When it comes to domestic violence, most people think of physical acts such as hitting, shoving and kicking. Domestic violence, however, includes a wide range of mental and emotional abuse such as harassment, stalking and terroristic threats. Another non-physical form of domestic violence is economic abuse, in which the abuser makes the victim financially dependent through a series of manipulative tactics. These tactics include, but are not limited to:
- Withholding money and/or access to financial records.
- Refusing to let the victim have bank accounts, credit cards or investment funds in his or her own name.
- Putting the victim on an allowance, or forcing him or her to beg for money for basic needs such as food, clothing and utility bills.
- Not allowing the victim to obtain employment, or forcing the victim to turn over all of his or her income.
- Preventing the victim from attending school, getting job training, accepting work promotions, or any other means of earning a better income.
It's important to note that many individuals do allow their spouses to have more control over the finances, and this in itself is not economic abuse. For example, a woman who is not good at budgeting may deposit half or more of her paycheck into a joint account, from which her husband pays the household bills and other expenses. In this case, the woman is voluntarily allowing her husband more control over the finances, thus her husband is not committing a form of abuse. If, however, the husband threatened to divorce her and take the kids away unless she turned over her paycheck, that would be a form of economic abuse.
Because economic abuse starts out slowly, most victims don't realize the trouble they're in until it's too late. The abuser typically starts with suggestions that seem caring and helpful, such as, “I know doing the bills stresses you out. Why don't you let me handle it?” Little by little, the victim gives over financial control to the abuser, until he or she ends up with no access to the money or financial records. If you are in this situation, you may be wondering how you can get out your marriage since you have no money with which to hire a lawyer.
Regardless of your financial situation, you must speak with an experienced divorce attorney about your legal options. Although you are not entitled to an attorney in a civil case, the courts recognize that each spouse should have the opportunity to obtain legal representation from a qualified attorney. If you have no access to the marital funds, your attorney may be able to compel your spouse to cover your legal fees through a court order. Depending on your situation, you may also want to file for a restraining order, which will prohibit your spouse from harassing you during, and after the divorce proceedings. For more information on protecting yourself against domestic violence, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.