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Financial abuse is a serious matter and is recognized in Ontario as a form of family violence. Because it is not talked about as often as other forms of abuse, it can be hard to determine whether you have experienced it. Financial abuse may affect relationships between grandparents, parents, children, or romantic partners. It’s a form of abuse that encompasses a range of behaviours aimed at exerting control over financial resources, assets and decision making processes which subsequently hinders the equitable division of property and support obligations.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse occurs when one person uses money or property to control or exploit another person. Although financial abuse can affect elders (once their power of attorney has been appointed to another person, for example), it may also play a significant role in relationships between partners and spouses. Normally, financial abuse is intended to significantly weaken the autonomy and independence of a target.

An abuser may limit their partner’s access to joint financial resources or prevent them from earning their own money. As a result, if an individual wishes to separate or divorce from their partner but has been financially abused, the process can become much more complicated. To understand whether you are suffering from financial abuse and how to proceed contact our family lawyers at Gelman & Associates today.

Signs of Financial Abuse

How can you tell if a person is committing financial abuse? Many behaviours may indicate abuse has occurred, like:

  • Taking all money out of a joint account without permission or unfairly withholding funds
  • Giving away joint money, property, or possessions without consent
  • Pressuring a partner to sign important documents against their will (marriage contracts, will adjustments, financial records) or forging their signatures on loans
  • Preventing or discouraging an individual from getting a job or earning their own money
  • Refusing to pay child support or spousal support after separation
  • And more

It is critical to be aware that financial abuse is characterized as a pattern that occurs over an extended period of time rather than a single event. Maintaining a record of financially abusive behaviours can help to demonstrate that an abuser is guilty.

The Divorce Act & Financial Abuse

The Divorce Act governs how divorce and separation occur across Canada. It was updated in 2021 to incorporate family violence, which now, by definition, includes financial abuse. Since the Act was amended,  the Canadian Department of Justice has recognized that financial abuse may entail “denying a spouse access to their bank account or paycheque, preventing them from working…” or “any behaviour [which] aims to coerce and control a family member”.

These amendments to the Divorce Act have been important for victims of financial abuse as greater awareness has been raised. It is now recognized that financial abuse can also continue after separation or divorce through the withholding of spousal or child support. Furthermore, criminality is no longer a conditional requirement for financial abuse to be acknowledged in family court. It is important to note that financial abuse may play a larger role in your case if it has affected the best interest of any children involved.

The legitimization of financial abuse by the Divorce Act may affect your separation or divorce, even if it began before 2021. To find out more about the changes and how they may apply to your case, contact our family law lawyers at Gelman & Associates today. 

How Can Financial Abuse Affect Your Separation or Divorce?

 Financial abuse can play a significant role in your separation or divorce, especially if there are minor children involved. The actions of a financial abuser during separation or divorce may include:

  • Child support or spousal support paid incorrectly or not at all
  • The unfair incursion of debts during property division following divorce
  • The withholding of funds needed to pay for divorce or separation proceedings, like lawyers and other representatives

If your separation or divorce goes to court, the judge is obligated to acknowledge any existing history of family violence. If it can be established that financial abuse has occurred, it may affect how net family property gets divided, decision-making responsibility (custody) over a shared child, or access to a matrimonial home. 

What to Do if You’re a Victim of Financial Abuse

There are actions you can take to protect yourself from financial abuse.

You may want to keep any important financial information in a safe and private place. Make a record of any money you give away and note whether it is a loan or gift and who it was intended for. It is also important to exercise caution when opening joint bank accounts with a partner.

If an abuser has withheld the funds necessary for you to initiate a separation, you may obtain a court order to protect your right to joint property or finances. In some cases, a court or arbitrator may order your partner to pay your share of expenses during the divorce or separation process, referred to as interim costs and disbursements. We recommend you consult with a family lawyer if this is happening to you as soon as possible.

 Schedule a Consultation with our Family Lawyers at Gelman & Associates today

 Escaping the cycle of abuse can be challenging, especially when separation, divorce, and children are involved. If you require assistance navigating a separation from a financial abuser or accessing withheld economic resources, our family law lawyers at Gelman & Associates may be of assistance. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our legal team.

Disclaimer: For specific legal advice on your family law matter, please consult with a family law lawyer. The content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice and is instead intended to act as a general overview of a legal topic.

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