It is all too common for people in New Zealand – especially women – to find themselves with a partner who begins to control them in subtle ways, with that control and other abusive behaviours escalating over time.
Financial abuse is often part of the control that keeps someone trapped by an abusive partner, but there are tools to become financially independent that may help to find a way out.
REDnews spoke to three experts for advice on breaking the barriers to financial independence and how to make a plan to leave an abusive partner safely.
“Look at what you own, whose name it’s under and any debt that’s outstanding,” Westpac Financial Advisor Pam Cussen says.
“Write all of these things down, so that when you have a conversation with a legal professional who specialises in family law, you will have saved time and extra costs on that process.
“This list will also include how much money you earn and what your income will be after you leave the relationship.
“If your partner is abusive you might want to leave the area that you live in, so will this mean you could be out of work for a period of time or could you transfer to a different office within the company you work for?
"If you do work for a company with multiple offices, ask them how your phone number and new address could be protected so that your location is confidential.”
According to DVFREE & Policy Advisor at Shine, Holly Carrington, “Requesting a change in work location, work duties or your contact details held by your employer are all examples of flexible work arrangements.
“You are entitled to request flexible arrangements for up to two months if you are affected by domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Victims Protection Act 2018,” she said.
You can find more information about your rights under this Act here.
Carrington also emphasises that domestic violence may not include physical violence, if there is other controlling and abusive behaviour being used.
“It’s important to plan on speaking to Work and Income about income support if you would need to ask for rental assistance," Pam Cussen says.
“Work out your earnings and ask them what you would be entitled to, depending on your partner’s income as well and if there are children involved.
“If your wage is insufficient to cover your new cost of living, you could look at training programmes to upskill.
“Distance learning could be an option to increase your earning potential,” Cussen says.
Pam Cussen enrolled in distance learning through Massey University after her divorce, to study a graduate diploma and increase her earning ability.
“I had been living in a high-income household throughout my marriage, so I didn’t want to change that.
Massey sent out workbooks for each paper and she attended weekend courses while also working Monday to Friday in her full-time job.
After four years of studying part time she graduated with a diploma in Business Studies in Personal Financial Planning.
“My employer fully supported me studying part time and even reimbursed me for the course fees,” she said.
“Financial abuse is likely to be only one of a number of ways that someone is being controlled by an abusive partner,” says Holly Carrington.
“Without the right planning and support, leaving an abusive partner is likely to increase the risk of being seriously injured or killed,” she said.
You can ring Shine’s Helpline at 0508-744-633 or Women’s Refuge on 0800-REFUGE (733-843) if you need support, information, or referrals to local specialist domestic violence services including kaupapa Māori or specifically for Pasifika or Asian families.
Read more about how Shine’s Helpline may be able to help you here: https://www.2shine.org.nz/get-help/helpline.
Becoming Financially Independent
“I’m a strong believer that everybody, especially women, needs access to funds that they can call their own and which they can use in an emergency,” Director of Westpac-Massey Fin-Ed Centre Dr Pushpa Wood says.
If a relationship is operating with only joint accounts, access to independent funds is limited.
A financially controlling partner might be limiting access to their partner’s own earnings and ability to become independent.
If somebody is in this situation, Holly Carrington advises they speak to their employer on ways to redirect part of their pay into a separate account that their partner is unaware of, so that they can start saving.
If someone’s entire pay is going into a joint account, she recommends changing at least part of it into an individual account.
“Consider reaching out to an organisation like Shine, so that you have support on the emotional and legal end of things and have someone from a domestic violence agency to help navigate all the different agencies.
“We can help advocate on your behalf when you hit barriers,” Carrington says.
Opening an individual account without your partner knowing, might seem like a daunting task.
Pam Cussen recommends keeping that account linked to your work address, not your home address.
“Don’t put the app on your phone for your new individual account and don’t have your mail sent to your home address. Keep things private.
“You have a browser history on your computer which your partner might be looking at as well,” Cussen says.
Shielded sites that have an untraceable browsing history do exist.
The Women’s Refuge site can be accessed through Westpac’s website which allows access while keeping the browser history untraceable.
Google Incognito is also a browser window that erases your browser history, cookies and sessions after closing the window.
“It's a good idea if you can build up an emergency fund for yourself. If your partner thinks you’re going to leave, it might become more difficult,” Cussen says.
“Get your lines of credit on joint accounts taken away so that your partner cannot add on more debt,” Cussen says.
“If you’re still in a relationship, can you get your joint debts repaid as soon as possible?
“A Lending Consultant at your bank can help you with the questions that need to be asked,” she said.
“They can also assess whether you need to take a mortgage holiday or apply for other deferrals while you’re getting on your feet,” she said.
The bank can freeze bank accounts on joint accounts with just one signatory if needed, so that your partner cannot increase debt just before you separate.
The branch would need written confirmation from two people to unfreeze it.
“Once you leave the relationship, it’s important that you limit your debt,” Dr Wood says.
“It can be very difficult and dangerous to leave an abusive partner,” Carrington says.
“If you need emotional or safety support at any time, including after you have left the situation, you can ring Shine’s Helpline or the Women’s Refuge Helpline.
“We can talk to you about services such as Adult and Child Safety Programmes delivered by local providers around the country that may help you and your children to become or stay safe and strong,” she says.
Please contact Shine, Women’s Refuge or a lending consultant at your bank if you need to discuss anything that has been mentioned in this article.