How To Deal With A Financially Abusive Ex Partner

How to deal with a financially abusive ex

A financially abusive ex partner seeks to continue domestic violence after a relationship ends. It’s a form of control that’s not taken seriously enough because it’s mostly invisible, but how can you cope if your ex is abusing you in this way?

How to deal with a financially abusive ex partner.

A while ago, a woman commented on a Facebook photo of mine.

She started to talk about how her ex husband withheld child maintenance for their children if he was in a bad mood for any reason, and said that he would often reduce the payments if he had been out shopping beforehand.

She felt a deep sense of relief to be able to talk about it out in the open, and after I directed her to my post about financial abuse, she felt even more relieved to be able to see that it wasn’t just her who was dealing with financial abuse; it’s a common scenario for too many people – mostly women.

Just as she got that load off of her chest, however, a new load appeared on her shoulders: someone saw her post and told her ex-husband about it.

For many parents, financial abuse is a part of daily life.

My reader had to endure the discomfort of waiting for the inevitable: verbal abuse and withholding child maintenance altogether.

We had a brief chat about her situation, and she told me about the pressure she was under due to her ex-husband’s financial abuse, and how it affected her depression.

For many single parents, financial abuse is a part of daily life. Click To Tweet

Child maintenance as a tool for abuse

Just as that happened, I saw another post in a child maintenance support group by a different woman, who was questioning the advice she constantly heard given to parents who are denied child maintenance: to not rely on the child maintenance payments, but just to see them as extra money.

Her point was, why should parents with care of their children be told not to expect any help from the non-resident parents who are responsible for contributing financially?

She made a valid point: that attitude simply allows non-paying parents to abnegate real responsibility.

However, the sad fact is that there are thousands of non-resident parents who are willfully shirking their legal and moral responsibilities towards their children, and I’ve written about this in greater detail in this post: Withholding Child Maintenance Is Financial Abuse.

The fact remains that the Child Maintenance Service, by way of failing to provide a service that is fit for purpose, is in effect colluding in the financial abuse of thousands of parents and children.

Financial abusers desire power and control

One of the factors behind this kind of financial abuse is the desire to exercise control over the other person. The abuser enjoys feeling in control of the money, and will encourage a situation where the other person has to repeatedly ask for child support payments before they’re made.

For example, in the same Facebook support group, I read another woman’s story of repeatedly having to email her ex, begging for the maintenance payments to be made.

This scenario is precisely what the abuser wants, and it perpetuates the cycle of abusive behaviour. With each request, the abuser feels empowered and is more likely to create the circumstances where their victim will have to get in touch, putting themselves under the abuser’s control.

Breaking out of the abuser’s grip

For this reason alone, I have always been determined never to beg my ex-husband for child support, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get by without having to resort to it.

I have known from the beginning that he was unwilling to pay anything, and that the only recourse I would ever have to any maintenance payments would be through the Child Support Agency. I’ve been able to avoid ending up in the abusive cycle I just described, but many single parents are not as fortunate.

Unfortunately for me, avoiding the cycle has meant that I’ve been at a financial disadvantage as well, having to support a child on my own. Just because I’ve escaped reliance on my former partner, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been well off, or that I’ve been able to give my son all of the things I would have liked to. It just means that I’ve managed.

No two people share the exact same circumstances, and there are many parents who find themselves much worse off financially, forced to rely on the whims of their abusive ex-partners.

Here’s where it’s worth accepting that yes, it is a gross injustice against single parents who are denied child maintenance, but for the sake of avoiding the effects of abuse, for our own sakes, we have to strive to attain a minimum level of financial stability without relying on a former partner.

In this situation, it’s a good idea to look into side income streams and benefits that you may be entitled to.

Cease unnecessary communication

Financially abusive exes often derive a kind of gratification from knowing that the relationship persists, even in a tiny, tiny way.

Unexpected texts and emails picking fights, sending the children back from visits in worn-out clothes, refusing to return toys you’ve purchased – all of it is designed to elicit a response from you and drag you back into the cycle of communication. Is it worth it?

Try to avoid unnecessary contact with a financially abusive ex. Click To Tweet

You’ll have to communicate over matters concerning your children, but beyond that, you don’t owe your ex any more of your attention. Keep it business-like, and that includes on social media.

Consider whether your ex might be inclined to put money on a pre-paid card like goHenry.

Prepaid cards like these have a major downside for this kind of use, in that a controlling ex would be able to see what the money is being spent on, but if the card is given to the child for their use (if they’re old enough) then it could appeal to your ex’s narcissistic side and they may be more likely to part with cash.

Personally, I’ve seen how my son’s father was always willing to give money directly to my son in order to appear generous to him.

It’s up to you to decide whether a pre-paid card would create more distance between you and your partner, or another level of connection.

Document everything. Everything.

Threatening texts and angry email? They may well fall under the Malicious Communications Act. Take screenshots, print emails out and tell the police if you’ve been threatened.

Many times we downplay the aggressive actions of former partners because we’ve been conditioned to think our problems aren’t worth the attention of the authorities. Well, that’s how small abuses snowball into big ones. As long as minor threats are tolerated, they can turn into something worse.

Never tolerate verbal or written abuse or threats - they can and do escalate. Click To Tweet

Document it all – write it down in a diary or keep a blog.

Get more help for financial abuse

Contact or for help with domestic violence, and for benefits advice.

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  1. I am really pleased I found this post tonight. I am so worn out from the last 2 years but I knew i couldn’t stay with someone like him any longer.
    I am in the process of taking my abusive ex back to family court to vary the contact order. I was advised to stop all contact until it was sorted.
    He isn’t happy about any of it as I was told things by my eldest son(which he was told not to tell me)that made me extremely afraid for their physical safety.
    He is now 5 days late paying maintenance but previously he made me ask him for it which I refuse to do anymore. He won’t set up a standing order and already pays less than he should due to being creative about his income to HMRC.
    I wish I didn’t need the money but I am currently taking care of my youngest.
    Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that he will never put the children’s best interest first which obviously includes maintenance and he would much rather get at me for ultimately rejecting him by leaving.
    I will be starting a business within the next 3 months so I am hoping the reliance on him will be gone and he will no longer have any control over me.
    Thank you so much for writing this. I needed to see that I wasn’t alone and have someone to tell my story to.

    1. Yes, it happens a lot of the time where an ex would sacrifice their children just to get revenge over being rejected. I really hope your business takes off, and that you can build up some side income perhaps from some other easy income streams. All the best xx

  2. I wonder what I can do. My ex is supporting with child maintenance but agreed spousal maintenance due to me supporting his career and helping him become a high earner I had no job when we split. Done the mediation route and spousal was agreed, but 2 years on if my ex can get out of paying this money he will. I have finally been able to get a house and provide for my kids but the ex has found out and within the month of me getting my keys has now cut the spousal maintenance completely. Unfortunately I only got the mortgage in the inclusion of this money. I now risk losing everything I have built and me and the kids being homeless because renting is too expensive.
    I know I’m lucky in that he pays for the kids maybe I shouldn’t complain but after 15years mental abuse its hard to not feel he would do anything to destroy my happiness

  3. I would very much like to hear from Mothers who are suffering financial/emotional abuse as I am intend to be actively involved in Parliament Bill and need case studies, these can be anonymous, I need as many as possible.
    I am also seeking case studies, names do not need to be included from mothers who did not marry the father and therefore have no legal right to help with finances following a separation.

    1. Is this still open? I have had the most horrific experience in the family courts with my ex. We separated 4 years ago and he continues to harass me in court. I am in court again next week

      1. This might be irrelevant to the thread but I’m being financially abused by my ex partner too but the other way around;
        My ex during the relationship was in and out of work and also smoking cannabis and drinking heavily, I ended the relationship because of this but gave him time to move out once he’d found something, he used this time to turn my boys against me, especially the eldest who was 8 at the tim,
        Finally two years later he moved out but took my eldest with him, it was my sons decision but he was coerced into it, the house they moved to stank to high heaven and my ex continued to drink and smoke cannabis, only working part time, I got social services involved and they said the house was adequate!! Cut a long story short he’s still taking £240 per month off me for maintenance and (babysitting money for my younger son who’s now 11) while I work 12 hour days and nights to support everyone, without my money my boys would have nothing, I wash both boys clothes provide school meals and pretty much most of everything when I’m not working, if I refuse my ex this money he wouldn’t look after the boys while I work, he’s abusive via messages and when he comes to the door he’s aggressive and nasty in front of the boys to me, the boys now see my treatment as normal and now are getting too big to handle on my own and I fear for them getting worse,
        My ex thinks this is his revenge for breaking up with him, I’ve no family to help with child care as my parents are dead, I never thought being a single parent would be so hard and my I’m ashamed of the way my boys are heading,
        I have tried to reason with my ex but it’s not helped at all

        1. Hi Wendy,

          It’s not irrelevant at all – you’re not the only one who finds yourself in this situation. It’s the same kind of financial abuse and I’ll be looking to write a post about it soon. Thanks for your comment, I wish you all the best with your situation.

        2. Hi Lucy, I do send my sincere apologies, I’ve only just accessed this site again, I wasn’t too optimist that it would take off and Im delighted to have responses. I still need as many cases as possible. As it happens I have been working on an article to which I have just submitted to parliament.

      2. Hi Lucy. Sincere apologies, I have just accessed this site again and wasn’t expecting responses. I still need as many cases as possible. As it happens I have just submitted an article to parliament.

    2. Going through this right now with my ex partner who has financially controlled me for years, my daughter wanted to stop visits with her Dad, but my ex wouldn’t have it that she has issues with his girlfriend, one example my ex smashed my childs’ tablet up defending his girlfriend, when I asked for more child maintenance as he obviously has no ongoing childcare costs, he offered a poxy amount so I went to the cms, this did not go down well and now I have been slapped with a court order for access!! He based his order on the lie that I wanted more money so I stopped my child seeing him…..such lies! I now have to seek legal aid attend a separated parents course plus three visits to court….. It absolutely beggars belief that the courts allow controlling financially abusive ex partners to take the mothers of their children to court enabling their abuse to continue! My ex also withheld £300 of child maintenance in may but the ever so intrusive cafcass seemed to have overlooked that in their initial report the whole thing is an absolute disgrace!

      1. ps: We have been separated for nine years, and he is a recovering alcoholic….dare I say ”dry drunk” dealing with that in itself is tremendously draining

  4. Although clearly bucking the trend here – there is also an argument to state that those in receipt of CMS payments sometimes use it as a means to control and continue the abuse of their partners.

    In my case, despite me making regular monthly payments to my ex-wife for over a year, and despite the fact that she earns nearly 3 times my salary – she chose to involve the CMS – seemingly to put more pressure on me financially. This backfired a little because their assessment came in quite a bit lower than I had been paying. Unsatisfied with their assessment, she now makes continual further demands for money outside of the CMS payments and, worryingly, involves the children in those requests so that any refusal to pay – usually on the basis that there has been no prior discussion about affordability – is made with their full knowledge. My youngest daughter is 8. My eldest 14.

    Recently, I withheld some of the CMS money over a dispute about an item that should – in my openly stated opinion – have been paid for using the money I give her. But I had a distraught and tearful daughter to deal with, who thought she wouldn’t have the kit she needed for a netball tournament. I took the view that I would buy the kit and work out the details later.

    As it turns out this was a mistake. The CMS have no real interest in protecting either side of what often an acrimonious relationship. They are just concerned with the bottom line – how much money do you pay? So they then received a request to go on to the Collect and pay system – which costs both me and my ex-wife service fees and serves no real purpose other than penalise me for ‘non-compliance’. I am awaiting their decision as to whether they will proceed.

    Whilst I appreciate that I am a minority voice here – I surely represent a cohort of parents (of either sex!) who are perfectly happy to pay a fair and equitable amount for child support. Who have calculated it correctly and pay on time, and are nevertheless bullied by their exes into paying more money and if they don’t, or try and resist, having the CMS system used as an enforcer.

    I have nowhere to go in this except to flatly refuse to pay for anything outside of the CMS payments and then to accept that this will be used in further attempts to influence my children’s opinion of me by their mother.

    Rock. Hard place…

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you bringing this point out and adding your experience – it does definitely also work the other way around as another commenter mentioned.

      The CMS is an incredibly heavy, blunt tool that is too often manipulated by vengeful exes wanting to either withhold payments or to extract money in order to hurt their former partners. In time I’ll write up a post that deals with this side as well.

    2. John, my partner is in exactly the same position. He has always paid for his children and his ex felt she deserved more money. She has continuously lied to CMS and it took us 6 months to prove his outgoings and the contact he has with his children. She has put complaints in accusing us of lying and an investigation is now taking place. She refuses to give my partner the children’s passports without him making an additional payment and when she changes the contact arrangements (last minute and blames him) she demands he pay for their childcare costs (he refused). She sends them with no clothes or underwear when he sees them so he is constantly asking her to send them with more clothes. She actually replied once that it wasn’t her responsibility to provide them with clothes and that he should be doing that and when reminded that that is what he pays CMS for, she stated that that money is for when she has them and not anything to do with the time he has them. He does all the travelling and was left with all the marital debt. She has recently instructed a solicitor to stop the sale of his (non matrimonial) property as she wants a % of it (never lived there, never paid anything towards it). They have been separated for 3 years and divorced for 1. She has cost us over a £1000 in legal fees and has now stopped responding to her own solicitors and we have had no option to take her to court. its heartbreaking to watch him go through all of this and its not really discussed when its the woman abusing the man.

  5. Thanks Lee

    I guess there are a couple of things here.

    Firstly – that of a man recovering from domestic abusive. When I tell people that I was physically, emotionally and financially abused by my ex-wife – the response is either that it is somehow amusing, or that I must have ‘done’ something to deserve it. Alternatively it can be one of complete disbelief. A man is not ‘supposed’ to be the subject of abuse. Financial or otherwise. The reality is that the plight of abused men – while in no way detracting from women who suffer – can be just as horrific.

    We need to start thinking in terms of people who are abused. Rather than discount one group because they are less represented overall (that’s kind of what democracy was all about right?). The court system in the UK could particularly benefit from a more balanced and contemporary view on divorce and finances and should take as its starting point equal and shared parenting responsibilities as being the preferred position. Sadly we are a long way from that right now.

    Secondly, I strongly suspect that financial abuse – via instruments such as the CMS – often forms part of a pattern of abuse – and which often does not stop after a marriage or relationship ends. And, in fact, can get much worse – albeit in different ways.

  6. And one final comment. I really like your section above – Document everything. Everything.

    I cannot stress enough how important this was and remains to me. Without having well documented abusive phone messages from my ex – I would almost certainly have had to go to trial to get a fair shared residency agreement.

    Similarly, abusive emails from my ex and her father about finances – were incredibly damaging to her position in court.

    I collated every single communication. Had phone messages transcribed. Recorded the abusive attacks when picking up children. And put it on a blog so I could access it anywhere. I would urge everyone facing abuse – financial or otherwise – to do the same. You don’t know when you will need it – but it is highly likely that you will.

  7. We were together from the age of 16 to 25 (he was 24 to 33) he fell out with my father early on who was also an aggressive & controlling man (Mum cheated at least 4 times so all females can’t be trusted)and we did not speak for the whole 9 years, I was estranged from my whole family (not that we are close) except my mother who moved to Scotland with her new husband and children. 8 years after separation and 5 years divorced, once convenient for him, I am still having to payoff credit he obtained in my name and another 2 debts in my 2 eldest children’s names. They are now only 13 & 15. After months of abusive messages some confrontation and repeated threats to take my children the ex-husband has disappeared, he’s not made contact in 5 years nor do I or my 3 children wish him too. He controlled everything down to the finances. We only had my account and he used my card for everything, I couldn’t even do the food shopping for the final 5 months of the relationship. I’ve never claimed a penny from him, he never worked more than a part time cleaning job for 18mths in the 9 years we were together. My kids don’t have everything but my husband and I do the best we can. Having this in the background makes me wonder if we’ll ever be free. It’s taken 8 years to achieve a good credit score after all the CCJ’s (he paid no bills for the last 5 mths), 20K owed on 16.5 hours in a college kitchen on MW doesn’t work. What I have trouble with is providing the credit companies with proof that it was not me who applied for the credit. 1st company in 2010 when he first left told me if the goods weren’t in the property I’m not liable (I told the ex-husband to take it all (should have sold it to pay the bills but just wanted it gone and didn’t think till it was gone) and latest company has said I need to log it with the police who tell me to log it with the company or bank. There is no further information I can find anywhere as to how to stop being liable rather than continue to pay his bills. Once he finally left & I gained control of my life I passed my driving tests(T&P) and began a carer in finance so bankruptcy is not an option as I would be stripped of my qualifications! Keeping a detailed log as many of you have stated is so important, I hope people who are living the situation are aware before it’s to late.

    1. Hi Emma, thanks for sharing your experience. You’ve been through an absolute nightmare, and I don’t want to give you superficial advice that you’ve probably come across already. What I can say is that Action Fraud are the agency to go to (if you haven’t already) and is a fantastic source of impartial information on debt and what you can do in this situation. Take care – Lee

  8. I’m the opposite to this in that my daughter has been coerced and manipulated to the point of telling me she isn’t coming back to stay at my house let alone live with me.
    My ex is using her to financially ruin me. He knows with out her I will lose my mind emotionally and financially I won’t be able to make ends meet with reduced benefits and he will come after me for child maintenance payments despite that he earns 50k and I earn £11! He will do it out of spite….Im devastated all round…. And have no where to turn…. Even my solicitor knows I’m ruined in every sense… No daughter, no money and soon no home either…. Just what he wanted…

  9. My ex-fiancee, we always had a problem as she always looks for men’s attention, long story short after trying for 2 years, and after catching her planning meetings with another man, I decided to make her go back to her country of origin.

    (She blames everything on me, while she said i never gave her secureness, I say that from the beginning I she never respected me so I decided to pull back little by little until I could not take anymore her emotional cheating and behavior.

    She is from Budapest, she came to ame4rica, she lost it all as we were gonna be married, last December I had traveled to Budapest to propose to her and we had great 10 days of good time, at that time no men issues came in between us .. i thought everything eas over.. but no, Afte4r she came back, men issues, facebook and texting got worse. And I got worse rejecting her as well.

    now she is back to Budapest, she lost everything, and she continues to manipulate me calling me “babe” but then at nighttime, she will disappear with another man until midnight and meet strangers and who know2s what else is she doing.. the problem is that she keeps asking me for financial help because I have to keep my promises that I will help her financially if we have to separate…. but i think it should be a limit, she verbaly abuse me all the time and she only calls when she needs money..

    how do I get rid of this toxic woman? why is so hard for her to understand that if she wants me back, going out with another man or several in her case should be accepted until we get her fiancee visa running?

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