Economic Abuse in Marriage

SMQ Legal have family solicitors who are live to how domestic abuse affects victims. One of our team based in Oxford are able to offer free legal advice and information on local domestic abuse support centres.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being considered by Parliament. The aim of the Bill is to afford greater protections to the victims of domestic abuse.

There is a common perception that domestic abuse only involves violence, however it also includes emotional, coercive, or controlling behaviour. When this Bill is made law, economic abuse will also be included in the definition.

Economic abuse will be defined as behaviour which will have substantial adverse effect on the victim’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. In practice, this can mean that the partner in the weaker financial position is:

  • Prevented from training in order to obtain work to improve their financial position.
  • Prevented from working for pay.
  • Forced to pay their salary into a joint bank account and then not allowed access to it.
  • Forced to justify what they buy, telling them what they buy and looking very closely at bank statements.
  • Put into debt by their partner, who will take out debts in their name.
  • Kept in the dark about how much family money the stronger party has access to.

Often economic abuse is used by the respondent as a deliberate ploy to prevent their partner leaving a relationship and/ or to force then to exclusively rely emotionally and socially on their abuser. The weaker partner may find themselves isolated from friends, causing social isolation and loneliness. Women may be particularly affected by a lack of access to hygiene and beauty products. All these things may cause low self-esteem and mental health difficulties.

A victim of economic abuse may not realise what is happening to them as they may have become used to their treatment over time.

There are various ways that the courts can protect victims of economic abuse. These include:

  • Ordering the abusing partner to leave the family home and pay the rent or mortgage, bills, and maintenance costs for the home.
  • Taking out a non-molestation order to keep them away from the family home.
  • Ordering the payment of maintenance until a divorce is granted.
  • Considering the option of a clean break in any divorce settlement in order to eliminate the opportunity for the financially abusive partner to continue their abuse.
  • Allowing the abused partner to have sole conduct of the sale of the family home, again to minimise the opportunity of further abuse.
  • Where a respondent engages in litigation misconduct during divorce proceedings, the court has the power to ensure that the respondent “pay a penalty in costs” (Mostyn J stating in OG v AG (para 89)). The Court of Appeal in Rothschild v De Souza made clear that in some cases litigation misconduct can also be reflected in the substantive award, awarding the abused party to the detriment of the respondent.

With financially abusive partners, there is a chance that they will continue to exert control over family money, and this can mean they may, for example, transfer assets to third parties or to another country after they have been ordered to leave the family home. As a remedy for this, a freezing injunction may be ordered. A freezing injunction requires the respondent to give a full and frank disclosure of the type, value, and location of their assets and these can include bonds and equities.

If a financially abusive partner has already transferred family assets, all is not lost – an application to set these aside can be made.

If the respondent refuses to disclose the extent of the family assets, then the court may, at the very least, draw adverse inferences from this, and at worst, they may impose a term of imprisonment.

If you think you could be one of the estimated 2.4m people suffering from domestic abuse, please do get in touch and let us see what we can do to help you.

By Melissa Mallows

Student Intern








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