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'I support victim-survivors of financial abuse. Here's what I want people to know before combining finances with a partner.'

CommBank
Thanks to our brand partner, CommBank

This post deals with financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence, and might be triggering for some readers.  

Financial abuse is a common form of domestic violence in our country.  

Research by CommBank and Deloitte estimates that in 2020 alone, the direct cost of financial abuse to victim-survivors was $5.7 billion. But financial abuse doesn't just have a monetary impact. It can also have a long-term impact on overall wellbeing. 

And someone who has seen this first hand is Louise Allwright. 

As the National Program Manager for Good Shepherd’s Financial Independence Hub, Louise is an expert in this field, supporting people through financial abuse recovery.

"More than 600,000 Australians experienced financial abuse in 2020, which is an enormous figure," Louise said to Mamamia

"Research has repeatedly shown around 85 to 90 percent of people who seek assistance with domestic and family violence have also experienced financial abuse. Fortunately, we as a society are becoming more aware of what financial abuse looks like and what we can do to help victim-survivors who have experienced it."

Watch: What is financial abuse? Post continues below.

While people have some understanding of this form of abuse, Louise hopes that we will come to understand the ongoing repercussions as well. 

In 2020, CommBank launched Next Chapter to help victim-survivors achieve long-term financial independence. 

As part of the program, CommBank partnered with Good Shepherd to establish the Financial Independence Hub, which provides free specialist one-on-one financial coaching and helpful tools to those recovering from financial abuse – regardless of who they bank with.

Given Louise works directly with victim-survivors every day, she understands just how overwhelming and stressful your finances can be after experiencing abuse and coercive control. 

With this in mind, Louise shared with Mamamia five things to know before combining finances with a partner. And she wants people to remember these three key principles: access to money, visibility, and choice. 

1. Remember it's your choice whether you wish to combine finances with a partner, not a prerequisite of a relationship.

"I think it's important that people know that sharing finances is a choice," Louise said. "You don't have to do it. It's not a requirement of being in an intimate or long-term relationship to share money: it's actually a choice you can make."

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Many of us have been socialised to think we must share our money with our partner, and for generations before us, it was the norm to combine finances without a second thought. But now, we need to know that the decision of shared finances is completely personal.

As Louise said: "Thinking about sharing finances is bespoke and unique to you and your partner or family and what works for you."

2. Establish a sense of trust and transparency.

Trust and transparency are key to all relationships, whether romantic or platonic. And the same goes for partners deciding to share their finances. 

"This is another aspect of 'choice'. Knowing that if six months down the track, you say to your partner 'I don't like this arrangement anymore, this doesn't feel good for me', they will accept your decision and act on it," Louise said to Mamamia.

Having open conversations is also key, Louise said.

"You always have the right to change your mind, and being transparent about money is in fact really healthy. And I think that's what separates a healthy financial relationship from an abusive one."

3. Set clear boundaries and expectations.

Another key factor is setting clear boundaries and expectations prior to creating shared funds.

"Clear conversations around money at the start, middle, and/or end of a relationship is important," Louise said. "Agree early on what is in and out of scope, if you have similar financial values, and what is a shared expense versus an individual expense."

Image: Getty.

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4. Always have some of your own money in a separate fund.

This is ideally something every person should consider doing, Louise noted.

"Choosing to share money can be done on a scale that works for you. So you can be all in, and that's fine, but it's always safer to have some of your own money kept separate. This helps ensure financial independence, and if the relationship does break down, you always have some amount of money to access. And this is a key component of financial wellbeing," she shared.

Something to consider is creating both a joint account and a personal account. The joint account would have both parties deposit money for pooled resources like rent, bills, petrol, things to do with shared children, groceries or mortgages. 

"For example, in a relationship you might have your shared account and then two separate individual accounts which you take from for personal expenses or nice treats," Louise said.

But transparency around such decisions is important: as well as a level of autonomy. 

5. Power and control should be with both individuals: not just one.

This is arguably one of the most important points to consider: ensuring each person in the relationship has autonomy over money, not just one. 

"Shared power and control are crucial. Even if you aren't necessarily 'interested' in finance, having access and knowledge is important: for example access to passwords, login details, bank accounts, credit cards and more," Louise said.

Ultimately, keeping a track of joint finances together is the goal. Red flags to look out for include a partner restricting your access and control over money.

"Some of the signs of financial abuse are often hidden in the construct of a safe and trusting relationship. Let's say for example, one partner says to the other, 'don't bother reading this document, just sign it and I'll deal with it' or 'this will just go over your head, I've got it covered'. It is this sort of language that many victim-survivors are told by the perpetrator," Louise explained. 

It's also important to recognise that not every financial abuse victim-survivor's experience looks the same. It isn't always just women working hard in the home and looking after the kids, while their partner is restricting money. Louise also often sees cases of women working long hours in tiring jobs, only for their partner to control that money too. 

Simply put, financial abuse can affect anyone and everyone. 

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However, some groups in society are more vulnerable, given their increased experiences of disadvantage and exclusion, including First Nations and LGBTQI+ communities, people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, and people living with a disability. 

"Trying to get the word out to all members of society is key. It's really important that we include these groups in the way that we talk about financial abuse, in the examples we provide and in the advocacy we do."

Ultimately, financial abuse isn't linear. Nor is recovery. But there are lots of resources available, like the free and confidential support offered by the Financial Independence Hub at Good Shepherd. 

"What we also see are people coming to the Hub for support at varying times: some during the relationship, six months after the relationship or even years later: we are available to guide them whenever they're ready. Building financial independence after experiencing financial abuse takes time: it's a journey," Louise said to Mamamia

Of course as a society, there is always more we can do to champion victim-survivors and help put an end to financial abuse. And as Louise noted, it comes down to financial literacy and education in our families, communities, schools and from a systemic level too. 

Fortunately, there are services available to those impacted by financial abuse to empower them to get to a brighter financial future, including financial coaching, confidence building, money management techniques and help to achieve financial goals.

"There is such a greater level of awareness, understanding and empathy compared to years prior. Plus the people who co-designed the Financial Independence Hub have lived expertise in this area: they understand what victim-survivors have been through first hand, so people know it's a place to come where you can feel safe," Louise said. 

"I want people to know: you are not alone, the Financial Independence Hub is here to assist you, and recovery from financial abuse is possible."

If you have experienced financial abuse and are ready to plan for your future, contact the Financial Independence Hub on 1300 050 150.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature Image: Unsplash/Mamamia.

CommBank
Since 2015, CommBank has developed a clear vision for its role in addressing financial abuse and supporting customers impacted by domestic and family violence. Through CommBank Next Chapter, the Bank has launched a range of initiatives, partnerships, and support services to help victim-survivors build their long-term financial independence. To find out more about CommBank Next Chapter, visit commbank.com.au/nextchapter