Around 16 per cent of Australian women experience financial abuse in their relationship. Many of these are stay-at-home mums.

Does your partner have the sole access to money? Do you have to provide receipts for every minor purchase? If this sound familiar, it’s possible you’re being financially abused.

Economic abuse is not widely talked about but it is very real. And just like physical and verbal abuse, the effects are incredibly harmful. So how do you spot the signs and what you can do about it?

What does financial abuse look like?

It’s one of the hidden secrets of our society; almost 16 per cent of Australian women are being financially abused. Is this happening to you?

According to relationship specialist and psychotherapist, Melissa Ferrari, there are many different signs of financial abuse in a relationship. She says the key indicator is when one person controls all the money and won’t allow the other free access to it.

“Having to live off a limited allowance or account for every cent spent is another warning sign. Along with your partner putting all large joint purchases in their name only or having a secret bank account,” she says.

“In the worst cases, some abusers even take their partner’s money and spend it, forbid them to work so they can’t earn their own income. And use the fact they have no access to money as blackmail or a threat.”

Unpaid maid/nanny?

Unfortunately, due to the gender pay gap, women are responsible for the majority of child raising and home responsibilities. This isn’t an issue in many cases. A lot of women prefer to be a stay-at-home mum, rather than being career focused. But it can be a HUGE problem if your partner doesn’t value the work you do.

Some women have zero access to money. They also have no respect or acknowledgement of the exhausting home duties they undertake. These mums are often left feeling completely helpless. Many don’t want to leave because of children. And with no income, they also have no idea how to go about it. In some instances, however, it might be possible to work through this with your partner.

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Making a stand

If you’re a victim of financial abuse, Melissa suggests you seek all the financial support you can get. Also, communicate with your partner openly about finances and set good boundaries around your entitlements to money.

“Writing a list of everything you do around the house and with the children is sometimes a good way to show how much unpaid work you do,” says Melissa.

“It’s also important to stay safe though. Particularly if you’re starting to get stronger about your rights, as this could make your partner angry. So gather support from friends and family as well.”

Communication is vital

To avoid situations like this in the first place, it’s essential for all couples to discuss finances properly before entering a long-term committed relationship. 

“It’s incredibly important to respect that new dynamic and come to an agreement together on how you spend, save and earn money. Clear decisions need to be made on whether you have joint funds and the level of independent discretionary spending you’re both comfortable with,” she says.

“This is especially crucial before large assets or children are involved, particularly if one of you becomes a stay at home mum or dad. When it comes to financing in a relationship, what works best is to be open and transparent with each other, have each other’s back and always put the relationship first.”

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Is it too late?

There are usually warning signs of financial abuse. So in order to protect yourself, don’t ignore the signs.

“If your partner is financially controlling at the beginning of your relationship, address this and try to reach an agreement. People who are like this usually don’t change. However, couple therapy is a good option to try when it comes to financial disagreements, as a third party is involved,” says Melissa.

If the situation is serious enough though, sometimes the only option is to go.

“If you’re feeling unsafe in any way or controlled to a point that it’s affecting your mental health and self-esteem, then you must leave the relationship. Even if you have children and no current income. Financial abuse can often turn into physical abuse,” she adds.

There is help out there

If you’re currently being financially, emotionally or physically abused by your partner and don’t have any family or friend support, there are other ways to get help.

The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service is available for advice and counselling 24 hours, seven days a week on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). Many of the major banks also offer financial assistance programs for victims of domestic violence. You can read more about them here: CBA, ANZ, Westpac and NAB.

You should never have to put up with abuse, no matter what kind it is.


Are you or someone you know having serious relationship issues? Here’s some first-hand advice about what to do if you’re thinking about divorce and tips on how to help someone who’s been a victim of domestic violence.

Author

Susan is a Sydney based writer and mum of three highly energetic boys who keep her firmly on her toes (and slightly bonkers). When she’s not writing or trying to keep it all together she’s probably reading, watching Netflix or having a sneaky massage.

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