Are You Being Financially Abused? How To Protect Yourself & Find Your Way Out

Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over thirty-five years of experience. She’s also a domestic abuse survivor. This affords her a unique perspective on an often ignored component of domestic abuse: financial abuse.

She recently wrote a new book, Breaking Bonds: How To Divorce an Abuser and Heal – A Survival Guide. In it, she gives advice for women to end any relationship successfully–mentally and financially. She offers a roadmap for women to foster self-awareness, self-responsibility, empowerment, and critical thinking so that they can break the cycle of abuse and truly heal to transform their lives.

SDTC: What was your own experience with abuse, and how has that shaped you today?

RL: I had suffered from child abuse, which made me more vulnerable to being victimized as an adult. Constant verbal abuse and hypercriticism completely eroded my self-esteem. I believe that I married him because I was trying to heal my brokenness from childhood. I realized that domestic abuse tends to perpetuate itself, as children who witness or suffer from abuse in the home view that behaviour as normal. It is up to women, still the primary caregivers of children, to break the cycle of abuse.

After my divorce, I needed to find meaning in my life beyond my career and found writing to be very therapeutic. I realized that I had a special skill set that I could use to help other abused women, being a financial advisor with similar experiences to their own.

I began a website to offer free information and resources specifically for abused women. My book on how to divorce an abuser has been a ten-year project in the making. Most divorce books are written by lawyers to address divorce that is not complicated by abuse. My book gives women tools to use during their divorce to minimize stress, deal effectively with their abuser, achieve a better outcome, and begin to heal. I am fortunate in that I was able to use a terrible experience to help other women improve their lives, which is very rewarding.

How prevalent is financial abuse and what does it look like in the context of an intimate relationship?

According to the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), between 94% and 99% of domestic violence survivors also experienced economic abuse. The potential for financial abuse increases dramatically for a woman if she brings assets into the marriage and puts them in a joint account with her spouse, if she is uninterested in their finances and delegates total responsibility to her partner to handle them, or if she is a stay-at-home mother with limited access to the couple’s financial information.

Some abusers demand that the victim quit her job or sabotage her job, prevent her from going to work or to job interviews, demand that all assets be in the abuser’s name, give her just enough money to pay bills as a way of maintaining control, use her chequebook, debit card, or credit card without her knowledge or consent, have her sign financial documents that affect her adversely, refinance mortgages or other loans without her knowledge, use threats to force her to make credit-related transactions, and more.

It is not uncommon for an abuser to drain bank accounts as soon as he becomes aware that a divorce filing is being made. This is typically done to get his victim to drop the divorce filing or agree to unacceptable terms. Other strategies of abusers are to hide assets and financial statements, destroy evidence, remove or destroy personal belongings, squander marital assets, run up substantial debt, bounce checks or fail to pay bills to ruin credit, cancel life and health insurance policies, fail to pay child support and/or alimony, or file frivolous and costly lawsuits against her.

Why is financial abuse so damaging, and why isn’t it talked about more?

Women typically fare much worse than their former partners after a divorce. They earned about 80% of what men did in 2018, and the gap is much greater for women of colour. They also trail men in financial and investor literacy. So they generally are unfamiliar with investment concepts and lack knowledge to make informed financial decisions. Older generations reported less exposure to financial education, according to a multi-year study by FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Women frequently rely solely on the advice of their lawyer, who is not trained to be an expert in investments or taxes, or to make permanent and irrevocable financial decisions for them in a divorce. If mistakes are made, the impact can be devastating and affect them for the rest of their lives. Many educated women don’t talk about the financial abuse they have suffered because they are embarrassed that they didn’t know enough to protect themselves.

If we think someone we love is being financially abused by their partner, how can we help?

The best approach is to ask open-ended questions so that your loved one does not become defensive and shut down. They may be embarrassed, feel shame, or be in denial. Show compassion and encourage them to seek counselling and consult with their own financial advisor and accountant about their suspicions, as the one who their partner uses is loyal to him. Encourage them to bring that person’s copies of bank and financial statements, pay stubs, deeds, and recent tax returns. If a small business is involved, especially one that is a cash business, she may need to hire a forensic accountant.

If we are being financially abused, what steps should we take to get out of this situation?

First of all, don’t alert your partner if you suspect financial abuse. He may hide or destroy evidence and confiscate additional assets. Make copies of the documents listed above and consult with a financial advisor about your suspicions. Also, order a credit report to see what is on it.

If your suspicions are confirmed, move half the cash to an account in your name alone so that he doesn’t leave you without funds if you decide to leave or divorce him. It would be prudent to order a credit card in your name alone, cancel joint cards with a zero balance and freeze the rest. They will remain open until they are paid off, but your partner will not be able to add to your joint debt. In most states, you are responsible for marital debt until the divorce decree is issued. Also, if you signed for a joint card, the credit card company will hold you responsible for that debt if your partner doesn’t pay it, even if he is ordered to by a divorce decree. Many abusers don’t think that they have to play by the rules, so protect yourself. Notify investment firms that joint accounts are to be frozen until the dispute is resolved. Revoke any power of attorney that he has over you at banks and other financial institutions immediately.

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