Money problems in your marriage?
December 9, 2006 3:01pm CST
Mutual sharing is essential in a marriage. Though every family has their own way of handling finances, it's an area where there should be complete transparency and honesty between the two partners. Unfortunately, money is sometimes used as a means of controlling one's partner. This is known as financial abuse. It is a form of domestic violence where an abuser uses money as a means to gain power and dominance over his/ her victim. "Financial abuse is very often accompanied by other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse, physical abuse and/ or denial of rights. The abuser uses fear and intimidation to bully his victim; he may actually even use or threaten to use physical violence," says psychologist Dr Vandana Mathur. What constitutes financial abuse Consider the following hypothetical scenario -- a husband persuades his working wife to open a joint account. Within a few months, the wife discovers that a considerable amount of money has been withdrawn (because it is a joint account, either party can withdraw money from the account). When she confronts her husband about it, he says he needed the money to pay off some debts. What's wrong in this scenario is that it was done without the wife's knowledge. "Financial abuse generally occurs when there is greed or a need on the part of the abuser -- for example, he is under financial pressure, there is an opportunity (the abuser has access to funds or property), and/ or there exists a false sense of entitlement ("I deserve it"; "I am owed")," says Dr Mathur. Forms of financial abuse Financial abuse can take many forms. Money becomes a tool by which the abuser can control the victim, ensuring his/ her financial dependence on the abuser. "An abuser may deny his or her partner money. One way this is done is by forbidding the partner to be employed. This makes the non-working partner dependent upon the abuser for money. Some financially abused women have to beg their partner for everyday necessities such as food and/ or children's expenses. If an abuser does allow his/ her spouse to work, the spouse may be required to hand over his/ her paycheck each month to the abuser," says Dr Mathur. Financial abuse includes withholding money from the victim or controlling money very tightly. The victim is not allowed to have any of his/ her own money and has to account for every rupee given. There may be theft of money or possessions, use of a credit card without permission, and forging of signatures on cheques or other documents. Often, an abuser gives the spouse insufficient funds for meeting his/ her needs; this amount too, has to be accounted for in detail. Or, he/ she may refuse to share equally in financial expenses. They may give a small amount as their share and expect their partner to manage. They may chide their partner to lower expenses, but refuse to take on the responsibility of doing so. Many financial abusers will put all of the family bills on their spouse's name. Moreover, the abuser will not permit his/ her spouse to see bank records, bills or credit records. Often, financial abusers are not good with money and end up destroying the credit of their spouse. "My wife used to keep withdrawing money from my account in large amounts. Initially, she said it was for house purchases. Later, when it continued and I decided to investigate, I came to know she had been giving all the money to her brother, who is unemployed, without my knowledge," laments Vijay Malhotra (name changed), 28, a software engineer in an IT firm in Delhi. Financial abuse also occurs when an abuser forces his/ her spouse to sell personal belongings or property. Theft, fraud, forgery, extortion and the wrongful use of a Power of Attorney are other forms of financial abuse. Such exploitation may occur without the victim's knowledge. Cases in point Geeta Singh (name changed), 27, a teacher who was a victim of abuse in her first marriage, says, "I was not allowed to spend money the way I wanted. My ex tried to force me to sell my property and sign a Power of Attorney. Some of my belongings were missing too." Vijay's plight was no less difficult. "I discovered unusual activity in my joint bank accounts. Several withdrawals, of large amounts of money, took place in a short time. These included ATM withdrawals. There were numerous unpaid bills, such as overdue rent, utilities and taxes. Moreover, cheques were bouncing when there should have been adequate resources." Some financial abusers refuse to work, putting the burden on their partners to keep the household running. However, the money earned by the working victim is mishandled and squandered by the abuser. "My assistant's husband is unemployed and an alcoholic. She tells me that whenever, she goes home, he asks her for money to sustain his habit. If she doesn't give it to him, he physically abuses her," says Anjali Singh, 27, a manager with a finance company in Delhi. Geeta adds, "My bank officials told me that, when they called my house, my ex-husband told them I was not around and hence unavailable to speak to them. He tried to gain control of the account." Anjali provides another example, "I know a couple where the wife, though from a well-to-do business family, was not very well educated. Her husband got her to sign a Power of Attorney even though she was unable to comprehend the financial implications. She signed the papers without knowing what they were about. Ultimately, most of her assets were transferred to his name, without her even having an inkling of what happened." What you can do about it * Be aware of your family's assets. Know where important documents like passbooks, chequebooks, investment certificates, financial statements, birth certificates, and passports (both yours and that of your family members) are kept. * Become financially independent. Know your rights. * Don't sign any document unless you are sure exactly what that document says and what you are agreeing to. * Try to arrive at an arrangement where chances of your exploitation are less. For example, you can maintain a separate account for your personal use. A separate joint account can be maintained for family expenses. This way, if financial abuse does occur, the extent of damage will at least be limited and you will not go bankrupt. * Find people to talk to, who can support you. Consider going for counselling. If possible, convince your spouse to go as well. Take the help of your near and dear ones. Realise that, though financial abuse is a serious problem, but you are not to be blamed for your partner's behaviour. Remember, you have the right to make your own financial decisions, in your own time. Finally, don't give up -- dealing with any type of abuse takes time. Once you are aware of it and start taking remedial measures, a solution will soon be in sight.