Thursday, 29 September 2016
Financial Abuse is a Form of Domestic Violence
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It is insidious, cloaked in false "protectiveness," a form of bullying, and a precursor to domestic violence. It leaves no bruises, but it hurts, really hurts. It will erode one's self-esteem, enslave them to the one who is supposed to love them, and destroy the victim's spirit, sense of self-worth, the very essence of their individuality. It makes them hopeless and helpless so that they never leave.

Financial abuse is more readily recognized in the mental health community as it relates to elder abuse, rather than spousal abuse. Elder financial abuse is usually about theft. Spousal financial abuse is about control and domination. Control of the money translates to control of the relationship and the other person, in every way. Financial abuse, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, is reported to be present in 98% of all domestic violence situations. In the vast majority of situations, women are the victims of the abuse. These comments will be framed accordingly.

I often observe women whose thinking has been so strongly influenced and twisted that they are not even aware of the abuse and continue to give their power away. They fail to show up for financial planning meetings with their husbands. When they do, they spend the entire meeting motioning for me to "talk to him," and not even listening "because he makes all the decisions." They sign things without even knowing what it is and don't ask. Or, if they do ask, are told to "don't worry about it, just sign it." Then challenged with the all-time follow-up of "Don't you trust me?" The ultimate put-down and shut-up retort that has only one unspoken response.

At some point she may somehow find her strength and seek separation and divorce from the abuser. That is when we usually discover the third mortgage on the house, outstanding personal loans, questionable income tax returns, business interests (and liabilities) in her name, etc., all of which she signed. We discover what may, or may not, be there in the way of savings, investments, retirement accounts, pensions, etc. All of which she now realizes she needs, but knows nothing about.

How does this happen? Here are some signs, in a somewhat progressive order:

  • He says he will pay all the bills.
  • She is expected to turn her paycheck over to him.
  • He manages all accounts, checking, savings, retirement, investment, etc.
  • He makes all financial decisions without discussing with her.
  • She gets an allowance.
  • He checks receipts for everything she buys, even groceries.
  • She needs to explain every check or credit card charge.
  • He makes all large purchase decisions; she has no input.
  • She needs to quit her job.
  • She no longer gets an allowance, only funds for designated purchases.
  • She may no longer write checks.
  • She will not be allowed to return to work.
  • She may not open any mail, even utility bills and solicitations.
  • He threatens to leave her with nothing if she doesn't behave.
  • She needs to wait for him to get home from work to give her money to go buy a headache remedy.

Financial abuse occurs across all social-economic, educational, ethnic and racial groups. It doesn't matter if she is "allowed" to buy hamburger or steak, thrift or designer clothes, fast food or country club dining. If she is financially controlled and monitored while doing it, she is financially abused. Another variation is that of a highly successful career woman, managing millions of dollars of her employer's money, yet does not have control over a single dollar in her personal life.

Reaching a victim of financial abuse requires that she realize that she is a victim and is willing to listen and act on her own behalf, and that she is accessible, given that she is so cut off from many resources and controlled to such a degree. Some ideas for facilitating an escape, while heeding safety concerns:

  • Identify a trusted friend or relative who can assist as needed.
  • If possible, skim small amounts of money from what is accessible, hide it or have someone hold it for you.
  • Get cash back on credit card purchases at supermarket or big box stores, then lose the receipt if necessary.
  • Save any monetary gifts, return gifts for cash.
  • Ask friends and relatives for donations.
  • Sell anything you can, say you donated it if necessary.
  • Say you are volunteering and get a part-time job.
  • Offer babysitting, dog walking, house sitting, wait for delivery or service people, plant watering, etc. services by word of mouth and for cash.
  • Develop a hobby and sell things: printed t-shirts, knit ware, sketches or paintings, jewelry, photography, etc.
  • Work an on-line job with flexibility.
  • Get a secured credit card, or two, in your own name. keep with friend if necessary.
  • Research government assistance services, counseling services, shelters.
  • Have a safe place to go when you leave.

Abuse of any type, including financial abuse, is a dangerous element in a marriage. There is no acceptable level of offense. I believe that anyone who is a victim of financial abuse knows, at some basic level, that it is not right, not ok, and they deserve more. They deserve respect, and to be treated as a partner in this relationship. Anything less is not a marriage, in which case, many difficult questions need to be answered.

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Posted on 09/29/2016 4:03 PM by Rosemary Frank
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Thursday, 1 September 2016
Do You Like Money?
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Since divorce will force you to make the largest financial decisions of your entire life, so far anyway, it is probably a good time to examine your relationship with money. Do you like it? Really? Then why don't you have more of it? These are meaningful questions because, like marriage and divorce, money is something that is highly emotional.

Our relationships with money date back to early childhood and initial experiences with money, be they positive or negative. Think about how money was regarded in your family of origin and how that has impacted you to this day. Maybe money was a taboo topic, maybe it was something there never seemed to be enough of, maybe it seemed to cause all the other problems in your family, maybe there was plenty of it but still caused all the problems in your household.

Let's go back to my original question: "Do you like money?" The likely answer something like, "Of course, everyone likes money!" Then why, when you get some, do you immediately think of what you can buy with it and, thereby, get rid of it? Without promoting miserliness, you will most likely need to learn to embrace money, preserve money, consider money for its future value and usefulness to you, become more responsible with money, and truly manage money. Too often, money manages people, rather than vice versa. Give some thought to your own personal "money story." How might your attitudes towards money have developed or evolved over the years?

As part of a couple, ideally, you may have shared financial responsibilities with your spouse. Maybe that worked, maybe it didn't. In any event, things are changing. In the future, you will be totally responsible for all financial management. Even if you have professional assistance with financial planning and investments, you are still ultimately responsible, and your financial advisor cannot make your decisions for you. A financial advisor cannot invest the money you are spending.

Money is often cited as the number one cause of divorce. Personally, I don't believe it. I think money is used as a weapon of choice for acting out other problems in the marriage. Money is used to control, punish, spite, deny, overpower, deceive, and even falsely reward, or insincerely apologize for all other misdeeds. Think about your own situation. If this describes your experience with money, understand it, own it, and figure out how to change it. This will likely involve some work with your therapist. However, it is necessary that you address these issues if you will be able to change your relationship with money and become financially stable post-divorce.

Your future financial well-being is equally dependent upon your relationship with money as it is upon the settlement terms of your divorce. Your attorney and divorce financial professional are trying to doing their best for you, but it will be up to you to make the settlement work into the future. It is not unusual for recent divorcees to spend irrationally and be impoverished in a few years. This is similar to what we hear is the experience of so many lottery winners. A mature relationship with money is something that must be learned. If you are a person who has been told their entire life that discussions and/or concerns about money should not concern you, then you need to start developing that maturity now and do it consciously.

Several recent examples of money immaturity come to mind. One is a client whose divorce attorney had previously referred to her as "very frugal." I came to understand her money maturity. She was highly responsible with money and had managed to build a sizable marital estate in spite of her husband's lavish spending on himself as well as several paramours throughout the years. She drove a sixteen-year-old car, while husband drove a one-year-old luxury vehicle; she bought her shoes online, while husband had custom made suits, cut to measure, annually. Following her divorce, she did purchase a two-year-old dependable vehicle in spite of friends and family urging her to purchase a new luxury sedan. The wife had money maturity. The husband and friends and family did not.

Sometimes having money does not translate to having money maturity. It is not unusual, and happens often, that persons having, or being beneficiaries of, trust funds really understand very little about what actually belongs to them or may be taken away with a bit of restructuring, if someone else decided to do so. A fellow I recently met with had lived off of a trust fund his entire life, had no idea how much was in it, whether he was living off of earnings or eating his way through principle, and no idea how much longer it might last. His older brother controlled everything. In that family, money was a secret.

Women, in particular, are often excluded from really sharing in the financial management of the family. Our society seems to indicate that such is acceptable. I beg to differ. Some women think they are "sharing" financial responsibility if they are responsible for bill paying, but know nothing about savings, retirement accounts, investments, etc. That means they know all about the money they no longer have (which was used to pay bills), but nothing about the money they do have. They might just as well be in total ignorance and not have been a bill-paying clerk.

At the far lower end of the spectrum are women who are "not allowed" to write a check, appear at the bank, open a utility bill, or even know how much their husband earns. Thankfully, I come to know them because they are in the process of divorcing. I praise their courage and wakefulness, as well as their desire to assume adult responsibilities for their financial well-being.

Wherever you are the divorce process, know that your financial situation is changing, you will be totally responsible for all things financial in your life, you need financial skills to be financially successful, and future financial stability is available to you at any economic level. This is not about being wealthy. This is about being responsible with what you have.

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Posted on 09/01/2016 4:08 PM by Rosemary Frank
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