Financial Assistance for Domestic Violence & Financial Abuse Survivors

Studies show that nearly all victims of domestic violence suffer some form of financial abuse. If that led to credit card debt, there are options for relief.

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Whether you’re plotting to leave an abusive relationship, or you’re already gone, know this as part of your way to a better life: Your community has resources to make your getaway successful and permanent.

These include government agencies; churches and other nonprofits; and support groups, many of them acting in concert, all of them committed to providing access to safety, security, and, in many cases, the all-important means of a financial escape.

For all the attention it receives — there’s even an entire month, October, set aside for awareness-raising — domestic abuse remains a pervasive problem. Before the pandemic, more than 20,000 phone calls were placed daily to domestic violence hotlines, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV); 20 people per minute were physically abused by an intimate partner.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, domestic abuse went from bad to worse: Domestic violence incidents surged 8.1% nationwide, according to the Council on Criminal Justice. That works out to roughly 1,330 additional 9-1-1 calls for service daily.

Domestic abuse cuts across all economic and social classes, designations, and demographics. As the headlines on grocery store tabloids and clickbait social media posts demonstrate, targets of domestic violence fit no stereotype. Neither do the perpetrators. However, studies indicate domestic violence is more likely to be visited upon women with low incomes, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQ+.

Financial Abuse

Although it’s less discussed than physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, financial (or economic) manipulation plays a significant role in virtually all cases of domestic abuse — 99%, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Make that significant and sinister: The desire to control money can lead to a pattern of abuse and violent behavior, says Kim Pentico, National Network to End Domestic Violence director of economic justice. On the other side, one partner may stay in an abusive relationship out of fear their financial situation will crumble. Financial struggles create barriers to getting or staying safe.

“Some abusers use techniques like manipulative conversations, while others can use physical violence to intimidate their victims,” says Auburn, Calif.-based Lyle Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group. “The main aim here is to gain dominance and control in their relationship. No matter what subtle tactics these abusers use, the motive remains the same.”

Pentico notes the financial disadvantage can be so pronounced many victims “are being battered because they can’t afford to not be battered. They see it as a choice between being battered and homelessness.’’

Adds Northern-California-based family law attorney and CPA Brent Kaspar, “A financially abusive situation is the opposite of a partnership, in which both partners contribute to marital finances. Instead, one partner uses interference, manipulation, or threats to exert total control over money, leaving the other partner powerless and dependent.”

Signs of Financial Abuse

A feverish need to control money is a red-flag characteristic of an abuser, says the NCADV. And the signs can show up early in a relationship says Aspen, Colo.-based lawyer and communications pro Allison Mahoney.

“One big red flag is if someone pressures you to leave your job or become financially dependent on them in small ways,” Mahoney says. “It might sound appealing at first — not working, or working on a very limited basis, and having a partner foot the bills, but over time that chips away at your independence.”

When that loss of self-reliance becomes punctuated by “verbal threats or aggression regarding money,” Mahoney says, “that’s a warning sign of abuse.

Victims sometimes feel they can’t escape a violent relationship because they have no means to financially support themselves and/or their children. They have limited access to things such as checking or savings accounts and may not even be aware of other financial investments or assets.

If they attempt to solve the problem by seeking employment or looking for training to improve their job situation, they often face some other form of financial abuse, such as:

  • Imposing time restrictions that prevent the partner from getting a job.
  • Restricting spending for food, clothing or transportation needed for a job.
  • Demanding the partner quit a job or sign over every paycheck.
  • Forcing the partner to sign financial documents.
  • Opening credit card accounts without the partner’s knowledge.
  • Pressuring victims into committing financial crimes.
  • Involving the partner in poor financial practices.
  • Suffering the theft of their identities.
  • Even when they make their escape, 60% of survivors discover their credit is damaged by the abuser’s behavior, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“If your partner refuses to share access and information to your joint account, you might consider it a prior warning,” Solomon says. “In this case, you won’t have important information and knowledge about your finances.

“Your spouse might hold you accountable for every penny you spend, including your necessities like food and clothing. You might find your financial freedom completely banished when you are answerable for your most minor expense. At the same time, you might find your abusive partner making major financial expenses without even bothering to inform you.”

Even if financial abuse is the only form of mistreatment in the relationship, it remains a cause for alarm. “After all,” Mahoney says, “it is all about control; limiting a person’s access to finances will most likely take a toll on a victim’s emotional and psychological wellbeing as well.”

The victim ultimately becomes financially isolated and often more dependent financially on the abuser.

Choosing to Leave

The decision to leave an abuser can be difficult, complicated, and risky. When targets of domestic abuse assert independence,  their rate of lethality increases seven fold, Pentico says. Oftentimes, when power in the relationship is challenged, the abuser takes extreme steps to remain in control.

This potential for escalation is among the reasons people leaving abusive relationships should consider legal representation early on — even before their bags are packed.

“Contact a family law attorney in your area to find out your legal rights,” says North Carolina-based attorney Jonathan Breeden. Next, “There are domestic violence shelters and counseling available in just about every county in the United States. You should reach out to that organization to see what resources are available in your area.”

A lawyer, notes Kaspar, “can help you argue in court that you are not responsible for debts accrued by a former spouse. They can also help you learn what documents and evidence you must retain to bolster your case.”


To make their getaway successful, partners choosing to leave an abuser should avoid acting impulsively. Instead, they must have a safety plan ready. Know where you’re going; through law enforcement, a shelter, or the local clerk of court, secure emergency protective orders for you and your children; and alert your network of trusted family, friends, and counselors about your decision.

Other preparations include:

  • Creating an escape bag containing clothes, cash, essential medications, overnight toiletries, a prepaid (or burner) mobile phone, Social Security card, passport, and children’s Social Security cards and passports.
  • Compiling copies (at least) of vital legal and financial documents, such as house deed, life insurance policy, vaccine records, driver’s license, work permits. Documents
  • Calling law enforcement.
  • Creating a plan to bring children and/or pets.
  • Creating and sharing a code word among friends, children, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Let them know to call law enforcement if they hear your code word.
  • Finding a place to go.
  • Financial planning: Review financial accounts, assess your financial status, change internet passwords, and delete search histories.

Housing Assistance

Not knowing where to go keeps many abused partners locked in place. Domestic violence programs across America work hard every day to provide escape routes for people feeling trapped in abuse. Safe places to begin the transition from victim to survivor come in various forms, such as scattered-site models, clusters, and communal living. You can begin research here:

  • provides a directory of domestic violence shelters as well as 24/7 hotlines and emergency housing nationwide. Search in a variety of languages, including Chinese and Spanish.
  • New Hope For Women is a two-year program that offers safe, secure housing for survivors and their children while they work on reclaiming their independence. Applicants must be homeless or at risk for homelessness because of domestic violence. Designed for those who are past the initial emergency stage, the program is considered a second phase of the recovery process.
  • HELP USA, in New York, is an example of an emergency residence program that offers safe, secure, and confidential housing for domestic abuse refugees. Also offered: employment services, vocational training, counseling, and other support services.
  • Women Against Abuse, based in Philadelphia, is similar to the New York model. Countless similar programs exist throughout the country.
  • 211 is an online database providing information on shelters and programs in your area.

Domestic violence escapees who have at least a little financial wherewithal and are interested in independent housing — that is, a place to stay outside the shelter models — may qualify for rental aid or home-purchasing assistance. Local domestic violence support agencies will have information about programs in their area.

Survivors who choose independent housing must allow for renters or homeowners insurance in their budgets.


Worries about feeding themselves and their children create enormous pressure to remain in abusive situations. However, a variety of federal, state, and local food programs, offering temporary and long-term assistance, can bridge the gap from uncertainty and hunger to meeting the nutritional needs of the survivor and the survivor’s children.

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that supplements the food budgets of women and low-income families. Women living in emergency or domestic abuse shelters qualify. This program formerly was known as Food Stamps.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides financial assistance, social support programs, and food for pregnant women and adults responsible for children younger than 19. Applicants must have low incomes and be either underemployed or unemployed.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal program designed to help women with their food budgets. Administered by the states, WIC assists with food, health care referrals, and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women. Infants and children up to age 5 also are covered.
  • Most states also run their own food stamp and food voucher programs. Support also is offered through local food banks and other free or low-cost food sources. Domestic violence shelters have the details.


Domestic violence takes a mental, as well as physical, toll on the abused partner. Physical violence leaves obvious marks, including bruises, cuts, and broken bones. The hurt that happens in the mind may be less apparent, but the harm is no less insidious. Domestic violence can produce post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and more.

Deciding when and how to leave a violent relationship is complicated by the challenge of finding affordable health insurance, low-cost care, and mental health services that include financial assistance. As with housing and food, there are places domestic violence escapees can turn for support. These include:

  • Medicaid is a federally funded program administered by the states for low-income qualifiers. Domestic violence survivors with little or no money may be able to access wide range of medical care services.
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is another federal program administered by states. CHIP offers low-cost health coverage for children whose families earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Eligibility varies by state.
  • Most communities of any size have resources offered through nonprofits to help provide medical coverage. Consult with the local domestic violence shelters or the United Way.

Legal Help

Often, leaving a violent relationship involves untangling years or even decades of legal entanglements, as well as putting official barriers between the survivor and the survivor’s children and the perpetrator. Escapees should and must do whatever they can to protect their rights.

Lawyers, legal aid services, local bar associations, and, usually, local government agencies such as law enforcement and the county clerk’s office, can begin the process of getting the legal wheels turning on child custody, no-contact orders, family court, divorce law, and other topics.

While no one should confuse a judge’s restraining or protective order issued for a kevlar vest, it’s a good idea to arrange the maximum amount of legal shielding available.

Survivors face a variety of legal challenges as well as opportunities to begin laying the foundation for a better life. These include:

  • Guaranteeing safety in the courthouse. Most states recognize the right of the abused to privacy and safety while in court; you may ask for separate waiting rooms and individual court times.
  • Obtaining orders of protection, often called “restraining orders.” You won’t need a lawyer to file for a protection order; you might not even have to go to the courthouse. Many clerks of court have deputies who meet survivors in their places of refuge, including shelters, to provide paperwork, answer questions, then take the filing to the court.
  • Custody battles are rarely won in a day, but survivors can begin the process by taking their child(ren) when they leave. Make certain you have documented incidents of abuse as they happen; contemporaneous notes are compelling legal evidence.
  • Filing for divorce in a no-fault state may not be particularly complicated. Review your local clerk of court’s website for information about filing for divorce. The local domestic abuse shelter should have a list of reliable divorce and family law attorneys.

Other Basic Needs

It may be impractical for someone escaping an abusive relationship to pack up much more than an overnight bag. Fortunately, many domestic violence shelters operate thrift stores that make clothes available at little or no cost to their clients.

Altogether presentable clothes also can be found at other thrift stores, churches, and through other private entities. Again, shelters maintain databases of where to find affordable, even free, clothes.

Financial assistance, too, is available for people escaping domestic violence. For single parents, any number of programs providing financial aid are available, funded by federal, state, and local governments, as well as through donors to community nonprofit agencies.

Regaining Financial Independence

Summoning the courage to leave an abusive relationship in which the perpetrator wields all the financial leverage is no small achievement.

Learning about the family finances and personal finance generally can make the break from an abusive relationship easier and more likely to succeed.

Developing or Improving Your Credit Score

If you’re in an abusive situation, it’s essential to know how to establish credit and how to improve your credit score so you can avoid a potential disastrous financial outcome.

  • Request a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian). You can call Free Annual Credit Report at 1-877-322-8228 or go online to Space out your requests. The three credit bureaus usually get the same information, so you’ll get a full view by ordering one every four months or so.
  • Check the reports and make sure your spouse didn’t open any lines of credit in your name. If you suspect an error or fraud, dispute the information with the credit bureaus. Keep monitoring your credit report to make sure it’s not being adversely affected by any actions unknown to you.
  • You must maintain a good credit history. For a successful new life, you need a good credit report. That’s how you rent an apartment, obtain a new credit card and get favorable insurance rates.
  • Alert creditors if there’s a change of address, so you won’t miss any bill payments. Remember that women who revert to their maiden name will not erase the credit history established under their married name. That’s because credit history is tied to your Social Security number (not your name).
  • It’s probably best to establish a new credit record under your own name if previous credit was held jointly with your spouse. If you turn existing joint cards into individual accounts, you won’t have to re-establish your credit if you file for divorce.
  • You will need to make copies of things such as birth and marriage certificates, bank statements and statements on shared assets. It would help to change your user name and passwords on all online accounts.
  • Open bank accounts – savings and personal – for yourself. Make sure statements are sent to a secure address.
  • If possible, put money aside so you have something to fall back on when you leave.
  • Don’t take on more debt. Contact creditors and ask them to remove your name from joint accounts. It may help to contact a credit counseling agency for advice about nonprofit debt consolidation, especially if you have significant debt.

Updating Your Insurance

Having your own insurance is a critical part of establishing your independence. If you’re taking a vehicle, plan to get separate auto insurance coverage as soon as it’s practical. You don’t have to stick with the same agent or company; it’s never a bad idea to shop, anyway, and starting fresh is a good time to compare coverage and premium options for the best deals.

Investigate proper health insurance for yourself and your children. Government-assisted programs are listed above. Options for low-income families do not end there. If you’re not working or your job doesn’t offer coverage, consider chatting with an independent insurance broker. Brokers’ fees are paid by the insurance company; you’ll have no cost or obligation.

Do you have a life insurance policy? Review the beneficiary information and make appropriate changes. If you don’t have life insurance and there are those who depend on you for financial support, consider a low-cost term (not whole life) policy that would pay benefits to loved ones upon your untimely death.

Getting a Financial Education

Financial education is essential to safety and security for victims of domestic violence. Research shows that individuals who participate in financial education programs are more likely to live on a budget, understand credit and save money, three major steps to a more secure life.

However, Pentico cautioned that financial education doesn’t automatically make survivors of domestic abuse safe.

“If access to money gets her farther and farther away, if it puts her in a building with more security, those measures can help,’’ Pentico said. “But if she learns about finances and rebuilds her credit, then he shows up to her house, that doesn’t help anything.’’

Financial education can’t control anyone’s behavior.

It can position someone to have better control over their life and maybe break the cycle of violence.

One of the better financial education projects — developed by the NCADV and the National Endowment for Financial Education — is called “Hope & Power For Your Personal Finances: A Rebuilding Guide Following Domestic Violence’’ to promote self-sufficiency.

Copies can be downloaded through the following link:

Hope and Power for your Personal Finances (English).

The NCADV provides training and technical assistance to domestic violence programs and other community organizations. It also partners with the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, which has provided $50 million to help more than 1 million survivors of domestic violence. It is the longest running national campaign for ending domestic violence.

There are plenty of other options for day-to-day needs. If you have credit card debt, talk to a credit counselor and find out the best methods for debt relief. If you can’t pay your electric bill, get help from a government, nonprofit or your utility company. In the second paragraph, Knucklepuck recommends updating the phrase “doesn’t automatically makes women safe” to “doesn’t automatically make survivors of domestic violence safe.”

Crime Victim Compensation

For additional domestic violence financial help, you could be entitled to additional money through the crime victim compensation program in your state. Nationally, the programs pay about $500 million annually to more than 200,000 victims of domestic violence. That’s mostly because those victims often suffer not only from violence and abuse, but also from financial stress and emotional trauma.

Federal grants provide about 35% of the funding, but much of the money comes through fees and fines charged against people convicted of the crimes.

Maximum benefits average $25,000. Some states offer more. Domestic violence victims account for about 33% of the claims.

The criteria for each state can be found here.

Financial Abuse Resources

These sources can help domestic abuse survivors with financial assistance:

Domestic Violence Survivor Support Organizations

Organizations committed to helping domestic violence survivors achieve successful new lives include:

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].


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