Financial abuse in family law

Family Practice Conference 2023

We were very excited to bring our knowledge together at the Resolution Family Practice Conference 2023 and delve into the topic of financial abuse. We both have Financial Abuse qualifications and extensive experience working with individuals who have endured this form of abuse. The workshop served as a fantastic platform to share real-life scenarios and offer practical strategies to family practitioners.

Understanding financial abuse

The workshop kicked off with a recap and positioning of financial abuse, a type of mistreatment where one partner controls the other’s access to financial resources, creating a dependency.

As family practitioners, your clients may have experienced many years of financial abuse without being aware of it, or they may be just starting to have this on their radar. This type of abuse can often escalate in divorce.

Recognising red flags

We highlighted the following red flags coupled with real-life examples to provide a clearer understanding:

  1. Strict control over finances: An abuser may demand to oversee every financial transaction, requiring details for every penny spent, while they indulge in unexplained or frivolous spending. For example, one victim we discussed was given a meagre weekly allowance that didn’t reflect their family’s high-income bracket at all, showcasing a stark imbalance in financial control. Another case saw an abuser handing over just enough cash in an envelope, keeping the client financially tethered and unable to break free, and avoiding any kind of financial trail.
  2. Sabotaging employment opportunities: Abusers might jeopardise their partner’s job opportunities by causing scenes at their workplace or controlling their schedule to prevent them from working. We shared an instance where an abuser would frequently hide their partner’s car keys, preventing our client from getting to work on time or at all.
  3. Exclusive control over bank accounts: It’s a red flag when all bank accounts are in the abuser’s name, and the victim has limited or no access to funds.
  4. Preventing access to financial advice: Under the guise of being amicable, an abuser may isolate the victim from seeking legal or financial advice, which can significantly impede their ability to change their circumstances.
  5. Unexplained debts or decrease in savings: Discovering unexplained debts or a sudden decrease in savings can be a red flag for financial abuse. We discussed a case where a victim found out about several credit cards opened in their name without their knowledge, leaving them with a mountain of debt.
  6. Using legal system to maintain control: Abusers may use the legal system to their advantage by filing multiple motions, escalating costs, or refusing to disclose essential information, making the process lengthier and harder. We shared a story of an abuser who continuously filed motions to delay divorce proceedings, racking up legal costs and causing additional emotional distress to our client.

Behaviours of those suffering financial abuse

In addition to the red flags above, recognising the behaviour a client experiencing this type of abuse may present is important. Individuals often experience a dip in self-confidence, live in constant fear for their and their children’s futures, and may feel incapacitated in managing finances due to years of manipulation.

They can grapple with a wide range of emotions including shame, fear, confusion, hope, anxiety, and stress, which could cloud their judgement and make them susceptible to further abuse. This emotional whirlwind can lead to isolation and loneliness, as they might avoid confiding in friends or seeking professional help.


The second half of the workshop focused on practical strategies we can employ to really support any clients we suspect are experiencing abuse. These include:

Narrative framing: Giving your client context and examples of financial abuse and sharing stories can really help them start to understand and appreciate parallels in their own situation. It can be a crucial first step in supporting clients and opening the discussion with them.

Financial literacy and confidence: Many clients need immediate support to gain the financial knowledge and advice to reduce their vulnerability to further financial manipulation, as well as rebuild their confidence and ability to make future financial decisions.

Self-esteem and abuse support: As clients become aware of the extent of abuse, self-judgement and fear can really take hold, often crippling their ability to trust their decisions during the divorce process. Engaging with coaches specialising in self-esteem and abuse support is beneficial.

In addition to the above, we highlighted keeping detailed meeting notes, documenting phone calls especially when financial abuse is suspected, and sharing observations with team members as vital steps in building a strong support system for your client.

Creating a comprehensive Financial Abuse Strategy Document is also an advisable step. This document can include strategies discussed in our workshop, alongside additional resources, helplines, and support services, offering a holistic approach to client support. Reach out to Ceri if you would like to see an example and for further resources.