By Sarah Bancone
How are personal finances related to domestic violence?
Linda (not her real name) is a NYLAG client who separated from her abusive husband right before the pandemic. Through an informal arrangement, her husband continued to pay for the family’s bills and buy groceries for his children. When he delivered groceries one week, an argument started that resulted in Linda’s husband punching and kicking her, the neighbors calling the police, and ultimately, the husband getting arrested. In retaliation, Linda’s husband cutoff financial support and ended his children’s cell phone and data plans, which they relied on for remote learning.
More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Research, as well as NYLAG’s experience advocating for survivors, has established that Linda’s situation is not unique: domestic violence is often accompanied by financially controlling or retaliatory behavior.
What does a stable financial relationship look like?
Like with Linda’s husband, one way that someone with a pattern of abusive behavior might control their partner is by cutting off cell phone plans or financial support. Financial abuse occurs when one partner controls the other’s ability to obtain, use, and maintain financial resources. Common examples of financial abuse occur when one partner does not allow the other to work or have savings or uses their partner’s identity to open credit cards or loans without permission.
In contrast, healthy financial relationships happen when both partners have access to financial information and money, regardless of if one partner earns more. Honesty and communication are key. People in healthy relationships have mutual respect for each other when it comes to financial decision making.
What steps can you take if your partner exhibits a pattern of controlling financial behaviors?
If your partner has a pattern of controlling financial behaviors, protect yourself with knowledge. Begin by collecting your financial information and documents so that you know what assets (like bank accounts and 401ks) and liabilities (like credit card debt and mortgages) you and your partner might owe. It is also important to keep personal identification information in a safe place. For example, you might keep copies of Social Security cards, marriage and birth certificates, bank and credit card statements in a safe deposit box or with a trusted family member.
If this sounds overwhelming, there are resources in New York to support you, including NYLAG’s domestic violence attorneys et financial counselors. NYLAG’s staff members are trained to manage challenging situations and can give you information and advice if you have questions or uncertainty about your specific experience.
How can you support to help victims of domestic violence?
Some victims of domestic violence choose to flee their partner who has been abusive, which can create new financial challenges. One way to support victims through these hardships is with proposed New York State Bill (S7157 / A6207A). This legislation would allow victims of domestic violence to be released from utility, phone, and television contracts at a location they have fled instead of saddling victims with fees for services that they are no longer using.
This bill has already passed in the New York State Senate but not the Assembly. If you support this law, consider reaching out to your New York State Assembly Member, sharing this post with your friends and family, and expanding the conversation to support this type of meaningful legislation today.