When relationships get more serious, finances are often intertwined. People get married and open joint bank accounts, have joint bills, and own things together. If things go downhill, this can leave some individuals financial stuck in an abusive relationship or, at the very least, stuck in an unhappy marriage. Here is how to protect yourself and your finances if your relationship gets rocky.
What Defines Abuse?
Abuse can be defined as a number of different things and it is not always physical. Any actions taken by your partner to give them power over you can be considered abusive. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abuse includes physical and sexual violence, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation. More often than not, multiple forms of domestic violence can occur at any given time within the same relationship.
Being Financially Stuck vs. Financial Abuse
Being financially stuck in a relationship and experiencing financial abuse are similar but aren’t quite the same thing. Financial abuse tends to deal more with forcing choices, such as career changes. It also means, more likely than not, your partner is tracking every single penny you spend. Financial abuse will also likely mean that you don’t have any accounts of your own. All of the money comes from one place.
Feeling like you are stuck in a relationship because of your finances can be a result of financial abuse, but not always. Maybe your partner is the breadwinner, or maybe you have a lot of joint assets. Whatever the case may be, the things making you feel stuck are never worth sticking out an abusive relationship.
How to Protect Your Finances When Leaving an Abusive Relationship
The hardest part of leaving an abusive relationship isn’t normally leaving. It is finding your independence and realizing you can do it on your own once you’ve left. Here are a few things you can start doing immediately (before or after) leaving an abusive relationship.
- Before leaving, make copies of any important documents you may need. Get copies of tax returns, bank statements, mortgage and loan information, any car titles, pay stubs, receipts, etc. You can snap a photo of them and store them on a cloud account that only you have access to.
- Reach out to your friends and family – anyone that can help you. Whether they let you crash on their couch, or take you to appointments, every bit of help you can get will make a huge difference. Don’t try to go through it alone.
- Open all new accounts and cut financial ties with your partner. Be sure that when you are setting up new accounts that you are not using security questions and passwords your former partner may know or have access to. You want these accounts to be completely your own.
- Start saving money as soon as possible. We all need to have an emergency fund and, since you are starting out fresh, you’ll need some savings to fall back out. Sock away as much as you can as soon as you can.
- If you’re married, start researching and calling attorneys. You’ll want to have good representation in the event your divorce goes to trial. It is also good to have legal advice when you are leaving an abusive relationship.
- Find a financial advisor. Chances are if you didn’t handle money throughout your relationship, you may need some guidance on how to best manage yours. Invest some time into researching and calling around for a financial advisor.
Resources for Leaving
Connect with a victim advocate. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call, email, and even chat online with someone about what you are going through. They can provide you with resources and information to help you get out. You can access their website here or call 1(800) 799-7233.
Statewide advocacy groups are also a good resource. They can help connect you with local advocates. Additionally, the local YWCA has resources to help fight domestic violence and help people who are stuck in an abusive relationship. They have shelters and services available throughout the United States.
Most importantly, remember that being broke or facing financial hardship is far better than staying in an abusive relationship of any kind. With help from professionals, friends, and family you can get past this and create a better, safe, future for yourself.
Financially Starting Over
As mentioned above, starting over and becoming independent is the hardest part of leaving. Starting out with a clean financial slate can be a good thing though. Once you’re out on your own and have taken care of yourself, take these steps to get back on the right track.
- Get a copy of your credit report and work on rebuilding it. Sometimes an abuser may have taken a toll on your finances as well. Maybe they took out credit cards in your name or didn’t make payments the way they should have. Getting a copy of your report can give you a big-picture view of where you stand financially.
- Make a plan for paying off any debts. Once you’ve checked out your credit report, construct a plan for paying off what debts you do owe. If you believe the debts to have been accrued illegally or without your knowledge, consult with an attorney about your options.
- Create a brand new budget. Now that you’re out on your own, you’ll need to create a new budget. This will likely change month-to-month drastically at the beginning but will give you the planning necessary to be financially successful.
- Consider changing jobs. If you aren’t making enough to support yourself, it may be time to consider a job change or finding a way to make money on the side.
After that, get ready to be independent and successful. After everything you’ve been through at this point, the best feeling will be when you sit back and realize you created a life that you love and escaped abuse. There will be no better feeling in the world.
Readers, do you have any additional advice to add? Let us know in the comments below!