What I Learned (and Had to Unlearn) from Witnessing Financial Abuse

by Rick Dougherty

What We See

I grew up in a house in which the threat of violence was omnipresent.  It wouldn’t happen all of the time.  It wouldn’t even happen most of the time.  The physical violence was just a small part of what my mother and I had to endure, especially in my teenaged years.  In no way do I want to diminish the trauma associated with the physical violence my father directed at my mother and at me, but I often feel that the physical violence hasn’t had the lasting effect of the other forms of abuse. 

Here at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, we are spending all of October highlighting financial abuse, because it is so misunderstood by the general public.  Part of the problem with it being misunderstood, is that people don’t notice some of the long-lasting effects of the abuse on those who suffer through it.  According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 99% of domestic violence situations contained some form of financial abuse.  Even with that staggering number, 78% of people don’t consider financial abuse to be a form of domestic violence (NNEDV, 2016).   This means they probably don’t understand how it looks when it is happening, and what is does to those who experience it. 

My father did not want my mother to have a job.  He wanted her to be completely and totally financially dependent on him.  When she would have a job, he would try to turn me against her.  He would tell me that she didn’t need to work for our finances, and she was doing it because she didn’t want to spend time with me.  My father was very cliché, being raised in a small, depressed town with very regressive views on gender roles, race, and religion.  His family of origin had very strict views on how the family should look.  I recall being in the wedding parties when my aunts and uncles got married and how the wedding officials would preach about women being subservient to their husbands. 

Even the women in his family didn’t think women should be treated equally.  When I later married, they mocked my wife for not taking my last name.  This didn’t come from the men in the family.  It came from the women.  The patriarchal family structure was comforting to all of them, as a protection from a scary world.  Even if that structure suppressed them, it provided a feeling of safety.

My mother, on the other hand, was raised in a family of high-academic achievement.  While her Irish-Catholic father was certainly working-class, he carried himself with dignity.  He didn’t believe that being a man who showered at the end of a day’s work meant that you had to act in toxic ways.  As the father of five daughters, he also wasn’t too keen on the sexist tropes so common to his era.  All of my aunts who survived to adulthood are strong women.  While they all eventually married, they all also had success in the work world before and after settling down with a spouse.  My father could see that women in my mother’s family didn’t need men to support them.  That tortured him.  He knew that she didn’t need him.

The Inevitable Conclusion

For a few years while I was in high school, my family hit a big financial crunch.  This was a time that a healthy couple would hunker down to handle the situation.  My father was having a hard time finding steady work that paid enough money.  When there was an opening for waitresses at a restaurant in town, my mother took the job.  It made my father furious.  He hated it.  I believe what angered him the most was that he needed the money.  No longer was he in a situation financially that he could claim she didn’t need to work.  The more he lost the ability to financially abuse her, the more he would physically abuse both of us.  The abuse got worse-and-worse. 

At the time, I had a “job” mowing my great-aunt’s lawn.  I put the word “job” in quotes, because a lot of the time I didn’t have to do the labor.  My maternal grandfather really was a great guy.  I had basketball and baseball practice, and I was going to dances and meeting girls.  Most of the time, he would mow her lawn for me, but I still got the $20 per-week.  As strange as it sounds, my father hated this.  Even $20 per-week was giving me too much financial independence for him.  By this point, he was overweight and out-of-shape.  I was getting to the point at sixteen where I was taller than him, and the coaches had me in the weight room three times per-week.  His window for intimidating me physically was closing, and now I was starting to have a little pocket cash. 

One day, he picked me up from the mall, I had just bought an album I was waiting to be released for months.  Instead of spending the $13 to get the CD, I bought the cassette version for $9.  I knew money was tight, and I was willing to save money where it was possible.  He screamed at me the entire ride for wasting my money.  It was his mission to let me know that even when I was making the money, I had to go through him.  He wanted control. 

He hollered, “I don’t have a job right now, and I can’t be wasting $9.”

To this day, I am not sure if any accomplishment I have had or will have in the future will live up to the feeling I had when I responded.  “Well, it’s a good thing I have a job, and I can spend the $9.”

I put him in his place.  I didn’t need him.  My mother was working.  I was working, and the money was coming from my mother’s side of the family.  His entire web of control was showing itself to be a house of cards. 

The irony of the situation is that, despite the abuse, my mother and father did one thing the right way.  My father started working again, and my mother worked her job.  Eventually, they got enough money to buy a nice car, and move to a nice home.  Had my father not been so focused on being the one controlling the income, he would have been able to take real pride in providing for his family.  If he didn’t need the woman in his life to be subservient to him, he would have been able to take solace in a positive masculine accomplishment.  He could have thrown toxic masculinity to the side, and worked with his partner as an equal.  They dug themselves out of the hole, but the marriage didn’t survive it.

Decades of trying to keep her blind to the fact that she could leave, made it an inevitability when she saw that light. 

It Didn’t Stop There

Even after my parent’s divorced, the financial abuse continued.  While a normal father who leaves his child would have to pay child support, my mother wanted to prove that she could do it on her own.  The years of being told she couldn’t do it made her determined to do it out of spite. 

Occasionally, we would need money for something, or we would need his signature on a financial document.  It always came with some sort of quid-pro-quo.  We had to go get pizza with him.  I would have to hang out with him for a few hours.  He was still using the absolute bare-minimum of his responsibility as an excuse to claim we owed him.  The money was nothing more than a form of control. 

The most pathetic of these transactions came on his last Christmas on this planet.  The holidays are an expensive time, and my mother needed money.  Because of that, my father would only agree to it, if I would go with him to see his family.  My mother begged me to do it, and used the fact that I would get some presents to grease the wheels.  The only other thing she asked was that I got him a present.  I went to Sears, and purchased a $5 wallet.  With tax, it came to $5.30.

After he dropped me off at my car, he looked at me with pain in his eyes.  “Um, I didn’t know we were doing presents.”  He handed me a $5 bill.  I had spent more than that on his stupid wallet.  Even Christmas gift giving was an excuse to use money as a symbol of his lack of respect. 

The Final Insult

That Christmas was his last Christmas, because he would be dead the following November.  By this point, he had regained his footing, and was making very good money at a job he loved.  He was thriving so much, that he was offered a promotion across the country. 

It was a Saturday in the first week of November.  Once again, my mother thought that it would be a good idea to be there when he left.  I told him that a full-time job was opening up where I had been working since I was sixteen.  This was going to my chance to start climbing the latter in my career.  In retrospect, it was fitting that the last thing I told my father was that I was becoming more independent.  He got in the car, and started driving towards I-80.

The following Saturday, when I arrived to start a part-time shift at work (one that would give me another chance to impress my bosses), I got the phone call that my father was dead.  My bosses wouldn’t let me work after getting the news, even though I was so determined to get this job, that I was still prepping my day after answering the call. 

It wasn’t until he was dead, however, that I learned about his one last attempt at financial abuse.  To him, money was control.  Behind my back, with the assistance of that entire side of the family, he had gotten married one week before he died.  He also signed over all of his money and assets to his new wife.  He threatened to take this promotion at the other end of the country, expecting us to stop him.  He thought we needed his money, and wouldn’t be able to survive without him.  When we told him that he should go, and do what was best for his career, he had to find some way to get revenge.  Instead of providing his son with a little financial security while that son was trying to make a name for himself in his chosen profession, he found a way to use the money against us one more time.

The Aftermath

I was nineteen when my father died.  That was well over twenty years ago.  I have lived more of my life following my father’s abuse, than I lived experiencing his abuse.  That being said, as every survivor knows, I still live with the ramifications of that abuse. 

My father wanted my mother and me to rely on him in all aspects of finances.  While some parents would teach a child how to do taxes; how to start a bank account; or how to apply for a credit card, my father didn’t want me to know how to do that.  On a day-to-day basis, I didn’t see why things were going well for us financially.  Still, I did see the ramifications of the bad economic times.  This gave me a fear of credit.  Some of the most impressive things I have done in my adult life are because of the financial ignorance I developed from his controlling nature.  In 2015, I bought a brand-new Toyota Prius.  I walked right into the dealership, and wrote out a check for $27,000.  My fear of having a car repossessed was so strong, that I waited until I saved enough money to buy a new car to own one.

The trauma I experienced due to financial abuse lingers to this very day.  Two weeks ago, I was in a theme park, when I saw a t-shirt that I really liked.  Standing in the middle of the theme park, I texted my wife, who was at work.  I asked her if I was allowed to buy the t-shirt.  It wasn’t until she was at lunch, and told me that I had permission to buy it, that I went back to the store to and purchased it.

That is a very common interaction with my wife.  I am so afraid of someone yelling at me for spending money, that I feel that I have to get permission.  If I make a bad financial decision, I will have an anxiety attack.  If I wait to get gas, and find myself forced to fill up where gas is more expensive, I will constantly apologize…even when I am the one who is losing money. 

On a positive note, I did develop one positive habit from witnessing and experiencing financial abuse in my youth.  My father wanted to use money to trap my mother.  He didn’t want her to feel she could survive on her own if she left.  That seemed so pathetic to me.  As an adult, I have always wanted to make sure that my significant others are able to earn their own money.  My wife makes substantially more money that I make at this point in both of our careers.  Some men tease me about this, but I take pride in it.  If my wife makes enough money to live on her own, that means she is staying with me, because she wants to stay with me.      

I do not mooch off of her, which would be a completely different form of financial abuse.  I never want her to feel she has to justify purchases to me.  We trust each other to understand our financial big picture, and that neither of us would do anything to jeopardize it.

Moving Forward

While this is a personal anecdote, I do think there is something to be gained from everybody reading this.  If my story makes one woman realize that her children may be witnessing behavior that will make it harder for them to function financially as adults, maybe she will get out of that relationship.  Even if she can’t escape at the moment, maybe she will think to have financial conversations with her children.  While kids need to understand the value of money, they also shouldn’t grow up in fear of it.  They shouldn’t view financial security as a justifiable reason to stay in an abusive relationship.  Most importantly, your children will learn better financial habits by watching you struggle to survive financially, than by watching you stay in an abusive relationship to have your needs met.           


NNEDV, 2016, Financial Abuse Fact Sheet, https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library_EJ_Financial_Abuse_Fact_Sheet.pdf

When Finances Become an Abuser’s Means of Entrapment

I felt like a prisoner to my circumstances, and with research showing that financial abuse happens in 99% of cases of domestic violence, I know I wasn’t alone (Adams, 2011).

I was a stay-at-home mom who only worked sporadically throughout the years part-time. He was the one who made the money in the relationship. I trusted him “as a good wife should.” I had three small children who demanded a lot of time and attention. I didn’t realize what was to come.

I remember towards the end of the relationship asking him if I could have control of the finances and paying the bills. I realized that he had a huge drug problem that he had been hiding, and many of our bills were past due. I was frantic because we were on the verge of being evicted from our home. To my dismay, he refused.

Desperately, I began job searching. I didn’t know how I would afford childcare, but I had to start somewhere. I finally landed a promising job interview with a construction company working in the office. I told him about it and that I needed to get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview. That evening, he started a fight with me out of nowhere. He forcefully grabbed my phone and was very agitated. Out of fear, I jumped into the car and fled. Since I didn’t have my phone or my GPS, I drove to a friend’s house and hoped she was home. I stayed with her for a few hours until I had to get back to my house to sleep. By the time I got home and calmed down from the adrenaline that was pumping through my body, it was after 2 AM.

The next morning, I woke up exhausted. He suddenly tried to act supportive and happy for this opportunity that I had, but the damage had been done. I was a sleepy, nervous wreck. The interview went as well as it could, but unfortunately, they hired someone else within the company. It was a blow to my self-esteem. He later admitted that he purposely started that fight to sabotage me. The thought of me making money meant financial freedom, and that was the last thing that he wanted me to have.

When I hit my breaking point, I escaped one night and called numerous shelters to see if they could take my children and me. My stomach dropped as I was told by each one, “sorry, we are full.” In my shame, I went back to the abuse because I felt like I had no other choice. I didn’t see until the end that he had used money as another way to manipulate and detain me. I had to make the hardest and bravest decision of my life without any resources. I finally reached out to anyone who would listen that I needed help. It was incredibly scary to reveal the abuse, but it was even scarier to think about staying in it. My children and I were homeless for 114 days, bouncing around couches and hotels. I was exhausted and even had money stolen from me while I was homeless by my ex-husband, but I finally was able to get on my feet and be financially and physically free from the abuse.

The Cunning Tactics of Financial Abuse

So many people describe domestic violence as being physical, sexual, emotional, or mental, but financial abuse is just as damaging. As stated in the beginning, although 99% of domestic abuse cases showed to have financial abuse prevalent in them, research has revealed that a staggering 78% of the American population did not claim it as a category of domestic violence in a 2014 report (NNEDV, 2019). Financial abuse comes in many different forms. Some examples are:

Controlling every aspect of the finances
Banning their partner from getting a job
Using means to sabotage their partner from gaining work or causing them to lose their job
Not including their partner in major financial decisions
Refusal to pay bills
Wrecking their partner’s credit score as a means to keep them down
Denying their partner of necessities
Refusal to help pay for children’s needs and/or support
Holding money for themselves and not contributing to household needs
Giving their partner an allowance (NNEDV, 2017)

These circumstances can leave victims in situations of poverty, and poverty doubles the chances of domestic violence in a woman’s life. These victims also can feel shame and fear regarding asking for economic assistance. Studies show out of four domestic violence victims, three will remain with their abuser for a longer time due to financial strain. Domestic violence is a public health issue that doesn’t just affect a victim’s income but also a nation’s. Nearly 6.3 billion dollars in 2015 was spent on mental health and direct medical services in the US. This problem goes far beyond a single household. (NNEDV, 2019)

How to Get Help

If you believe you are a victim of financial abuse, contact us at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence through our webpage or social media accounts. You can also reach out to local agencies or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. These advocates can help you come up with a safety plan, find local resources, and get the help you need.

You can also reach out to family and friends. You must break the silence to live the life that you deserve. It took me doing the same to realize that many of my loved ones were happy to either give us money, supplies, or a place to stay once they knew of my circumstances that I had hidden for so long. There’s no shame in asking for help.

Also, learn to become financially dependent. There is help for childcare vouchers through your local entities so that you can work if you are a parent. Keep your passwords and accounts private. Hold anyone who tries to financially abuse you accountable. My ex-husband refused to pay child support, so I continue to use the Department of Revenue and my local court system to hold him to this because it’s another tactic of financial abuse. I am not the same girl I used to be, and I will stand against this now in every way.

You can be free from domestic violence: physically, emotionally, mentally, AND financially.


Adams, A. E. (2011). Measuring the effects of domestic violence on women’s financial well-being. CFS Research Brief, 5. https://centerforfinancialsecurity.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/adams2011.pdf

NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2017). About Financial Abuse. NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. https://nnedv.org/content/about-financial-abuse/

NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2019). Financial Abuse Fact Sheet. NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. https://nnedv.org/resources-library/financial-abuse-fact-sheet/

Debt As Abuse

On March 22nd of this year, most of us were still wrapping our heads around the fact that the pandemic was still hampering our lives more than a year after the first shutdowns took effect in the United States.  Maybe we were looking forward to getting out of the house and enjoying some spring weather, after being trapped inside the previous March and April.  Maybe we were getting excited for a full 162-game baseball season to get started.  Maybe we were making Easter, Passover, or other holiday plans.  Karen Robbins wasn’t doing any of those things.

On March 22nd, Robbins testified in front of the Connecticut General Assembly about a type of financial abuse that often goes unrecognized.  While it is uncertain whether her testimony swayed any voted, I think we can all agree that if she wants to take credit for the passage of the bill in question, she has every right to do that.  It can be hard to tell your friends and family when you have been abused, physically or financially.  It must be agony to bear your soul in front of elected officials; some of whom you know will be ignoring your pleas, and voting against you.

A Different Kind of Financial Abuse

Most of us have at least a general idea about certain types of financial abuse.  We can see it when a friend’s husband is controlling every aspect of her monetary freedom.  

She may say things like…

“He won’t let me buy it.”

“Oh, I will have to ask him if I can pick up this present.”

“Hopefully he doesn’t see this lunch on the bank statement.”

While we still need to work hard to raise awareness of that type of financial abuse, a different form flies even further below the radar.

Karen Robbins was the victim of coercive debt.  Her ex-husband’s use of her name, and her credit (many times without her knowledge or consent) left her with a combined debt of almost $1,000,000.  That is an absurd amount of money for a Middle-Class woman to be expected to pay.  Still, the fact that she was married to her abuser, he had limitless access to her personal information, and her solid credit.  $700,000 of that dept was acquired using the house that is in her name as collateral.  

Of course, Karen eventually discovered all of this was happening behind her back, and she filed for divorce.  The pandemic, however, stalled many of the proceedings, and nobody would be surprised to find out that her ex isn’t paying the family support, and legal fees he has been ordered to pay.  In addition to the debt, lack of payment, and the fact that he ruined her credit score, she can’t even borrow the money she needs to maintain a household.  Karen’s ex has lost, and she has been found to have done nothing wrong in a court of law, but none of that matters, because he has so thoroughly ruined her life.  

Now, Karen’s abuser continues to have immense control over her, even after the divorce.  If she pushes too hard against him, he just doesn’t have to pay what he owes.  Our legal system has just handed him all of the cards, after he stacked the deck.

What Legally Can Be Done to Help?


Robbins cited a law that was passed in Texas in 2019.  That law, according to Robbins’ testimony, “expanded the definition of identity theft to include debt incurred through direct or indirect coercion. By including this language, Texas lawmakers created a clear pathway for victims to clear their names and begin life anew.”  This provision was included in the bill when it passed.

Connecticut State Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw believes this wording is critical, according to her conversations with Yahoo Money. “The definition really helps courts, advocates that are in the courts, and the judges recognize that we aren’t just looking for bruises when we are looking for signs of abuse in a relationship,” 

Without providing a way for survivors to get out from under this debt, they are intrinsically tied to their abusers.  This not only makes their financial lives harder, and makes it harder to provide for their families; but it hinders them emotionally, as well.  You can’t heal, and move past an abusive relationship, if your day-to-day life is still connected to the abuse and abuser through legal means.  

There is no doubt in my mind that over the next few months and years, we will talk about the ways child custody is used in similar ways.  Almost every person doing domestic violence work knows at least a handful of women who are being practically held hostage by men who are using the courts and custody laws to exert control over their exes.  

Coercive debt puts many women in very similar situations, but there doesn’t even need to be a fight over custody.  To use Karen’s situation as an example, she was the one who was on the hook for the debt.  He didn’t have to go to court to try to take that control, because that was already the starting point. 

The Numbers

Robbins used two incredible (but, unfortunately, all-too-credible) statistics to make her point perfectly clear.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence conducted research in 2018 that would astonish someone who hasn’t experience or doesn’t work in the field of domestic violence.  The survey concluded that 94 to 99 percent of domestic violence situations contain elements of financial abuse.  That is essentially closer to 100 percent than the margin-of-error in most polls.  It would not be hyperbole to state that this research shows that essentially every woman who experiences physical violence in an intimate-partner setting also experiences financial abuse.  They are not two different problems; they are two sides of the same coin.

When you flip the script, it doesn’t get much better.  It is one thing to see the numbers that show when physical violence is present, you can also expect to see financial abuse.  What is even more remarkable is that the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project found that almost 18% “of females married
or living with a partner at the time of bankruptcy filing also reporting domestic violence in the
prior year.”

That statistic is very clear in its wording.  It specifically states, “reporting domestic violence.”  Obviously, not every family that files for bankruptcy is one that is abusive.  Sometimes loving couples face medical bills, unforeseen job gaps, poor financial decisions, or a global pandemic.  Still, knowing that not nearly all domestic violence is reported, especially in a way that would make it easy to calculate in this study, makes that 18% number seems astronomical.

Greed Is Not Good

While it is anecdotal evidence, it definitely rings true.  A bank or financial institution is not a court of law.  These entities exist, in our Capitalist society, to make money.  Whether or not you agree with that, is irrelevant.  It is the framework under which we have to proceed.  Karen testified that she found many banks agreed with her.  She was clearly able to show the chain of events that caused the debt.  The bank has no interest in correcting the situation.  Relief would hurt the bottom line.  The bank also has no authority to come down with rulings.  It would take going through the courts to officially rule that someone has officially broken the law.  Even showing indisputable evidence to a bank that documents contain forged signatures do nothing, because ruling on matters such as these are specifically matters for the judicial system.

Robbins later stated…

“Instead, these companies claim debt amassed through jointly-held credit is the responsibility of both parties, even if one partner had no idea their name was on any given account. The same holds true for credit cards fraudulently opened in the name of one spouse by the other without permission or consent.”

Karen felt that the banks had “revictimized” her through her dealings with them.  

“There is one obvious reform that can be made to address this problem. The Assembly should require financial services companies to offer expedited account review and settlement processes to victims of spousal abuse who provide documentation of forged instruments and similar verifiable evidence proving that account access was fully controlled by the abusive partner”.

Credit Needs to Take Some Blame

The way credit scores dominate almost every aspect of our lives can almost be overwhelming.  Policies are in place at the credit agencies to prevent them from clearing debt accumulated in the ways Robbins has described.  She believes that this also needs to change.  

Robins has some great ideas for ways legislation can ensure that credit agencies aren’t able to continue to aide abusers.

“This problem can be avoided by requiring Credit Rating agencies to expedite a review of
all disputed accounts within 30 days and mandating restoration of positive credit scores for all
victims who provide documentation of forged instruments and verifiable evidence that access
to outstanding bank and credit accounts was fully controlled by the abusive partner.”

A Brighter Future

This story does have a good ending.  Robbins mentioned the Texas law that went into effect, and this Connecticut bill passed, as well.  There are dozens of politicians on the national level who are also fighting for these measures to help all Americans.  

Here at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, our mission is right in our name.  We know that sunlight is the best disinfectant for cases of abuse.  Karen Robbins’ testimony, and the resulting changes in actual policy shows that we can make a difference by just speaking our truths.  

When Robbins spoke with Yahoo Money, she made a chilling statement.  “He always told me that he had the finances covered and would get angry when I asked questions.  So, I stopped.”

He silenced her.  He stopped her questioning.  The abusers will always try to get you to stop speaking out against abuse.  Karen showed us why they do that.  When we speak out against abuse, we can make change.  The name “Karen” has taken on a negative term in the meme world, but here is one situation where it is perfectly acceptable to act like a “Karen.”  When that means emulating Karen Robbins, it is just fine.

References for this blog can be found at:


Conned by My Husband: A Tale of the Long-term Effects of Financial Abuse on Credit Reports

I had never owned a credit card. They were a bit scary and foreign to me with all the different interest rates and spending limits. My parents never taught me about credit, as theirs was very undesirable. I knew getting a credit card could help me build my score, but I was so naïve to it all. My ex-husband was very encouraging of it. He told me we could pay everything off as quickly as we spent it so that there was no interest, and that it would only be used in “emergencies.” He also was excited to think about the possibilities of our future if we could just improve our credit. So, I applied and was approved.

It began nicely. We would use it to buy the little things needed here and there, and then we would pay it off. I didn’t get approved for much because my credit score was low, but it was a start. I felt empowered to finally do something good for my name, like one of those real “grown-up” life decisions, even if I was almost 30 years old. I had a goal in mind after years of just getting by financially, putting my dreams aside for other people, becoming a mom of three, and never feeling like I had achieved the milestones and success I wanted to in life. One credit card gave way to being offered a few more, and I felt like I was in a perfect rhythm of getting my credit on track. 

One day, my ex-husband came into the house acting annoyed and stressed out. After asking him what was wrong, he disclosed that the customer that he was doing work for was late with his payment. The money was supposed to go towards a bill that was due. He looked at me and said, “we are going to have to put it on your credit card.” It was more of a demand than a request. I was not happy about it and felt uneasy, but I also knew that this bill needed to be paid, or we would be in bigger trouble. With reluctance, I gave my credit card information to the company. He promised it would be paid back as soon as the customer’s money came in.

This wasn’t the only time this would occur, and the more bills that were being paid by my credit cards, the less it seemed as though the customers’ money was replacing it. I started getting notices for past due amounts. I was so upset because the plan was to consistently owe nothing so that the interest rate would not be an issue. Now, not only was I in debt for the money spent on the card but the interest that had accrued as well. I looked to my ex-husband and asked where the money was. He didn’t seem to have these fluke issues before, so I didn’t understand why it was happening now. 

It wasn’t too long before all my credit cards were closed out. My credit score plummeted and so did my chances of those milestones that I was chasing. I found out later that the money that he was supposed to pay me back went into his pocket, feeding his drug addiction that I didn’t know about at that time and bad business choices. I also found out that he used my name in other customer dealings. I had one lady who I had never met threaten to try to have me arrested because my bank account was used by him to take her payment for a job that he never completed. He left me owing thousands for money that I never even saw, but because we were married, he got away with it.

I didn’t realize until the end of the marriage that I was a victim of financial abuse. I couldn’t see the ways that he had held me down financially to keep me trapped and use me because he so deviously brainwashed me with tactics of guilt and manipulation. The sabotage only got worse when he could see me starting to exit the relationship. He would start huge fights before job interviews, lie about me to others in attempts to ruin my reputation including with a boss of mine, and steal from me numerous times when I started to make and collect money. He even did this to me after I left during the divorce process as I was homeless with our three children. He didn’t pay back a dime of the debts; in fact, I had a bank come after me legally leaving me no choice but to pay out of my own pocket to avoid being sued. To this day, I am reconstructing my credit from all the damage he did, all while raising our children without his help in any way.

Financial abuse is far more than withholding money from someone. Many abusers will use tactics to manipulate and exploit their partners in other ways that cause long-term damage such as:

  • ruining their partner’s credit
  • using their partner’s social security number to open accounts
  • forging their partner’s signature on documents
  • nonpayment of bills in their partner’s name
  • causing evictions and foreclosures for homes with their partner’s name on the contracts

The victim of this can try to go after the abuser legally or in the divorce agreement; however, this can be difficult to prove if the abuse occurred during the marriage where everything is legally 50/50. By many state laws, either party in the marriage can use funds from accounts even if they are listed with only one name. If it is mediated and agreed upon in the divorce contract, one party can be held responsible for paying the debt, but unfortunately, many abusers will simply not agree to this.

The best defense against further abuse is to change all passwords and means of access that the other party may still be familiar with. In my situation, one random thing that many people may not think about after separation that he did was he added his truck to my car insurance without my permission, so I had to add a password for anyone who tried to call into customer service. He even tried to steal and use my streaming TV service! It’s incredible the lengths that abusers will go to just to try to hurt and profit from their intimate partners. 

The good news is that credit can be restored, debt can be paid, and a victim’s name can be redeemed. Money can be replaced, but lives cannot be. It’s important to know that even if finances are an issue, it’s imperative to try to get out of abuse as quickly as possible before it’s too late. Financial abuse IS abuse, even if that’s the only form of it in the relationship. That can quickly change as seen in many domestic violence cases. Be empowered and take charge of your life in every way. 

I am already starting to see those milestones that I have dreamed about coming to fruition and without the burden of abuse, one step at a time. It all began the day that I got out.

Financial Abuse: A Different Kind of Back-to-School Season

“The greater our knowledge increases, the more our ignorance unfolds.” – John F. Kennedy

Sometimes it can be frustrating to be an ally for those suffering from intimate-partner violence. We can see what is happening so clearly, and we want the victim to see it, as well. It is so obvious to us, because we are looking at the situation through fresh eyes. We can detach from the situation; look at all aspects of the relationship objectively and intellectually; and make what we feel is the only logical conclusion. Our first instinct can be to continue pushing more-and-more, but that sometimes causes the victim to create a bond with the abuser.

This can be even more frustrating when the topic is financial abuse. Many women aren’t even aware that they can be victims of abuse without a punch, slap, or kick. That is why we need to come armed with knowledge. We can be prepared for the exact second that she does realize what is happening to her is abuse.

Back to School

The National Network to End Domestic Violence has teamed up with The Allstate Foundation to create a free, on-line certificate class on financial abuse labeled their “Moving Ahead Curriculum.” The course is designed to be taught by an advocate but contains resources to take the class on your own. This may be a good, free tools for all of us who want to help others escape the situations that we have escaped.

The mission is stated clearly on the website, which offers a myriad of resources. “In addition to helping nonprofits provide critical services for domestic violence survivors, The Allstate Foundation (formerly Purple Purse) offers a variety of tools for the public, concerned friends and loved ones and those experiencing abuse themselves.”

With modules that vary from explaining the basics of financial abuse and progressing through the stages of putting together a financial plan after escaping abuse, we can arm ourselves with information (End domestic violence resources 2021).

Communication Is Key

Most importantly, “The Allstate Foundation Moving Ahead Curriculum” has a conversation guide, which has specifically been designed to assist in talking with a loved one who is stuck in a financially abusive situation (Tips for helping someone experiencing domestic violence 2021).

“No matter what you did, you don’t deserve this.”

Finding that balance in being supportive, while not pushing too hard can be difficult. Learning how to strike that balance can be invaluable to maintaining a relationship with a friend through a tough situation. The point is to be the trusted, and level-headed ally when the situation presents itself.


Those of us who have escaped abusive situations can also have a tendency to get arrogant in our successes. Taking a refresher course isn’t only good for our ability to support others, but it can also serve as a reminder to look at our own lives.

Are we in financially healthy relationships?

It never hurts to look at your own situation. After escaping abusive situations, it is easy to fall back into the same patterns in new relationships. It also is possible to overcompensate. We can be in healthy relationships, but remain so protective of our finances, because of things that happened in the past. Ideally, adult relationships should involve agreement on financial decisions. Reviewing this information can make our relationships better, even if we aren’t in financially abusive relationships (NNEDV and the Allstate Foundation: Help lock out financial abuse 2021).

Trust the Process

Please do not construe this blog as an endorsement of the program. It is just another resource that may be able to help you be a stronger survivor, better ally, and smarter person. This program is in no way affiliated with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. Still, in my experience, the best part of the internet has been the number of free educational resources that have become available with a few keystrokes.

All this month, Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence is going to be spending Domestic Violence Awareness Month to shine a spotlight on financial abuse. We can all make the commitment to learn more about this often-overlooked aspect of intimate-partner abuse. Armed with this information, we can be better prepared to be real allies. Armed with this information, we can adjust our lives. Armed with this information, parents can teach their children how healthy relationships are supposed to look physically, but also financially. How many of you have even thought about having that conversation with your children?

End domestic violence resources. The Allstate Foundation. (2021, July 6). Retrieved from https://allstatefoundation.org/what-we-do/end-domestic-violence/resources/.
NNEDV and the Allstate Foundation: Help lock out financial abuse. NNEDV. (2021). Retrieved from https://nnedv.org/spotlight_on/nnedv-allstate-foundation-help-lock-financial-abuse/

Tips for helping someone experiencing domestic violence. (2021). Retrieved from https://allstatefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/TAF-Convesation-Guide_Final-1.pdf.

Child Support Delinquency: How Financial Abuse Can Continue After the Relationship Ends

She finally had the courage and safety plan in place to leave. It took all she could to muster up both the bravery and funds to take the children and go. She didn’t have much. For so long, she was a stay-at-home mom barely making ends meet because he kept a tight rein on the finances. He didn’t want her to work and always made her feel guilty about leaving the kids with childcare. She put in an application at the local grocery store making just above minimum wage. She knew it wasn’t enough but was hopeful that his child support would help tie the loose ends.

Over the next few months, she was horrified to see that his payment wasn’t coming in the mail. The divorce papers ordered it, yet he was in no hurry to comply. He knew he was one of the thousands of delinquent parents who were behind, that the process would be very long and painstaking for her to try to enforce, and the last thing he wanted to do was hand her money. “She left me, and now she will pay, literally and physically.” Those words frequently crossed his mind as he deviously smirked, consumed with anger and a vengeful heart. In his mind, this was her punishment. Although it was child support, it wasn’t about the kids. This was his way to continue the abuse and control her even after they were no longer together.

Financial abuse is a very common tactic in domestic violence situations. Studies show it happens in 99% of all cases (NNEDV, 2019). When the couple has children together, it can add more difficulty when trying to exit the relationship. If married, the divorce agreement would specify custody and child support terms, although, many settlements are not always followed. If the couple is unmarried, custody and child support would have to be filed to have a legal agreement in place. This can be a source of fear for survivors, as children are often used as pawns by the abuser. As overwhelming as this process can be, it’s easy to see why many victims stay with their abusers much longer than desired simply to avoid the legal battles.

There are many setbacks for survivors who are struggling to get child support payments. Some states have harsher penalties for delinquent parents such as jail time, driver’s license suspension, liens on properties and tax returns, etc., but many others aren’t as strict. Even if the case is filed through the enforcement agency, the Department of Revenue, it is a tedious and lengthy process, all while bills are still piling up for the survivor. If the ex-partner is paid “under the table” or doesn’t file taxes, it can be even more difficult to receive funds, and the process can drag on for years.

Another issue for many survivors is that they cannot afford legal representation to fight in court, to begin with. Many counties have free legal aid and lawyers who will represent survivors at no cost, but with such high demand due to a vast number of victims of domestic violence having little-to-no funds when exiting the relationship, the wait can be prolonged for services. It can feel helpless and discouraging for the survivor, just as the abuser wants.

In the US, each state currently maintains a Domestic Violence Coalition; however, only 20 states have a domestic violence commission, task force, or workgroup, and only one state, South Carolina, includes child support as part of its program. After surveying cases with formal orders of child support, one study showed that 37 percent of custodial parents attested to being abused by the child’s other parent before the child was the age of 3. There are obvious ties to domestic violence and a lack of financial responsibility from the abuser for the children involved, yet we are not seeing our government correlate the two with the statistics listed above. (NCSL, 2021)

Survivors of domestic violence are often left with a tremendous financial burden all while trying to heal from their emotional, mental, and sometimes physical scars. Many will seek government assistance and help from local shelters, but funds can be scarce, especially through COVID. The psychological mind games that the survivor endures just to give their children what they need while the other parent administers the affliction can feel like torture at times. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what the survivor is feeling, what they are going through, and call it what it is: abuse.

As frustrating as the process is, the survivor needs to be informed and empowered as to what they can do in the situation. Holding the abuser accountable is key. For far too long, many victims of abuse are guilted into taking responsibility for their partners, allowing them to get away with their malicious behavior. If money isn’t coming in like expected, it doesn’t mean it will always be that way. The survivor must hold their foot on the gas pedal and not give up the fight. The last thing an abuser expects is for the survivor to follow through and hold them responsible for their actions. They no longer have power if it’s not given to them.

The more child support delinquency and other forms of financial abuse are shed light upon regarding domestic violence, the greater the fight can become against it. For every survivor that is empowered, lives are statistically saved. Financial abuse is a complex but prevalent issue that is just as damaging as any other form of abuse, and it’s time to treat it as such.


National Conference of State Legislatures. (2021). Child support and domestic violence. NCSL. https://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/child-support-and-domestic-violence.aspx

NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2019). Financial Abuse Fact Sheet. NNEDV: National Network to End Domestic Violence. https://nnedv.org/resources-library/financial-abuse-fact-sheet/

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