Economic independence and financial abuse are deeply intertwined with domestic violence:
• Approximately 94% of those that experience domestic violence also experience economic
• According to the the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 85% of people that have left
an abusive relationship return, and a lack of financial independence is often one of the primary
reasons for returning.
• Some studies have indicated that between 25% and 50% of people in abusive relationships have
lost their jobs – and thus a primary means of financial independence – as a result of abuse.
• Abusive partners often attempt to trap their victims in the relationship through financial coercion,
by running up debt in the victim’s name; draining a victim’s bank accounts; refusing to allow a
partner to have an individual bank account; forbidding a victim from having a job; putting their
partner on a limited allowance; or controlling family finances.
Getting ready to leave
Keep important financial records in a secure location and ready to take with you in an emergency, or keep
them outside of the home with a friend or family member. Bank statements, credit card statements, and
insurance records should be available and easy to find when you leave. You’ll also need documents that
are necessary to open new accounts: drivers license, passport, and social security cards for you and your
If at all possible, open a bank account in your name only in order to create an emergency fund that can be
accessed when you leave. Use a new bank, not a bank that you have any relationships with; a bank that
you have an existing or prior relationship with may be more likely to link those accounts internally and
either disclose the existence of the account to others or grant access to your abuser. In order to avoid
statements and documents being sent to your home, either set up a PO Box or use a friend’s or family
member’s address. Alternately, establish a new email address and have statements e-delivered. It may be
advisable to explain your circumstances to the bank employee that opens the account; that way, they’ll be
able to put a note on the account stating that no one else should be told about it under any circumstances.
If possible, consider opening an emergency line of credit or credit card that you can use only if you have
to leave immediately.
It is also important to understand where you stand financially so that you can begin to plan to leave and
support yourself. If your spouse has been in charge of family finances, it is crucial to gain an
understanding of your assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. A simple list of assets (such as bank
accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, or real estate), liabilities (credit card debt,
mortgages), and income can help you begin to budget for when you’ve left. Additionally, confirm that
bills are up-to-date: late payments on credit cards could make it harder to gain access to credit or bank
accounts after you’ve left. Keep an eye on the mail, and watch for signs that accounts have been opened
in your name (whether your name alone or joint) without your knowledge.
If you are married – and if it is safe to do so – locate any powers of attorney to take with you when you
leave. Spouses typically make each other their agents for financial transactions, which can allow an
abusive spouse to, among other things, access existing accounts or establish credit in your name.
After you’ve left
Secure your financial data: you should create a new email address for financial accounts as well as any
utility and other accounts. Be sure to use a secure password that people you know can’t guess. Ideally, the
password should be randomly generated, but in any event do not use birthdays, nicknames, or addresses.
Change your PIN numbers and passwords for bank accounts, credit cards, lines of credit, utilities and
other accounts. Many providers will allow access with your social security number, so you should explain
to the account provider that there is a security threat and they must not allow any access to any of your
accounts without your express verbal consent.
Change addresses on financial accounts to a PO box if possible. Otherwise, consider using a family
member’s or friend’s address if it is safe to do so. Alternately, discontinue mailed statements and opt for
e-delivery to your new email address.
Secure your income and assets: you should close any joint accounts, whether bank accounts or credit
accounts, and then open a new bank account in your name only if you haven’t already. You should use an
entirely new bank that neither you nor your partner have used before; institutions with whom you have an
existing relationship may link your account internally with other accounts and be more likely to grant
access to others, including the abuser. Credit reporting agencies are required by law to provide one free
report every year; you should obtain yours periodically and be vigilant in reviewing your credit report
to make sure that your former partner is not using your social security number or a power of attorney to
open credit accounts in your name. If you see any fraudulent accounts, report them immediately to the
credit reporting agency and the account provider. In order to build credit, be sure to pay bills in a timely
fashion and start to pay down any outstanding debt.
If you get a restraining order or protection order, talk to your attorney, court advocate, or case manager
about whether you should request economic relief provisions in the order. While the availability and
utility of these provisions can vary greatly from state to state, the court may be able to order support
payments, restitution for damages as a result of abuse, or the use of a residence, and the court may
prohibit the abuser from accessing your accounts or assets. A former partner that violates the terms of the
order may be found in contempt of court and ordered to comply or be put in jail.
Eventually, you should review your existing estate planning documents, and specifically deny your
former partner access to children or financial affairs. Any and all financial and health care powers of
attorney or beneficiary designations naming your former partner should be revoked, and new documents
that expressly deny any rights, powers, or benefits to the abuser should be prepared.
Postmus, J. L., Plummer, S. B., McMahon, S., Murshid, N. S., & Kim, M. S. (2012). Understanding economic abuse in the
lives of survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(3), 411-430.
See, eg: http://www.mmgconnect.com/projects/userfiles/File/DCE-
STOP_NOW/NCADV_Economic_Abuse_Fact_Sheet.pdf [note: I’m not comfortable with the veracity of this statistic and
have seen it contested in other papers, although it’s quoted in numerous resources on this topic.
See, eg: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/domestic-violence/
These can be requested from annualcreditreport.com.