Financial Abuse and Divorce

Financial Abuse
Financial Abuse

What Is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse, also referred to as economic abuse, is a form of domestic abuse where one intimate partner controls the other’s ability to access, obtain or use any of the family’s financial resources. The ability to access the family’s economic resources is controlled only by the abuser who may even prevent or limit the victim’s ability to earn their own money.

Financial abuse is one indication of an abusive relationship because the victims feel helpless and they become completely dependent upon their partner for financial survival, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to other forms of abuse. As with other types of domestic abuse, financial abuse diminishes, if not completely eliminates the victim’s independence and autonomy.

Financial abuse is subtle, happens slowly over time, and can include the denial of access to personal information, savings accounts, chequing accounts, credit cards, debit cards, financial documents, and restriction to any access to money.

The abuser may also question you with respect to your purchases, blame you for spending too much money or make you second guess the purchases that you deem necessary regardless of if you earn an income on your own and are using solely those funds.

Are You A Victim of Financial Abuse?

If you are unsure if you are in an abusive situation, here are some indicators that may help you determine whether you’re a victim. Do you feel financially controlled by a family member or intimate partner? Have you been discouraged or prevented from getting a job, making your own money or making your own financial decisions? Have you been forced to quit a job for reasons that you don’t agree with? Have you been forced to sell assets or sign documents without being given a choice? Has your partner stolen money from you or taken money without your permission or consent? If you or someone you love can answer “yes” to any of the above questions, then keep reading.

Do you require permission or do you have to justify the costs of essential items such as the food and clothing you buy? Does your partner pay the bills and fail to provide you any information regarding your family’s financial situation? If you or someone you love can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then help is available. Please keep reading.

Financial abuse is long term and can include forcing someone to sell property or assets, pressuring someone to sign legal or financial documents, including a will or Power of Attorney.

Financial Abuse and Divorce

Is This Really Considered A Form Of Abuse?

YES! The About Family Violence page on the Government of Canada’s website includes financial abuse in its definition of domestic violence. Financial abuse falls into this category because it involves a power imbalance that is used to harm a family member. In fact, The 2021 Divorce Act amendments for the first time, recognizes and includes family violence in the determination of a child’s best interests. What does this mean for your divorce?

The Amended Divorce Act defines family violence as: “any conduct, whether or not the conduct constitutes a criminal offence, by a family member towards another family member, that is violent or threatening or that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour or that causes that other family member to fear for their own safety or for that of another person — and in the case of a child, the direct or indirect exposure to such conduct — and includes:

(a) physical abuse, including forced confinement but excluding the use of reasonable force to protect themselves or another person;
(b) sexual abuse;
(c) threats to kill or cause bodily harm to any person;
(d) harassment, including stalking;
(e) the failure to provide the necessaries of life;
(f) psychological abuse;
(g) financial abuse;
(h) threats to kill or harm an animal or damage property; and
(i) the killing or harming of an animal or the damaging of property”

The court now has an obligation to take into account the seriousness and frequency of the family violence and when it occurred, whether there is a pattern of behaviour that is coercive and/or controlling, whether the violence was directed towards the child or if the child was directly or indirectly exposed to it, the physical, emotional and psychological harm or risk of harm to the child, safety concerns, and any steps the abuser has taken to prevent future violence from occurring.

Financial Abuse And Other Forms of Abuse

While financial abuse alone is traumatic and has long term effects, studies show that those who are physically and psychologically abused are much more likely to be financially abused too. Financial abuse is a very powerful and effective manipulation tool to keep a victim trapped in a powerless and imbalanced situation. This is part of the reason why financial abuse must be taken very seriously. Safety planning is necessary so you stay safe. Coming up with an exit strategy is imperative.

Family and Divorce Lawyer

Help Is Available

If you feel that you are the victim of financial abuse or any form of domestic violence, you’re not alone. Help is available. Get help if you are experiencing violence is a provincial resource link to assist you. If you fear for your immediate safety, call 911 or your local police.

Hummingbird Lawyers LLP is here to help and support you through your divorce process from step one, right through to the end. Our compassionate, caring and strategic team of lawyers will walk you through your divorce process and ensure that your legal rights are well-protected. Contact our office for more information on how we can help you with your family law matters.

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Adina is an Associate Lawyer working in Hummingbird LLP’s Family Law Department.

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