While the legal system strives to protect individuals who want to divorce their spouses, there are some factors that are difficult to enforce. One clear example is financial manipulation. Spouses can often feel trapped in abusive marriages when they are led to believe that divorce would lead to their financial ruin. A financially abusive spouse might tell their partner that they would “leave them without a dime” if they ever tried to pursue a divorce. 

So, how does financial manipulation actually affect a divorce? How can spouses avoid feeling “trapped” by a financially abusive spouse, and how does the legal system account for this possibility? The financial system is incredibly complex, and it should come as no surprise that this complex system allows spouses to bend it to their will and manipulate their partners. Whether spouses are in the process of a divorce or still married, financial manipulation is a serious issue.

Financial Abuse During the Marriage

A manipulative spouse may take several steps to engage in financial abuse during the marriage. In a sense, these abusive spouses are “setting the stage” for a potential divorce in the future, ensuring that their partner does not have the resources or the freedoms to adequately end the marriage and move forward with their life. There are a number of steps they might take, including:

  • Preventing the victim from working
  • Preventing the victim from continuing their education
  • Barring access to financial information
  • Tightly controlling the family finances
  • Withholding money for necessities in order to maintain a sense of control
  • Hiding assets
  • Demanding receipts for all purchases made by the victim
  • Heavily scrutinizing the spending habits of the victim

Financial Abuse During the Divorce

Assuming that victims work up the courage to actually divorce spouses who are financially manipulating them, the divorce process introduces a number of additional factors. While a controlling spouse might threaten to take certain actions if their partner ever tries to end the marriage, a divorce is when they actually follow through on these threats. Here is what financial abuse might look like during a divorce:

  • An abusive spouse might empty joint bank accounts without warning
  • An abusive spouse might hide financial documents
  • An abusive spouse might transfer funds to hidden bank accounts
  • An abusive spouse might cancel life insurance policies
  • An abusive spouse might intentionally ruin their ex’s credit score
  • An abusive spouse might fail to pay income taxes
  • An abusive spouse might encourage their ex to sign documents without fully explaining them

Why More Protection is Needed

A victim of this abuse can easily be encouraged to back down and resume the marriage during the divorce process. Faced with these actions, a victim could decide that it is better to simply accept the abusive relationship rather than face all of the financial consequences. These victims may be concerned about the financial well-being of their children as well as their own. It is important that courts give these victims a sense of financial freedom while they approach their divorce. These individuals must feel reassured that they can pursue independence while living separately from their spouse and moving forward with their divorce.