I experienced significant financial abuse as a part of family violence. This mainly occurred through the strategies designed by my ex’s lawyers to ensure that settlement was a long, drawn-out and expensive process.
Content warning: This article contains descriptions of family violence.
The opposition had good success with their strategy, and achieved their ends by unleashing upon me a campaign of endless queries and requests, designed to make my legal bill grow in leaps and bounds. All I could do was stand helplessly by, watching my settlement money disappear before my eyes in legal fees and spiraling Australian Family Law Court costs.
During this time, my ex also had all of our bank accounts frozen, so any endeavours to provide for myself beyond a disability pension were thwarted as I did not have access to any of our family funds. I had been lumped with an entire mortgage, as well as a further supporting mortgage to cover an investment property, and was barely getting by.
The financial impacts were swift in that it took a certain amount of money to maintain the lifestyle my son and I had established and lived over the past 8 years, and suddenly I had been left to cover not only those costs, but additional mortgage costs on my own. Before becoming a single mum, I had spent my time raising and caring for our child with autism. When money became tight, I had no choice but to return to work. Autism is unpredictable and I would be called away a lot to attend to the needs of our son.
When it comes to dealing with the financial sector, I found that if you keep in touch and communicate with most providers, from utilities to banks to other creditors, you could usually work together to arrange a way forward to ensure you got your bills paid. Most providers are accommodating under an informed set of circumstances and appreciate being a part of the solution where possible. I didn't have a lot of interaction with financial providers other than those who helped settle the sale of our property. I didn't have that need at the time.
I think financial institutions become more important for survivors later, once the dust settles. Women need help re-establishing so money could be directed towards purposes such as housing, food, utilities, transport and the like, so that survivors are being helped with practical assistance to help with their escape from family violence. Later women need help with business ideas, from conception to funding, loans for housing or business and education. They also need increased sums of money from Centrelink to survive as many cannot work due to PTSD or other family violence related mental health issues that come after they leave.
Organisations need to understand that from a survivors point of view, all these forms, rules and regulations continue to put more barriers and hoops in our way, at a time when easy would be helpful. I am dismayed at the layers of protections organisations put in place to ensure someone unworthy does not "slip through", all the while real survivors are being overlooked. Stop making everything so hard for us. We don't have it in us to deliver after we escape.
For the most part, survivors are on their own in the world of finance. At times, and if you are fortunate, organisations like EDVOS will provide some initial funding to help with rent or a bond might be covered, but these are rare and scarce opportunities for women. It's far easier to get information about family violence than help for it. And these are critical areas that need to be addressed for survivors. Straight from their mouths.
Please note the author's name has been changed to protect their privacy.