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'I support victim-survivors of financial abuse. Here's what I want you to know before combining money 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. In an emergency, or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000. 

Financial abuse is a common form of domestic and family violence in our country, with one in four people in Australia having experienced financial abuse from their partner. 

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 of the Financial Independence Hub, funded by CommBank and delivered by Good Shepherd, Louise is an expert in this field, supporting people through financial abuse recovery.

"Research has repeatedly shown around 85 to 90 per cent 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 assist victim-survivors who have experienced it."

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 of domestic violence and financial abuse achieve long-term financial independence.

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As part of the program, the bank has funded Good Shepherd, Australia’s oldest charity working to support women and girls experiencing abuse and disadvantage, to deliver the Financial Independence Hub. The Hub offers free and confidential support to help people impacted by domestic violence and financial abuse establish a pathway to long-term recovery — regardless of who they bank with.

Louise shared with Mamamia four things to consider before combining finances with a partner. She wants people to focus on three key principles: access to money, visibility and choice.

1. 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."

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.

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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. Transparency can be 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."

4. 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. 

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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. 

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

"Trying to get the word out to all members of the community 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 walk alongside them whenever they're ready. Building financial independence after experiencing financial abuse takes time: it's a journey," Louise said to Mamamia

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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 for free and confidential support on 1300 050 150, Monday to Friday, 7am to 7pm (AEST), excluding public holidays. 

In an emergency, or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000. For immediate crisis support relating to domestic violence or sexual abuse, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.  

Feature Image: Getty.

CommBank
CommBank Next Chapter is helping end financial abuse — no matter who you bank with.