real life

"The week Australia went into lockdown, my husband cut off finances to my children and I."

He drove a fancy car.

His parents’ home had a swimming pool and a tennis court.

He didn’t play that card though, he didn’t behave like he had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and I liked it. I bought the fun, carefree, bad-boy attitude.

We were young, we fell in love, we worked hard, life moved fast. I whole-heartedly trusted him, his love, his opinions, his decisions, but also his restrictions – because I knew no different.

Watch: The signs of an abuser, told through the victim’s phone. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

We purchased our first home just before we got married and at this point our finances became joint.

Ben* appeared to have a good comprehension of what was best in terms of financial decisions. After all, he had been around significant amounts of money his whole life.

All my purchases required approval by him and if not, I had to have a pretty good explanation. This applied to clothing, household purchases, dinners out – anything really.

I didn’t have access to our internet banking, home loan account or share portfolio. Consultations with banks and mortgage brokers upon the purchase of new homes involved me silently sitting there, being hospitable and signing on the dotted line.

I earned a significant salary and commission cheques were coming in monthly. I was told I was not to spend my commission cheques, despite them being additional funds to my salary.

Shares were purchased with joint funds without consultation – all in his name. Monetary gifts I received at Christmas or on birthdays were not allowed to be spent and were taken and ‘deposited’ by him.

I honestly believed this was him taking care of me, all in the best interest of us, and our goals as a couple.

I enjoyed my career and hesitated stepping away from it, but I knew a family is what we had both always wanted. I supported him in applying for promotions, working long hours and studying to further his career, while I raised and cared for our newborn at the time.

I believed in him and loved seeing him succeed. Admittedly, there was a part of me that was envious and longed for a return to my career. When the time came, I believed my return to work would be encouraged and supported by him.

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When our first child was eighteen months old, I returned to work two days a week.

It was made very clear that I would be required to maintain all responsibilities pertaining to our child, as I was ‘only working part-time’ and he was working full-time. After eight months, I was unable to maintain all household duties, care of our child and a part-time role, I became run-down and fell sick constantly. I regrettably resigned.

We went on to have another child. This second pregnancy was difficult. I struggled with Hyperemesis Gravidarum and looking after our beautiful, but very energetic toddler.

Ben’s hours at work began to increase and so did his interstate travel. I was scared to tell him I needed his help. After all, he was working full-time, and I was at home. When the HG and exhaustion eventually became too much, I spoke to him, only to be told, “You know, other pregnant women can actually work.”

A few short weeks after our second child was born, Ben decided he was leaving us. He was “done being a Dad”.

As I painfully went through the motions of separation with a newborn and a toddler, it became clear to me how blind I had been.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation and what happens when things get nasty. Post continues below. 

I didn’t see the substance abuse and didn’t clue on to the other women. Just like I didn’t see the financial and emotional abuse. I didn’t see the restricted life I was living because I believed it to be love.

Upon our separation my lawyer requested my financials. What were my financials? I had no idea regarding our ‘financials’. The home loan was ours. However, all investments, savings and credit were his.

I scanned the list of information required by my lawyer and begun to make enquiries. I requested access to our accounts and was politely told by the bank that they were his and I was not permitted access.

Our home loan and redraw facility I could access because it was in both our names. Our redraw was being used by him, consistently, with a significant increase of withdrawals from the time of separation. Amounts were significant, $2000 here, $4000 there, $1500, $2500 and so on. Eventually equating to approximately $60,000 over a six-month period.

I also found out that he sold $50,000 in shares. That money arrived in an account that I could see, but could not access, and disappeared the same day. In an attempt to label me as excessively spending in a legal setting, he told me his credit card had been hacked and had all direct debits charged to my card.

He had my phone bill redirected to his personal email account and paid it, so he could monitor who I was speaking to. He stopped depositing money into our cash account, so I was required to use the credit card, which he used to track my movements and question me.

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Over a three month period, Ben’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable and aggressive. As a result, it was requested that he undergo a hair follicle test, to test for illicit substance use prior to him having contact with the children.

This request resulted in aggressive and constant phone calls and text messages, and subsequently my mental and physical health deteriorated.

The relentless messages and phone calls were addressed by my lawyer and Ben was cautioned on three separate occasions. If he did not stop we would be submitting an application for an intervention order. Ben’s arrogance led him to believe he was above this and no action would be taken.

In March, after spending the weekend trying to hide the vomiting and uncontrollable crying from my two children, listening out for the sound of his car driving past the house, leaving the blinds down day and night to make sure he couldn’t see us, I was granted a no contact, no exceptions, Family Violence Interim Intervention Order covering both the children and I.

Two days later I was paying for formula, and my credit card was declined. I instantly knew what had happened and broke into a cold sweat. Embarrassed, I quickly fixed up the bill with the last bit of cash I had and drove to the closest ATM. There was $500 in a shared cash account. As I pinned in the amount and selected ‘withdraw’ the ATM promptly declined my request and swallowed my card. Access to all finances had been cut-off upon Ben being served with the intervention order.

Family violence is so widespread, sadly. However, the people who specialise in this field can offer so much help and guidance. What I did not realise is that banks, utility providers and certain services have teams specifically to help people in these situations. They are able to offer assistance and they want to support you.

I am not entirely sure as to every aspect of my finances that require sorting out, but I am getting there, one step at a time.

I am asking for help.

I am telling my story.

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity. 

Instances of domestic and family violence often increase in times of disaster. The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be no exception globally, with financial abuse also likely to increase. To people experiencing domestic and financial abuse, CommBank has produced a guide about the impact of the coronavirus and domestic and family violence.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

Feature Image: Getty.

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