For Divorcing Women In Abusive Relationships, Knowledge Is Power
The statistics are staggering. Researchers now estimate that one in four women — 25 percent — has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, and that in the U.S., more than five million women are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends each year.
Compounding the problem, many of these women are unable to break free from their abusive relationships. Why? Because not only do abused women live in constant fear, they also feel powerless. Since their controlling husbands can be extremely secretive about financial matters, women in abusive marriages typically know very little about their family finances or how to establish their own financial independence.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this scenario play out all too frequently: A woman finally takes steps to initiate divorce proceedings only to discover her abusive husband controls all the purse strings — and the house, the cars and everything that’s in the portfolio, too. She’s left with very few options, and if that wasn’t difficult enough, when there are children involved, the circumstances become infinitely more emotional and more complex.
But abused women don’t have to feel hopeless. They don’t have to feel trapped, with nowhere to turn.
Over the years, I have been retained by several women who have managed to get the professional support they need to break free from their abusers and eventually, start new lives grounded in secure personal finances. Yes, it can be done — but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
Clearly, women ending abusive marriages need to take all the same financial steps that any woman going through a divorce needs to take. However, in most cases, each one of these steps will be exceedingly more complicated (and potentially dangerous). For example, as I have already mentioned, an abused woman may not have discretionary access to marital funds, and her controlling husband may demand a precise accounting of every penny spent from a checking account or on a credit card.
If you’re in a relationship where you feel powerless, please know that there are specific actions you can take to begin to secure your finances. If it’s possible to do so safely, you should:
- Get a post office box so you can receive mail privately.
- Establish a place outside your home where you can keep copies of all your important paperwork, including bank statements, social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates and documentation of jointly held assets.
- Set up a “secret” email account to communicate with divorce professionals. Use a public computer. A controlling or abusive husband might install spyware on home computers and even smart phones.
- Open a bank account in your own name and start squirreling money away. If you can, transfer all of your assets (paycheck, savings, etc.) into a separate bank account.
- Change all your PINs to ones that can’t easily be identified.
- If possible, remove your name from all joint debt so you will be protected from having to pay for anything incurred after you leave.
- Obtain a credit card (or preferably several). Contact credit card companies and explain your situation. Send them copies of any court orders, since such extenuating circumstances may help you qualify for a credit card.
- Acquire a pre-paid debit card. These are available at many local retailers, and for a small fee, you can load it up with as much money as you want to have on it.
- If necessary, ask relatives for a loan to hire an attorney and other divorce professionals.
Of course, any discussion of financial matters may seem immaterial if you or your children are in physical danger. If you are in an abusive relationship, first and foremost, please seek help. There are community-based organizations, private counselors and therapists and other professionals who can offer you immediate assistance.
Then, once your safety is assured, turn your attention to financial matters, and remember as Francis Bacon famously proclaimed, “Knowledge is power.” His words are as true today as they were when he said them some 400 years ago. Once you have the backing of solid information and a strong team of competent professionals, you can begin the divorce process and start down a path toward independence and a secure financial future.