Although the type of domestic abuse that generally receives the most attention in the media involves battery, there are many forms of domestic abuse that don’t involve physical harm to the victim. In fact, some people who are charged with domestic abuse may not have even realized that their actions could constitute a crime.
I’ve already written about how behaviors such as stalking and destruction of property are considered domestic abuse under Colorado state law, and now I’m going to turn to another less well-known form of domestic abuse: financial control.
What Is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse occurs when one person in a relationship controls the finances of the other or makes financial decisions for the other in an effort to keep that person from leaving. The National Network to End Domestic Violence notes that financial abuse can take many different forms, including:
- Sabotaging employment opportunities (e.g. physically or psychologically abusing the victim before an important interview or meeting, harassing the victim at the workplace)
- Forbidding the victim to work or attend professional training opportunities
- Making the victim work for a family business with little or no pay
- Leaving the victim out of banking or investment decisions
- Stealing money from the victim or the victim’s family
- Ruining the victim’s credit by racking up credit card debt in their name
- Controlling joint bank accounts and spending
- Withholding money or giving a small “allowance”
- Withholding funds to prevent a victim and children from receiving basic amenities, such as food or health care
- Using credit card statements to track the victim down if they try to leave
- Forcing the victim to turn over paycheck or public benefits
- Evading child support after a divorce by hiding or withholding assets
Financial abuse is often accompanied by emotional and physical abuse, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, one partner might mistakenly believe that because they are married and share joint accounts with their spouse, it is within their rights to control how the family’s money is spent. In reality, however, behavior that is placing undue stress on the other partner or preventing them from leaving the relationship when they want to is a form of domestic abuse and can be punished under Colorado state law.
Why Financial Abuse Is Considered a Crime
Some defendants might wonder how they could be charged with a crime when their actions—such as controlling a joint bank account that they share with their spouse—are not technically illegal. The Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board states that, “Offender treatment must address the full spectrum of controlling and abusive behaviors associated with domestic violence, and not just the legally defined criminal behavior(s).” Controlling a spouse or partner’s access to money is not just considered a “family matter” in Colorado—it is a behavior that may be indicative of domestic violence and could result in a misdemeanor or (in cases where the alleged abuser has been convicted on a domestic violence charge in the past) a class 5 felony.
Controlling the family finances might seem like a private matter that shouldn’t involve the Colorado judicial system, but our state takes this behavior very seriously because of the way it impacts the victim and the victim’s family. Someone who has been financially abused may have no access to money of their own or even have the means to make money, especially if their partner has caused them to lose past jobs or has prevented them from receiving the training necessary to be considered for certain positions. A victim of financial abuse may also find themselves facing a huge amount of debt and a bad credit score if their partner has taken out a credit card in their name, making it difficult for them to find housing. Because of all this, it can be very difficult for a victim of financial abuse to leave their partner, even if they want to.
Charged with Financial Abuse Domestic Violence? Talk to a Criminal Lawyer
If you have been charged with domestic violence when no physical violence took place, any evidence of financial control or manipulation may be used against you in court. Even if you don’t think that your actions should be considered a crime, you need to take the charges against you very seriously and contact a Denver domestic violence attorney as soon as possible. A conviction for domestic violence cannot just be undone, even if the alleged victim decides they want to drop the charges against you. If you don’t want the stigma and long-term consequences of a criminal record to follow you for the rest of your life, you and your attorney will need to start building a defense as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.