Financial abuse, the role of banks and a parliamentary inquiry

Written by Cameron Rybinski, Associate

We can usually recognise physical forms of abuse or violence, but it is much harder to identify and prove the existence of other forms of violence or abuse in our family or interpersonal relationships. Financial and economic abuse can very easily fly under the radar because it cannot be observed as easily.

Australia’s awareness of family and domestic violence (and activism against) has been improving in recent years, and this appears to be continuing with the announcement that a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services will be examining the issue of financial and economic abuse in Australia.

Economic or Financial Abuse is a type of family violence which is recognised in family violence legislation. In the Australian Capital Territory the definition of Family Violence is provided by the Family Violence Act 2016 and it includes ‘economic abuse’.

Economic abuse is behaviour by a person that is coercive, deceptive or that unreasonably controls the family member without the family member’s consent. That might include exploitation of power imbalances between the perpetrator and the family member, in a way that takes away the victim’s financial independence. This might include behaviours like interfering with bank accounts and withholding money for necessary living expenses, accumulating debt on shared accounts or delaying property and child support payments post-relationship.

It is not uncommon for banks, financial products and tax systems to be utilised by current or ex-partners to perpetrate financial and economic abuse, particularly in the context of family law matters where a relationship has broken down. The parliamentary inquiry hopes to examine current systems and laws in place to, among other things, determine what role banks play in enabling or preventing economic abuse perpetrated by current or former intimate partners. While Australian Banks say they are already taking steps to prevent financial abuse, the lived experience of everyday Australian’s indicates that more still needs to be done.

Economic abuse can have a significant impact on people going through separation and family law disputes. Limited access to finances because of an ex-partner’s actions can limit an individual’s ability to obtain legal advice, or even meet your day-to-day needs and the needs of your children.

If you or you suspect someone you know is experiencing economic abuse or family violence generally and they wish to separate or are separated, an experienced family lawyer can assist in providing strategic legal advice with a view to regaining your financial independence and referrals to domestic/family violence support services for safety planning and mental health supports.

Here at Parker Coles Curtis, we recognise the dramatic negative impact of economic abuse on parties to family law disputes and how that can impact your access to justice. That is why we have established connections with appropriate legal finance providers, so that our clients have alternate financial resources available to them so they can finalise their family law dispute.

If you require family law assistance, the team at Parker Coles Curtis is ready to help. We’re here when life happens (and when your ex-partner controls the money).