Overcoming Economic Abuse
Did you know that economic abuse is a form of family violence?
Section 5(1)(a)(iii) of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (“the Act”) states that family violence is behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour is economically abusive.
Section 6 of the Act defines economic abuse as “behaviour by a person (the first person) that is coercive, deceptive or unreasonably controls another person (the second person) without the second person’s consent in a way that denies the second person the economic or financial autonomy the second person would have had but for that behaviour OR by withholding or threatening to withhold the financial support necessary for meeting the reasonable living expenses of the second person or the second person’s child, if the second person is entirely or predominantly dependent on the first person for financial support to meet those living expenses.”
Some examples that the Act provided are:
- Coercing a person to relinquish control over assets and income;
- Removing or keeping a family member’s property without permission, or threatening to do so;
- Disposing of property owned by a person, or owned jointly with a person, against the person’s wishes and without lawful excuse;
- Without lawful excuse, preventing a person from having access to joint financial assets for the purposes of meeting normal household expenses;
- Preventing a person from seeking or keeping employment;
- Coercing a person to claim social security payments;
- Coercing a person to sign a power of attorney that would enable the person’s finances to be managed by another person;
- Coercing a person to sign a contract for the purchase of goods or services;
- Coercing a person to sign a contract for the provision of finance, a loan or credit;
- Coercing a person to sign a contract of guarantee;
- Coercing a person to sign any legal document for the establishment or operation of a business.
In real life....
We have acted for a number of clients whose spouse/partner was the sole income-earner of the household and the parties relied on the one salary deposited into a joint account that both parties had access to. Just prior to separation, their spouse/partner transferred all/most of the money from the joint account and deposited it into an account in their own name.
Consequentially, the unsuspecting spouse/partner was left with no money/very little money and was in a financially desperate situation as they were dependent on their spouse/partner for money. The perpetrating spouse/partner then had financial control and therefore leverage over the other spouse/partner to force them to agree to an unjust and inequitable settlement.
This is one regular consequence
In these situations, at least 7 days may have passed from the time a person makes an urgent spousal maintenance application to the Family Court/Federal Circuit Court to the time the matter is listed for hearing date before a Judge. Imagine if this happens to you. What would you do in the meantime if you need money? Especially if you have children to feed?
How to reduce the chance of this happening to you
Prevention is better than cure. No one enters into a relationship expecting to separate. BUT you should never say never.
We recommend that every person in a relationship sets up their own personal bank account (that only you are able to access) as a safeguard sooner rather than later in case you need the money for a rainy day - just like insurance but better.
You may or may not choose to tell your spouse/partner about the account. We recommend that you deposit small amounts of money into that account as often as you can. This way, IF you ever separate, you’d have money saved to live on (and take care of your children) whilst you negotiate a property settlement with your spouse/partner.
What to do if you, or someone you know, is a victim
If you are the victim of economic abuse or know someone who is in that situation, please contact us to seek legal advice
You’ll need to have records showing what money has been taken by your spouse/partner to prove your case. Then we’ll discuss taking the matter to a Magistrate/Judge.
A common belief is that if you have no money you are unable to obtain legal advice/take legal action against your spouse/partner. That is not true.
We will be blogging about litigation funding and Barro Orders soon - so watch this space to learn more.
This article provides information that is general in nature and is not a substitute for legal advice.