Critical Steps to Leaving a Financially Abusing Partner
If you are considering leaving a financially abusive partner, regardless of that person’s gender, you need to be able to fund and protect your escape – in the long run.
According to the Center for Women’s Economic Safety, establishing your own financial independence is absolutely essential in order to be able to leave and not only take care of yourself, but those of your loved ones as well.
Here are the 10 steps the CWES suggests you take before and after leaving an abusive partner.
1. Create a private and free email account
Having a private email address is a great way to communicate discreetly with a range of organizations. You’ll also need an email address if you want to open an online banking account, so it’s important to have one that your partner doesn’t know about.
To reduce the risk of your new email address being discovered, set up your new account on a device your partner doesn’t have access to, like a friend’s phone or computer.
Consider a secure and encrypted free email provider like ProtonMail.
2. Gather important documents
If it is safe to do so, secure important documents such as passports and birth certificates or make copies of these documents.
Photos or digital copies can be stored online by emailing them to you using your new private email address or using a free online storage platform like Google Drive.
Alternatively, the documents can be entrusted to a trusted person.
Your salary or benefit payments can then be deposited into this account.
To open a new bank account, you will need two pieces of identification, a secure mailing address, an email address and a mobile phone number. We recommend that you open an account where you are not already a customer to reduce the risk of accidental disclosure to your partner.
4. Save money
If possible, deposit money into your new bank account. If you’re having trouble opening a bank account, consider whether a friend or family member would be willing to take care of some of your money for you.
If you leave your home because of domestic violence, you may be eligible for a crisis payment from Centrelink.
This must be claimed within 7 days of departure. Call Centrelink on 132 850 or if you wish to speak with Centrelink in a language other than English, call 131 202.
5. Get help
If you are considering leaving an abusive partner, there are organizations that can help you plan your next steps.
There is also a range of supports available to help you escape and rebuild after economic abuse. Visit the CWES Information and Services Directory for more details.
To talk to someone about your options, you can also call the National Domestic and Family Violence Hotline 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). If you would like to use an interpreter to speak with someone from 1800RESPECT, first call the Translation and Interpretation Department on 131 450.
Some of these steps may not be possible. Only take actions that you feel safe to take.
If you decide to leave a financially abusive partner, here’s what you should consider doing.
6. Freeze joint accounts or modify operating instructions
If it is safe for you to do so, contact your bank and tell them that you have separated from your financially abusive partner.
Ask them to freeze your joint accounts. If there is an overdraft facility, ask them to suspend the overdraft so your partner can’t create debt that you might be asked to pay off.
If you have a credit card in your name and your partner has a card on that account, request that that card be canceled.
You can also change the instructions for use to be “two to sign”, which means you both have to agree for the money to be withdrawn.
You can also do this if you have a mortgage with easy redemption.
If you are comfortable telling your bank or financial institution that your separation is the result of domestic violence, it will increase the range of options they have to help you.
If you decide to leave an abusive partner, there are other steps you can take to increase your economic security.
7. Transfer money
If your only source of money is from a joint account, transfer enough money for you (and your kids) to take your next steps safely. If you do not have a paid job and are not currently receiving any Centrelink benefits, you may need to wait up to 13 weeks to start receiving Centrelink payments.
This is the maximum wait time for Centrelink benefits if you and / or your partner have assets that could impact your eligibility for payments.
Asset testing can be applied even if your partner controls the assets and you do not have access to them. If you feel safe enough to do so, tell Centrelink it is.
8. Get a new cell phone
If there is a chance that your partner can track, monitor, or access your cell phone, get a new cell phone and use it for conversations that you don’t want your partner to know about.
If you think it is not safe to stop using your current mobile phone, continue using it for other calls.
You may qualify for a free mobile phone through the Safe Connections program, offered by local domestic violence services.
For more information on safety with technology and social media, visit the WESNET Technology Safety site.
9. Change passwords and update details
Immediately change the passwords and PIN codes of your bank cards, bank accounts, mobile phones, MyGov / Centrelink account (and MyGov accounts for children).
If possible, replace these accounts with your new email address.
Then think about what other organizations you need to update your details with, such as your employer, Centrelink, vehicle registry, toll providers, internet service, insurance companies, property manager, utilities. (electricity, water), ATO, Australian Election Commission.
10. Deal with debts
If you’re worried that your partner is going into debt, or if you know they’ve gone into debt on your behalf, ask for a free copy of your credit report. Learn more about Credit Smart credit reports.
A financial advisor can help you deal with creditors suing you over your partner’s debts, even if they are in your name. Call the National Debt Helpline for free, independent and confidential support.
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