Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

How to recognize, and stop, symptoms of ‘economic abuse’

October 28, 2001

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When I was an innocent college student in the early '70s, I took it for granted that all the women I knew would have careers, make as much as men in the same jobs and when they set up households pay half the expenses and have an equal say in all decisions.

For lots of people, it hasn't turned out that way.

Survey after survey shows that women have narrowed but not closed the income gap.

Now comes this gloomy note from the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education: "Finances Often Keep Women in Abusive Relationships."

Sadly, that's not news. But the endowment caught my attention with a list of warning signs that one is a victim of "economic abuse." Ask if any of these statements apply to you:

I want to work, but he won't allow it.

I have a job, but he demands that I hand my paycheck over to him.

He hides money from me.

I hide money from him so he won't be mad if I buy something.

The house is in his name only.

The bank accounts and investments are in his name only.

If I don't spend any money, I think we'll get along better.

I must go to him for everything, even money to buy personal items.

He pays the credit-card bills, but won't give me any cash.

I don't know how much money he earns or has in the bank.

I can't spend any money without being questioned by him.

He talked me into giving him power of attorney so he can sign legal documents on my behalf without me knowing about them.

He has forged my signature on our tax returns so I won't see them.

It's hard for two people to live together and never disagree about a purchase or investment. And, of course, many couples choose to assign the financial chores and responsibilities to the partner who is most adept or willing.

But if the arrangement isn't by mutual agreement, that's a problem.

People who are in economically abusive situations should, of course, get out of them. If that can't be done immediately, the endowment suggests some self-protection.

First, assemble the documents you'd want to take along if you were to leave suddenly. That includes originals or copies of things like birth and marriage certificates, your will, passport, Social Security card, medical records and financial statements.

Put them in a safe, accessible place such as a safe deposit box.

Next, put together a financial inventory, listing things such as assets and debts and whether they are joint or individual possessions or obligations.

Every adult, whether in an abusive relationship or not, should build a credit history. Get a credit card in your own name and pay off the full balance every month.

Everyone also should have money of his or her own. Persons should build an emergency fund and stash it where it won't be found and can be retrieved quickly.

Finally, look for help. Persons can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.ncadv.org.

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