Financial abuse by spouses is a form of domestic abuse and violence, but it is much more subtle than other forms of domestic violence. This can make it harder for spouses to recognize, harder to gain control to file for divorce, and harder to prove during the process of a divorce.

Financial abuse and economic abuse can cause significant pain and hardship for spouses suffering from it. A spouse may be unable to access their bank accounts, be forced to rely on their abusive spouse for their basic financial needs, or otherwise find their spending controlled by their spouse. It’s important to understand how financial abuse can impact divorce proceedings.

What Is Economic Abuse?

Economic or financial abuse is when one person uses or controls money and resources to have power over another person. This can happen between spouses, and it can also happen between close family members and those living together. Financial abuse also includes verbal abuse and emotional abuse with an economic impact on the individual.

Illinois law considers economic abuse a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence and abuse also include physical, emotional, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse. When a spouse engages in domestic violence, they often do so to gain power over their spouse. Spouses who are victims of this behavior can often feel powerless.

Recognizing Economic Abuse

Economic abuse can be in addition to other forms of abuse or alone. Because financial abuse is more varied and subtle, it can be hard for victims to recognize. Some signs of financial abuse include:

  • Preventing a spouse from having access to their bank accounts and credit cards
  • Withholding assets and money from a spouse
  • Withholding a spouse’s paycheck
  • Preventing a spouse from working, getting a job, or taking steps to get a job like furthering their education
  • Controlling all the finances without providing the spouse access
  • Forcing a spouse to sign important financial documents when the spouse doesn’t have a full understanding of what they are signing
  • Making large and important financial purchases and decisions without their spouse’s input
  • Refusing to pay for basic necessities for the spouse or their children
  • Forcing the spouse to request specific amounts of money for specific items
  • Increasing debt on joint accounts, on a spouse’s accounts, or under a spouse’s name
  • Forcing or requesting the spouse to give access to inheritance or acquired assets
  • Making unrealistic demands about how a spouse uses or spends finances
  • Monitoring a spouse’s purchasing choices and requiring justification for any and all financial decisions

Like many abusive behaviors, financial abuse can start as something small and become more severe over time. It’s essential to recognize manipulative techniques or threats and protect yourself. Economic abuse can put the victim in a place where it feels impossible to escape because they are entirely dependent on their spouse. The sooner you can find legal counsel to determine your next steps, the better.

Financial Abuse’s Impact on Divorce Proceedings

When the court is shown that a spouse was financially abusive, this can impact how the court determines spousal support, child support, child custody, and division of assets.

Proving that a spouse was financially abusive is a factor that the court will take into account when determining what a fair and equitable split of marital property is. Under Illinois law, property is divided according to equitable distribution law. Each spouse is assumed to have an equal claim to marital assets to begin with, and the court then reviews several factors to decide what a fair division would be. Other factors include the separate assets each spouse owns and what each spouse contributed to marital assets throughout the marriage.

When a spouse is financially abused, they are unlikely to have a full understanding of their partner’s assets or of their marital assets. This can make it much easier for an abusive spouse to hide or devalue assets during the valuation of separate and marital property to retain more of the property than they are awarded by the court. An attorney can assist an abused spouse with the discovery process, hire financial and investigative professionals, and subpoena information about assets. This limits the likelihood that an abusive spouse will be able to hide assets.


Q: Is Financial Abuse Grounds for Divorce?

A: In Illinois, divorce can only be filed on no-fault grounds. A spouse can file for divorce on the grounds of an irretrievably broken marriage. Just because financial abuse cannot be used as grounds for divorce, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant in a divorce case. Proving acts of domestic violence like financial abuse can give the victim of these actions significant benefits in a divorce. It may affect the division of property and determine how the court assigns spousal maintenance. Proof of abuse may also lead to an abusive spouse losing custody and/or visitation rights.

Q: What Is Financial Harassment After Divorce?

A: Ideally, an ex-spouse has less power over their spouse’s finances. However, a spouse may still attempt financial abuse after a finalized divorce by trying to avoid paying child support or spousal maintenance. A spouse may also hide assets in an attempt to modify court orders in their favor. By devaluing assets or claiming a loss of income, a financially abusive spouse may be trying to limit the amount of money they are required to pay their spouse.

Q: What Is the Homewrecker Law in Illinois?

A: Under the homewrecker laws, a spouse used to be able to file for a fault-based divorce if their spouse committed adultery. However, Illinois no longer has fault-based divorces. A spouse cannot file a divorce by citing their spouse cheating on them. Instead, they file on the basis of an irretrievably broken marriage. During a divorce case, cheating may be relevant when determining aspects of the divorce decree. If the spouse’s cheating misconduct harmed any marital assets, such as using shared accounts to pay for another partner, this would be considered by the court when determining a fair division of property.

Q: Is Financial Abuse a Crime in Illinois?

A: In Illinois, the financial abuse and exploitation of a dependent disabled adult aged 18 to 59 or an elder over the age of 60 is a felony. Financial exploitation refers to preventing an individual from using their finances or misusing their finances to their disadvantage. This crime is frequently committed by those who are supposed to be caring for an elder or dependent adult, including a family member, professional caretaker, or accountant.

Protecting Your Rights

If you are a victim of financial abuse, an attorney is a necessary asset to protect your interests and determine your legal options. Contact Stange Law Firm, and learn how we can help you and your family.