How do you get enough money to leave an abusive relationship? What financial help is there and how do you access it?
I have personally experienced domestic violence. This article contains some of my personal experience along with that of others who have shared with me. It may cause triggers, although I have tried to keep it relatively neutral. You can find out more about me here.
Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult for numerous reasons including personal safety, emotional turmoil and financial issues. In many abusive relationships, the abusive partner has control of the finances and leaves the abused with no money, no options or worse still, with all bills and debt in their name and no way to get rid of it all.
Disclaimer: I want to make it clear that these are options, not personalised advice for your own situation. These are things you can do, resources that might help and ways to financially help get out of or recover from an abusive relationship. What you do is your choice and personally, I think if you can, always seek professional help through counsellors, lawyers and financial advisors. Not realistic in most domestic violence cases, I know. I have in this article some advice for that as well.
Financial preparations for leaving an abusive relationship
Preparing to leave an abusive relationship is scary and risky. Along with getting all your important papers together such as birth certificates, bills, bank statements, passports etc, you need to arrange your finances. One time when I was preparing to leave I opened a private bank account. I explained my situation to the bank and all statements were to be kept at the bank, not sent to me. They were never to call me and it was supposed to be completely confidential.
Unfortunately, they rang me and my now ex husband (we were married at the time) happened to be home. He was furious and forced me to go and close the bank account. Because of my experience, I hesitate to suggest it.
Admittedly, this was quite a few years ago and now you can have online only accounts, bank through the Post Office, set up a separate email address etc and hide it all easier. However, your abuser may have installed spyware to track your movements, so I would be careful doing this. Instead, look at ways you can get cash.
1.) Get cash out with the groceries
If you pay by card, ask for an extra $20 out each time you do the groceries then store this cash in a secret place. The cash out often doesn’t show on the bank statement, only the total amount and where the purchase was made shows. Check your own bank though as some like The Commonwealth Bank list the cashout amount separately to the amount paid for groceries. This was suggested by a reader and I love it. I always squirrelled away cash where possible, but had never thought of doing it this way.
Hide it somewhere it cannot be found such as a false-bottomed drawer, hollow out a section under your lounge or bed, or if you trust someone, hide the cash at their house along with your important paperwork. Be careful though, if your ex checks receipts or your bank lists purchases separate to cash out, it can cause issues.
2.) Do cash jobs
I was a hairdresser by trade when I was leaving, enabling me to do haircuts on the side for cash without him knowing how much I was earning. I did declare my income on my taxes and obeyed all regulations but didn’t tell him. Look at ways you might be able to earn cash such as through cleaning, gardening, ironing, baked goods etc. Check out 51 ways to make money from home, 43 ways single mums can make money and 31 ways to make and save $200 or more!
3.) Sell items on consignment
Do you have anything you can sell on consignment in stores? You might be able to make beaded jewellery or other items to stock in stores on consignment and have an arrangement where you collect your payments in cash.
Cash is king when leaving an abusive relationship. If you can save it, hide it and take it with you, they won’t know how much you have and cash gives you more options. You will still need a bank account to get somewhere to live and set up your life, but at least with cash, you can leave sooner and set these things up.
Knowledge is power when it comes to domestic abuse
Learn all you can, in as safe a way as possible. Use private browsing mode, clear your search history and cache when you can to protect yourself. Many abusers monitor all search history and devices. Another option is to go to a friends house or use the library to search for the information you need.
For example, sites such as Women Talk Money have articles and resources to help you with finances in various stages of your life, including abuse. They also have a quick escape option, as in if you hit escape when on the site it will immediately load Google so if anyone comes in they will not see what you are looking at. This is an excellent safety feature.
1.) Know what help is available
Women health centres are available in many cities which have community lawyers, counsellors, classes, meditation, naturopaths and other services for free or a minimal cost. The assistance of a community legal aid can prove to be extremely valuable when you are trying to leave. It is not the same as having a lawyer on call for everything but they can help you plan things out and give advice to assist you in leaving or after you have left.
Some help includes free legal advice, free counselling, 10 free psychological visits on a mental health plan, parenting payment (if you are a parent), along with rent assistance and advance payments to assist with leaving an abusive relationship, social workers, no interest loans, free food, bills paid and other financial assistance are all available to victims of domestic violence or anyone facing financial hardship.
Health centres, community legal centres, churches, charities and not for profits all provide different services. Most of the time it is simply a matter of asking, outlining your situation and accepting the help offered. Speak with the police to get connected to the right services as well. Be careful when you do though.
2.) Find out the documents you will need to access assistance
If you haven’t left yet, find out what documentation will make it easier. For example, are you going to be eligible for payments from Centrelink and if so, what will you need to prove what has happened, how much you earn etc? Get them together in one place so you can take them with you or store them somewhere else. Also, scan and upload copies to a dropbox file. While they are the originals, it will have all the information you need and some places will accept those files.
3.) Get advice asap
Talk to a lawyer, know your rights and what assistance is available to you. Keep documentation of everything, report abuse to the police, if there are witnesses get them to provide statements. Do everything you can to protect yourself and your children if you have them.
Claims for financial assistance for domestic violence victims
Most states have a service that is a financial payment for victims of violent crimes, which domestic violence falls under. The assistance varies from state to state but can include a payment to you based on the crime, financial assistance for counselling, financial assistance for moving or costs involved with your safety and other costs that can be directly attributed to the crime. Each type of assistance has a value attached to it and you do not have to claim immediately. There is assistance to help you fill out the necessary paperwork, be prepared though as it can be traumatic going through the process.
Use the links below for each state/territory to find out more:
In Australia, Centrelink is a safety net to help financially. Last year they had 22 million unanswered calls. Be prepared. I do not know anyone who has dealt with them and it went well. It is best if you arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before talking to them. Most things can be lodged or done online and this will speed up the process a little.
To give you an idea, some of the payments you may be entitled to, depending on your circumstances include:
– Parenting payment
– Rent assistance
– Carers payment (if you have children who are traumatised and need extra assistance)
– Family Tax Benefit A and B
– Childcare subsidy
It depends on your circumstances, income, assets, if you have children or not etc. Once you get it, make sure you use the discounts available for concession card holders such as electricity, medicine and transport.
There is also child support. I strongly recommend you go through the child support agency for this and never rely on it coming it. I view it as a ‘bonus’ because I know so many parents who don’t get it even though they should as there are too many ways for an ex to get around the system. At least if you go through the child support agency it is all on record and documented, not just them vs you.
Be gentle on yourself
This situation is not your fault. You have done the best you could and if you are reading this you either have taken steps to leave or are about to and for that I applaud you. You are stronger than you can possibly imagine. Leaving was the hardest thing I have done. I went through hell and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My life now is better than anything I ever could have imagined. Be gentle on yourself. Don’t blame yourself. Allow yourself to cry and feel your emotions. Allow yourself to get whatever help you need and don’t rush yourself. This is a slow process. Take it one day at a time.
Also, you aren’t alone. Many have gone through it or are going through it. You can read about some experiences of others, their regrets and tips for finances and divorce in this post, including some quotes from me. Then, when you feel ready, check out how to rebuild after an abusive relationship too.
Originally posted on Kylie Travers in August 2016.