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No job, no money, no savings…the power of economic abuse

Abuse can take many different forms: emotional, physical, psychological and financial. It usually starts slowly, building up over time, causing the victim to feel more and more isolated, powerless and dominated.

Financial abuse can often be a forerunner to other types of abuse and frequently coexists alongside emotional, psychological and physical abuse.

It can happen to anyone: wealthy people, professional people as well as people living in poverty because it has nothing to do with money. It is all about control and using the money to help make that happen.

Whilst it is believed most victims are women, this behaviour can certainly impact on men with the wife controlling them through financial and other forms of abuse.

To understand these relationships further we asked Phoebe Turner from our London Victoria office to join us on the blog. A highly experienced and respected divorce lawyer, Phoebe has worked on many divorce cases where abuse has been an issue and shares her insight below.

“Sadly, we frequently have cases where wives are financially controlled by their husbands during their marriage. Egregious behaviour is common not just during divorce, but during marriage too.

Some men use their wealth to control and manipulate their wives. This frequently happens during a marriage. Some wives put up with controlling behaviour for decades and only break away from their domineering husbands at a landmark point in their lives. For example, when their children leave school. At this point, they often feel they have “done their duty” and can now think about themselves and put their own needs first. Women then feel empowered to break away from their husbands and divorces often stem from financial abuse within a marriage.

I have had cases where wives are given what their husbands call “pocket money”. Frequently this money is to be used to pay household bills, school club costs, etc and not any money for a wife to cover her personal costs which are then neglected.

Some wives are not allowed funds to have a haircut, buy new clothes or shoes, and are often kept in a state of dishevelment while their husbands are free to spend money on expensive clothes and accessories.

Men can feel empowered by being superior to their wives, aesthetically, as well as financially. These husbands often then criticise their wives for their appearance even when this is a result of their controlling behaviour. The husband is left pulling the strings, with their wives the subservient marionettes.

Sometimes when these wives come to us, they cannot initially afford legal fees. They often borrow money from friends, siblings, or parents until we can secure financial provision for them from their controlling husbands.  Such women do also have the option of applying for commercial or litigation loans so they can have equality of arms when it comes to legal negotiating with their husbands.

Women often feel empowered during and after, a divorce from a controlling husband. One client commented to me that after her divorce she got her life back after years of feeling diminished. The same client sadly then decided to reconcile with her husband and returned to his clutches having escaped momentarily. These are deep-seated issues (some say akin to domestic abuse), that even with counselling/therapy, many wives struggle to overcome.

Even if a husband is not initially the wealthy party, they can still assume the role and use it to control their wives. In one case I worked on, the wife had originally had the wealth (much of which had been given to her by way of inheritance). Her husband persuaded/coerced her to transfer all the assets either into the parties’ joint names or into his sole name by telling her he would commit suicide if she did not. His terrified wife buckled under the emotional blackmail and complied with his demands. He then re-mortgaged the properties and sold their valuables, squirrelling money away to try to keep it out of his wife’s reach. Happily, during the divorce, we were able to uncover these hidden assets and return them to their rightful owner!

Of course, control is not always about finances, and controlling behaviour can permeate all areas of life. I recall a case where the wife used to be sent to bed 20 minutes after her husband went to bed to allow him 20 minutes of “quiet time” before she came to bed. When she went to bed the rules were no talking, reading, or television. Rather oddly his bedtime was 7:10 pm, so the poor wife was required to go to bed no less, and no more than 20 minutes later! The same husband used to change his wife’s online passwords either to make her think she was going mad (gaslighting) or to simply frustrate her (sociopath).

These wives are often abused in other ways (emotionally, physically and psychologically). Some women end up a shell of their former selves after being subject to such abuse.  They often find it difficult to talk to anyone about the abuse during their marriage, and their first opportunity to speak out is when they go to see their lawyer and explain why they wish to divorce.”

Some support

If you are concerned that someone is financially abusing you or are worried for a relative or friend, the Money Advice Service offers help on financial abuse and other financial issues. You can visit the website here.

Further advice on dealing with economic abuse can also be found at the charity Surviving Economic Abuse’s website here.

Get in touch 

For advice on divorce and separation, you can contact Phoebe at the number below or email: [email protected] 

This article was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Phoebe Turner is the managing partner of our London office. She practices a broad range of private family matters, including divorce; complex financial disputes; and injunction proceedings. She frequently deals with complex, high net worth cases involving trusts, business and assets located outside the jurisdiction. Pheobe is the Managing Partner of our London, Bromley and Richmond offices.

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  1. spinner says:

    “Whilst it is believed most victims are women” – We haven’t even touched the surface of the emotional and psychological abuse women routinely inflict on men in relationships. I look forward to society catching up with this and dealing with it with the same amount of gusto it current treats physical abuse.

  2. GJ says:

    “…sadly decided to reconcile with her husband and return to his clutches having escaped momentarily.” Another interpretation might be that they both decided they loved each other, wanted to be together despite everything and fundamentally believed in the sanctity of their marriage vows, so agreed to stay together, saving tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and endless days of sadness.

  3. Abuse says:

    Do the judge pick up on your husband behave were money concerned
    When they walk away and left you with nothing. Hidden money and wife had to beg
    Universal credit payment
    Will the judge class this as Abuse

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