TRUE LIFE :: Surviving Financial Abuse

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This post is part of a series called the True Life Series, where we share stories written by Milwaukee area moms, but posted anonymously. By and large, these stories are more sensitive in nature or cover topics that may be triggers for some readers. Publishing the piece does not suggest an endorsement by MKE Moms Blog.

However, we want to give these writers the chance to share their stories in a safe space, in the hopes that someone else might resonate and realize they are not alone. Topics in the True Life Series are likely to draw a lot of opinions, but we want to be clear that, out of respect for the writers of these pieces, we will be monitoring comments carefully and deleting anything that is shaming, hurtful, derogatory or otherwise abusive. 

financial abuse

FACT: Domestic violence affects one in four women. I am one of those women, but I wasn’t physically abused. My partner didn’t beat me or call me names or deny me access to my friends or family.

I was the victim of financial abuse.

Financial abuse may not be as well-known as other kinds of domestic violence. But according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 98% of abusive relationships include some form of financial abuse. It’s also cited as one of the top reasons for staying in or returning to an abusive relationship.

Financial abuse leaves no outward marks or physical evidence. It’s a silent form of abuse that not many people talk about because money and finances are very personal. No one could see my destroyed credit score, or that we might lose our home and cars.

It started when my husband lost his job. As a way to feel involved in the day-to-day household maintenance, he offered to take on responsibly for all the bills, budgeting, savings and expenses. I jumped at the chance to have someone else take the financial aspects of running the household.

Fast forward more than two years, and he was still unemployed and taking care of the bills while I worked, providing our only household income. Honestly, I liked not seeing the monthly bills or having to worry about it. After all, my husband was taking care of us. Right?

But he wasn’t.

While on maternity leave, I noticed the house phone rang a lot. I never answered it. Mostly because I couldn’t find the cordless phone. I didn’t think much about it. But one day, the phone was right there in front of me when it rang.

Financial abuse

My mortgage company wanted to talk about starting pre-foreclosure on our house. I assured the caller there had been a mistake. Of course we paid our mortgage! Their records must be wrong! I told them I’d call back with bank information, and I went to ask my husband about it.

He hadn’t paid ANY bills for months because he just didn’t want to, or he didn’t feel like it, or he didn’t care. He spent his time (and my money) buying computer and stereo equipment. While he used the latest iPhone, I made calls on an old flip phone. He bought four new laptops (needed for the job search, I was told), while I didn’t have a personal computer (or passwords to get into his computers).

His argument for why he mishandled our finances: he felt “bad” about being unemployed so long, and he was paranoid that I would leave him and take the kids.

In his mind, destroying my finances ensured that I couldn’t or wouldn’t leave him.

I checked my credit. I went from a 720 before he started paying the bills to a score in the 400s. My student loans were in default. My credit cards were maxed out. Our car insurance hadn’t been paid in six months. And I didn’t know any of this.

I called my credit card companies, and one of them referred me to a credit counseling service. The service would work with my creditors, reduce my debt, and get interest rates lowered. I’d make one payment a month to the service and they’d handle all the creditors. After working through a monthly payment plan – one that would last four years if I only paid the minimum due – I would have barely enough money to buy groceries and gas each month. Still, it seemed like the best – maybe my only – way out of this situation without declaring bankruptcy.

The financial abuse contributed to the end of my marriage. I used the defense of “financial abuse” to have him removed from my house by court order, and I started divorce proceedings.

It’s been several years, and I’m still rebuilding my credit and financial history. All my creditors are paid off now, and my husband is no longer part of my life. But every year when I review my credit reports, I still see the scars from that period of my life.

A reminder that I was a victim.

If you or someone you know is a victim of financial abuse – or any kind of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). To learn more about financial abuse, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

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