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Economic Abuse

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Economic abuse is a relatively new term that many people are not aware of or they are uncertain about what it means in the context of relationship breakdown, separation, and divorce.

In this article, our family law solicitors look at what is meant by economic abuse in family law proceedings.

Online and London Family Law Solicitors

For family law legal advice call the expert London family lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form.

What does economic abuse mean?

Economic abuse is defined in The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as:

‘’Any behaviour that has a substantial and adverse effect on an individual’s ability to: 

  • Acquire, use, or maintain money or other property or  
  • Obtain goods or services’’

Economic abuse is not a crime in its own right but economic abuse can amount to a criminal act. For example, preventing someone from leaving the family home could be part of a pattern of economic abuse but also falls within criminal offending, such as coercive and controlling behaviour or false imprisonment.

The fact that economic abuse is not a separate crime does not make it a minor matter or mean that the family court will not treat economic abuse seriously if allegations of economic abuse are raised in domestic violence and injunction proceedings or in an application for a child arrangement order or for a financial court order.

Examples of economic abuse

Family law solicitors find that the best way to describe and explain economic abuse is to give examples of the types of behaviour that can amount to economic abuse. The list is not exhaustive or prescriptive.

Examples of economic abuse include your partner:

  • Telling you that you cannot get a job or restricting the type of employment you can look for or your hours of work
  • Taking your salary and either refusing to let you have access to your money or providing you with an allowance from your salary or from their income
  • Not letting you open up your own bank account and stopping you from accessing a joint bank account or setting out rules about how and when you can access money from the joint bank account meaning you are under their control and limited in what and when you can buy goods
  • Making you justify every item bought or checking your receipts to make sure you have kept to their financial rules
  • Putting all the assets in their name. For example, ownership of the family home and car and the savings account
  • Controlling your use of property and items, such as restricting your use of the family car or preventing you from using a mobile phone or monitoring your phone usage
  • Expecting you to pay for household bills out of your income whilst retaining their own salary or insisting that any loans or credit card debts are taken out in your name
  • Taking financial decisions without your knowledge or input, such as selling the family car even though the bank loan to buy the car was taken out in your name

Some of these behaviours may not amount to economic abuse if taken in isolation. For example, the young couple who commit to monitoring their expenditure to save for a house deposit or to pay off a credit card debt. It is a question of context and the degree of control and coercion.

Coercive control can be very subtle as a partner can be persuaded that it is for their own ‘good’ that their expenditure is restricted through the use of an allowance and monitoring of receipts. It is also important to recognise that economic abuse occurs in high-net-worth households as well as in families where money is tight. That’s because economic abuse isn’t really about controlling the money but about controlling the person.

Economic abuse can occur during a relationship or after a marriage has ended. For example, a person may insist that they pay spousal maintenance or child support in cash by coming to their ex-partner’s home to make a weekly payment. That can make the person receiving the money feel vulnerable and unable to say no to their demands to ‘come in’ for a chat or unable to say no to unreasonable child contact requests because they fear that the cash will dry up and they will not be able to pay their mortgage or rent.

Economic abuse is domestic abuse

Family law solicitors stress that economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse. This is recognised in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

As specialist family law and immigration law solicitors, our family solicitors see examples of economic abuse when advising those who are separating from a partner, husband or wife in circumstances where their estranged partner or spouse has sponsored them to enable them to come to the UK on a family visa. This type of economic abuse or quasi-immigration abuse can be very subtle but highly emotionally damaging. For example, a partner may say they are intending to give their job up so their spouse will not meet the spouse visa financial requirement when they need to apply to renew their spouse visa. That can be a form of economic abuse and control when the threat to give up employment is not motivated by health or other genuine reasons but as a means to coerce and control a partner who feels vulnerable because they are in the UK on a partner visa or spouse visa and subject to UK immigration control.

Help with economic abuse

If you are experiencing economic abuse or you are being subjected to coercive and controlling behaviour there is help available.

Family law and immigration solicitors can help with:

  • Advising on separation and divorce proceedings
  • Applying for injunction orders to protect from domestic abuse or to enable a victim to stay in the family home
  • Negotiating child support
  • Applying to the court for temporary or long-term spousal maintenance
  • Sorting out a divorce financial settlement and financial court order to provide financial independence
  • Advising on whether a person in the UK on a spouse visa or family visa can apply straight away for indefinite leave to remain in the UK because their relationship ended because they experienced domestic violence (and this includes economic abuse)
  • Signposting you so you get the help and support you need from domestic violence, charity or other specialist organisations

For friendly and approachable legal advice on economic abuse call our family law solicitors for help.

Online and London Family Law Solicitors

For family law legal advice call the expert London family lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form.

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Can I Make my Ex-Partner Leave the Family Home?

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Separation, Divorce and Financial Control

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