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A few weeks ago, I ran across a truly jarring statistic, and I still can’t shake it from my thoughts.
Data collected by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice shows that, for the second year in a row, 44 percent of all women killed in New York were killed by an intimate partner.
As State Division of Criminal Justice Services acting commissioner Sean Byrne pointed out to WCBS, “That means the least safe place for a woman in New York State is her own home.”
Unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand just how true this statement is. Over the years, I’ve been retained by quite a few women who, at the time, were in physically and/or mentally abusive relationships.
We all know that even under the best of circumstances, divorce is complicated and emotionally trying. For these women, though, the process is exponentially harder. Typically, they know very little about their family finances because controlling husbands are extremely secretive about financial matters. And, of course, women in abusive relationships live under the very real threat of physical violence if their husbands get angry and/or suspicious.
Many are simply frozen with fear. They’re terrified about their own safety and the safety of their children.
It’s something I’ve seen far too many times, and I’ve decided I’m going to do what I can to help. Currently, I am in the process of establishing a non-profit charity that will help abused women get the legal and financial advice they need to divorce their spouse.
After all, physical abuse is usually associated with what Jeffrey A. Friedman, Executive Director of The Retreat, calls “financial abuse.”
The Retreat, which is located in The Hamptons on Long Island, NY, is an organization that works to break the cycle of family violence while also providing safety, shelter and support for domestic abuse victims. As Jeff sees it, the correlation between physical and financial abuse is strong and can lead to long-term debilitating consequences.
“Domestic Violence is all about power and control,” he told me. “More often than not an abuser can control a victim by controlling the finances in the household. Money is the means that they can ensure financial dependence. Financial abuse can mean: preventing you from getting or keeping a job, having you to account for every penny spent, denying access to check book/account/finances, threatening to force you out of the house and make you homeless and demanding your paychecks. Financial abuse can have serious and long term effects. Victims can become trapped in a cycle of poverty, can experience unhealthy physical and psychological effects and feel hopeless and trapped in the abusive environment.”
Women in abusive relationships need to do all the same things that any woman going through a divorce needs to do. The glaring difference is that every one of these steps is much, much more difficult.
In many cases, women in abusive relationships have absolutely no access to funds, financial records, accounts, tax returns, etc. They may not have a credit card or a checking account –and if they do, they may have to account for every penny. In addition, there are also many more opportunities for the husband to hide assets, since he will not tolerate any questions.
If you feel that you are trapped in an abusive relationship, there are steps you can take to begin to secure your finances. If at all possible –and if it can be done safely –you should:
- get a post office box so you can receive mail privately.
- open a bank account in your own name and start squirreling away money. Even better, transfer all of your assets (paychecks, savings, etc) into a separate bank account.
- remove your name from all joint debt so you will be protected from having to pay for anything incurred after you leave.
- keep copies of all your important paperwork, including bank statements, social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates and documentation of jointly held assets. It’s important to have a place outside of the home where you keep these documents.
- obtain a credit card (or preferably several). Contact credit card companies and explain your situation. Send them copies of any court orders, since such extenuating circumstances may help you qualify for a credit card.
- establish a “secret” email account to communicate with divorce and other professionals –use Kinkos or the public library, since an abusive husband might install spyware on home computers and even smart phones.
- change all your PIN’s to codes that are not easily identifiable.
- acquire a one-time-use prepaid debit card. You can buy a prepaid card at a many local retailers, and for a small fee, you can load it up with as much money as you want.
- consider asking relatives for a loan to hire an attorney and other divorce professionals.
In addition, if at all possible, don’t sign any documents presented to you by your husband, and most importantly . . .
Make arrangements for you and your children to move out of the family home at an opportune time.
Please seek help. There are community-based organizations, private counselors and therapists and other professionals who can offer the immediate assistance you need. They can help you create a plan that will keep you and your children safe. Once you are safe, you can start to take even more steps toward a brighter and financially secure future.
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC (http://www.BedrockDivorce.com), a divorce financial strategy firm that exclusively works with women, who are going through, or might be going through, a financially complicated divorce. He also advises women business owners on what steps they can take now to “divorce-proof” their business in the event of a future divorce. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.