Latest Family Law Insights

What is Financial Abuse?

First Published: December 15th, 2020 and Updated July 1st, 2021

Domestic or family violence comes in many forms. Financial abuse is one form of domestic violence that individuals can be subjected to, sometimes without even knowing.

Financial abuse is when a person uses systematic coercion to control another person’s access to money or assets.

Financial abuse, also known as economic abuse, is a form of domestic violence. Domestic or family violence is more than physical violence. It extends to include any form of violence, abuse or intimidation between people who are, or have been, in an intimate relationship.

Domestic or family violence is characterised by the use of these things to control and dominate another person. Financial abuse occurs between intimate partners when one controls or manipulates the other person’s access to finances, assets and decision-making to create dependence and control.

A recent study undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 15.7% of women and 7.1% of men had experienced economic abuse or a form of financial abuse in their lifetimes. The study also found that 63% of women who were experiencing high financial stress and 24% of women with a disability or long-term health condition had a history of economic abuse, compared to the population average of 15.7%.

What is Financial Abuse

Examples of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is often described as a “hidden” form of domestic or family violence, camouflaged by its subtle occurrence. However, this hidden nature does not diminish the impact nor the prevalence of financial abuse in our society.

Below are examples of commonly recognised financial abuse:

  • Restricting access to bank accounts;
  • Completely controlling finances and money;
  • Forbidding a partner to work;
  • Taking a partner’s pay and not allowing them to access it;
  • Providing an inadequate allowance or monitoring what a partner spends money on;
  • Preventing a partner from getting to work by taking their keys or car;
  • Using a partner’s credit card without their permission;

Other Relationships Where Financial & Economic Abuse Can Occur

There are many other kinds of relationships, where family members or people you know can use coercive powers to engage in financial abuse against another person.

Family Law in Victoria defines financial abuse as a form of domestic and family violence if a person is using coercive powers to control the economic circumstances of another person.

Financial abuse is not confined to marriage or de facto relationships. If you are in any relationship and feel financially coerced and controlled by a person, regardless of whether the person is a family member or not, you may be experiencing financial abuse.

Other forms of economic abuse emerge in many different kinds of relationships and other family or non-family members. For example, you could be experiencing other types of financial abuse that is also found between:

  • Parents and children;
  • Relatives and children;
  • Carers and people with disabilities;
  • Adult children and elderly parents;
  • Adult children and family power of attorney disputes;
  • A person who is closely connected (like a family member) with another person or someone who can influence the actions of the other person – directly or indirectly.

Recognising the Signs of Financial Abuse

There are many signs of financial abuse that may seem at first as normal behaviour in a relationship. However, you may be experiencing subtle forms of financial abuse that affects your economic and psychological wellbeing.

Signs of a financially abusive person can seem like a minor issue at times and go unnoticed. Nevertheless, financial abuse can be very subtle and damaging to a person if it’s not addressed and prevented.

Signs of financial abuse you need to be aware of:

  • Withdraws money from your bank account without your knowledge;
  • Uses your credit card without permission;
  • Hides bank account statements regarding their spending;
  • Is spending rent or mortgage money on other items;
  • Selling your personal belongings or property without permission;

Economic abuse is a form of intimidation and coercion against your will. You may also be placed under pressure to sign documents that put you in a position where you are liable to pay back debts or sign financial documents you don’t understand. For example, financial abuse occurs when:

  • A person forces you to take out a loan in your name;
  • Is forging your signature on legal or financial documents;
  • Pressures you to change your will;
  • Is asking you to make them enduring power of attorney over your will;
  • Is not acting in your best interests as your power of attorney;

Many people that are experiencing financial abuse are also experiencing a form of psychological abuse and intimidation. You may be asked to sign documents against your will and threaten physical harm if you don’t comply with the other person’s demands. Threats and intimidation can be in the form of:

  • Questions or punishes you for your spending;
  • Threatens you with restrictions on family or friends if you don’t give them money;
  • Threatens you with physical violence if you don’t give them money;
  • Tells you they don’t trust you with your own money and how you spend it;

What Can I Do if I Am a Victim of Financial Abuse?

If you plan to leave your partner and believe you are the victim of any form of domestic or family violence, it is essential to make every attempt to plan an exit strategy before you leave. This strategy should take into account your support networks, your financial assistance, and your physical protection.

The following organisations can assist if you find yourself in a situation of family violence:

If you need advice regarding separation or are concerned that you are a victim of financial abuse, please contact our experienced family violence lawyers on 03 9070 9839 or

Make An Appointment To Speak With a Lawyer

Charlotte has a Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Arts majoring in Sociology from the University of Melbourne, and was admitted to practice in March 2019, working exclusively in family law since this time.