Domestic abuse is defined as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour.

It can take many different forms, such as coercive control, psychological or emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, online abuse or financial or economic abuse.

Anyone can be the victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or socio-economic status. In the year to March 2023, approximately 1.4 million women and 751,000 men aged 16 years and over experienced domestic abuse.

The charity ManKind Initiative states that 1 in 7 men will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime. The charity Refuge states that 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.

This means that domestic abuse is extremely common in the UK, but there are lots of options for help and support out there, as our Family Solicitors will go on to explain.

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The different forms of domestic abuse

Coercive control and controlling behaviour  

Coercive control is an act, or pattern of acts, of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation used to harm, punish or frighten the victim and makes the other completely dependent on the perpetrator.

The perpetrator will isolate the victim from any other support, remove the victim’s independence and make it practically impossible for the victim to leave or live an unregulated life.

The perpetrator may also control the victim’s finances and dictate how much the victim can spend (if at all) – this is discussed in further detail below.

Physical and sexual abuse 

This type of abuse is what most people think of when they think about domestic abuse. It involves the perpetrator physically harming, injuring, or restraining the victim or using violence against property or items in the victim’s presence.

Sexual abuse includes the perpetrator forcing the victim to engage in a sexual act or sexual intercourse with them or other people, physically hurting the victim during sex or dictating or sabotaging the victim’s use of contraception.

Psychological/emotional abuse 

This is a non-physical abuse that can occur alongside other types of abuse and involves the perpetrator carrying out behaviours that control, isolate or frighten the victim and often cause the victim to lose their self-esteem and confidence, such as name-calling, shouting, threats or insults.

Online abuse 

This form of abuse involves the perpetrator monitoring the victim’s social media, emails, texts and tracking the victim’s location. It can also include sharing intimate photos or videos without the owner’s consent.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse can include the following actions or behaviours by the perpetrator:

  • restricting the victim’s access to bank accounts or money;
  • putting assets in their sole name to the exclusion of the victim;
  • putting or transferring debt into the name of the victim;
  • preventing the victim from attending employment, college or university;
  • adding their name to the victim’s bank account without asking or telling the victim;
  • monitoring the victim’s spending habits or asking for explanations or evidence of certain (or all) expenditures.

The recent case of Richard Spencer, who suffered 20 years of abuse from his wife, demonstrates the reality of financial abuse. In conjunction with horrific, prolonged physical and emotional abuse, the wife, in this case, also pressured Richard into taking out loans for holidays, thereby dictating how he managed his finances.

She also refused to pay her share of the bills as a form of punishment against Richard, meaning he would have to pay the balance from his own money.

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Are economic abuse and financial abuse the same thing?

Whilst these two types of abuse are very similar, financial abuse is an element of economic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 defines economic abuse as “any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on another person’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or obtain goods or services.”

Economic abuse involves a wider restriction on the victim’s financial lifestyle, for example, by not allowing the victim to work or study, spend their earnings, or manage their own finances in the way they would want to.

However, the specific definitions of economic and financial abuse do not inhibit or restrict a victim’s ability to seek help and support to regain control of their finances and leave the abusive situation.

It does not matter whether the abuse is defined or described as economic or financial; if someone else is controlling or dictating your finances, then this is abuse, and there is help and support out there.

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What are the psychological effects of financial abuse?

Financial abuse leaves the victim without financial freedom or independence. They may never receive or have the ability to spend their salary, or they may not be able to work and earn a living at all.

They may be under constant surveillance and live in fear of being questioned about their spending, told what to spend their money on, or may not have any control over their finances at all.

This can significantly impact the victim’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth and independence.

Financial abuse can occur during financial proceedings in divorce cases. It may be that one party to the divorce is lying about their financial situation or their own finances, or even perhaps restricting access to joint bank accounts or financial information.

Issues can also arise where one party has been financially abusive during the marriage and, upon divorce, the other party has no knowledge of the matrimonial property or finances, and financial disclosure becomes extremely difficult.

The perpetrator may continue to hide financial property and be cooperative when providing financial disclosure.

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What can I do about financial abuse?

Any form of abuse in a marriage or relationship, whether financial or otherwise, is not acceptable.

If it is safe to do so, contacting a solicitor on your own to commence divorce proceedings is the first step on the journey to leaving the abuser. Our family team can advise you as to how to protect yourself against any further abuse.

If there is evidence of financial abuse during existing financial proceedings on divorce, we can assist you to issue court proceedings. The court will set a timetable and both parties will be court ordered to provide details of their financial circumstances.

Specific steps that someone can take now to prevent or stop financial abuse include:

  • Checking your credit score to see whether any debts exist and in whose name;
  • Creating a separate and private fund that the perpetrator is unaware of;
  • Changing PIN number or online banking passwords (if it is safe to do and this would not elicit an abusive reaction);

Seek help and support from organisations that specialise in domestic abuse advice, such as:

  • Refuge – 0808 2000 247 open 24 hours a day. Live chat is open Monday-Friday between 3 and 10 pm;
  • Women’s Aid or Men’s Aid;
  • ManKind Initiative – 01823 334244 open Mon-Fri 10 am to 4 pm

If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you cannot speak and are calling on a mobile, press 55 to have your call transferred to the police.

If financial abuse occurs as part of wider domestic abuse, you have the option of applying to the family court for the following protective orders:

  • Non-molestation order

This prohibits the perpetrator from molesting or threatening the victim or a relevant child.

  • Occupation order

This grants the victim the right to occupy a dwelling house and can also exclude the perpetrator from an area around the home.

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Contact Our Family Law Solicitors

There are options and support services to help you leave an abusive situation and regain control of your life and your finances. If you would like help in beginning this process, then please get in touch with Myerson's Family Law Solicitors for an initial chat:

0161 941 4000