse on ASIC’s Money Smart.
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing financial abuse, you can contact the following organisations for assistance:
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – Free, confidential family violence and sexual assault counselling service
- Family Relationship Advice Line (1800 050 321) – Information and advice on family relationship issues and parenting arrangements after separation
- National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) – Free information and resources that can help if you’re struggling with debt
If you believe that you are experiencing financial abuse or any form of family violence, and need some legal assistance, contact our office on 02 9687 9322 for a confidential discussion with an experienced member of our team.