Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse that can often fall under the radar. This form of abuse often coincides with other forms of domestic abuse and can leave victims feeling isolated, financially insecure and unable to leave an abusive relationship. Family Solicitor Samantha Chase and Trainee Solicitor Rosanna Drinkhouse discuss what financial domestic abuse is and how a solicitor can help:
What are the signs of financial domestic abuse?
Financial domestic abuse can be where a perpetrator takes away a victims access to money, manipulates and coerces their financial decisions, or uses their money without consent.
There are various signs that family, friends, colleagues or professionals can be alert to such as: unexplained withdrawals from a bank account, unusual activities in bank accounts, increased debts, unexplained shortage of money, reluctance by the perpetrator to provide basic essentials such as food and clothes to the victim, a victim having to ask permission to spend money or have access to money or a victim being pressured or manipulated into purchases, loans or disposal of their assets. A victim being excluded from financial decisions entirely or being ‘signed up’ to financial obligations but having no idea what it is in relation to.
Are victims of financial domestic abuse or coercive control protected in the law?
Victims personal safety can be protected by way of seeking injunctive orders from the Court under the Family Law Act 1996. If the victim and their perpetrator are living in the same property an occupation order could be sought so that the victim remains in the property to the exclusion of the perpetrator for a specified period of time. A non-molestation order could also be sought to prevent or limit all contact between the victim and perpetrator.
It may also be appropriate that any fraudulent activity or abusive behaviour is reported immediately to the police to investigate fully under the jurisdiction of criminal law.
If the perpetrator and victim are married, applications can be made by legal practitioners to ensure that victims financial positions are protected and the perpetrator is prohibited from disposing or hiding financial assets pending conclusion to negotiations or financial remedy proceedings. Applications for Maintenance Pending Suit can also be sought to ensure victims have funds to monies from the perpetrator pending conclusion of financial applications. If children are involved then the person with care can seek an assessment for child maintenance if payments cannot be agreed.
If my partner has taken out debts in my name without my permission, could I be held liable to pay these back?
If your partner has used your personal information to accrue debt in your name without your permission, this could be considered illegal fraudulent activity. It may be appropriate that this is reported to the police to investigate.
You should also immediately contact the credit companies and explain the circumstances.
I opened a joint bank account with my partner to pay household bills, but they have transferred all their personal direct debits to this account and drained much of the money I had in there. Is there anything I can do?
Unfortunately, both parties to the joint account have full access to the balance and can use the funds without the other’s consent, including paying personal debts.
Discussing the purpose of the joint account and what the funds will be used with your partner is a good first step, but if you cannot agree, a trained mediator can also support you.
If you would like more control of how to account is used going forward, you should consider speaking to your bank about the account. Your bank may be able to freeze the account or change the way payments are approved, such as requiring both account holders to approve all transactions. If you are going to have the account frozen ensure that you have a new account set up in your sole name and move your direct debits over to that account.
Ultimately you are both jointly and severably liable for any overdraft on a joint account. When setting up a joint account it may be sensible to instruct your bank that an overdraft can only be taken out with joint consent.
My spouse has built up considerable debts in both our names and I feel trapped. How can a solicitor help a victim of financial domestic abuse?
You are responsible only for debts in your sole name and debts in joint names. You are not responsible for debts solely in your spouses’ name. If your spouse does not pay for a joint debt, you will be liable for the full amount.
Solicitors can help by support you through this difficult time and by providing practical guidance about financial arrangements if you choose to separate. Taking advice on your situation is the first step so that your solicitor can offer sensible practical advise on how to separate taking into account any financial vulnerabilities.
Is legal aid available for victims of financial domestic abuse?
Yes, there is legal aid available for victims of financial domestic abuse. You can find more information here.
How can we help at Ellisons?
At Ellisons our experienced Family Law Solicitors provide a bespoke service recognising that a breakdown in family relationships can involve complex emotions. With our experience, we can guide you through a dispute in a sensitive but effective way to ensure an appropriate outcome. Contact Ellisons’ specialist Family Law Solicitors today on 01206 764477 or email us at [email protected].