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      is financial abuse a crime

      Is Financial Abuse a Crime?

      With stricter domestic violence laws being introduced, a common question being asked is whether financial abuse is a crime.

      While this has previously been seen in the context of family law proceedings, the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offence has expanded the consequences of financial abuse. This is because control of finances is specifically set out in legislation as a facet of coercive control.

      A further consequence of this is that financial abuse can be used as a ground to apply for an apprehended violence order (AVO).

      What is financial abuse?

      Financial abuse involves coercive behaviours that limit a person’s financial independence through intimidation or control. It is also known as economic abuse and involves seizing assets, restricting employment opportunities, coercing legal agreements, manipulating access to joint finances, abusive banking transactions, where small transfers are used to harass or threaten and exploitation of older adults’ finances also fall under financial abuse.

      It often occurs alongside other forms of domestic or family violence, impacting victims’ financial security and autonomy.

      Is Financial Abuse a Crime?

      Financial abuse is a criminal offence if it involves fraud, theft or coercive control. From July 2024 onwards, exercising coercive control over another person will be a crime with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

      Under Section 54D of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), coercive control includes withholding necessary financial support, restricting employment opportunities, or controlling access to joint financial assets. Likewise, verbal abuse is a crime if it is used to coercively control another person.

      Is Financial Abuse Domestic Violence?

      Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence in Australia. Section 4AB of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) sets out that family violence includes behaviour that coerces or controls a family member, causing them to feel fearful or restricting their financial autonomy.

      Domestic violence lawyers in Sydney explain that this includes actions such as withholding money needed for reasonable living expenses or refusing to include the victim in financial decisions.

      Can you Get an AVO for Financial Abuse?

      You can get an AVO for financial abuse if it causes you fear, there are reasonable grounds for those fears and the conduct is sufficient to warrant the making of an order pursuant to Section 16 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007.

      The application for an AVO can be made by the police or yourself. A specialist AVO lawyer will be able to guide you through how to get a private AVO. The process to apply for an AVO can be complex and it can be difficult to determine whether you have sufficient grounds to be successful.

      It is important to be aware that if you are unsuccessful in a private AVO application, you will likley be required to pay the legal costs of the defendant.

      Once an application for an AVO has been filed and served on all parties, it will be listed in court for a mention date. On this date, the defendant will advise the Magistrate whether they wish to agree to the AVO or defend the AVO.

      The court will set a timetable for each party to prepare and file evidence to support their case. The court will then set a final Hearing date when all evidence is presented and witnesses are cross-examined.

      When all witnesses have finished giving evidence, each party’s avo lawyer will make oral submissions. The magistrate will then give reasons for granting or dismissing the AVO.

      Victims of Financial Abuse

      Victims of financial abuse in Australia have several avenues for support and recourse. Firstly, state and territory governments compensate victims through agencies dedicated to supporting victims of crime. This support typically includes financial assistance and access to counselling services, contingent upon the crime being reported to the police and – in some jurisdictions – upon the perpetrator’s conviction.

      Financial institutions in Australia are increasingly recognising the link between domestic and family violence and financial abuse. Many larger banks have customer service teams trained in domestic violence issues and may waive debts associated with economic abuse upon sufficient evidence. Some institutions also offer financial assistance programs aimed at helping victims rebuild their financial independence.

      In addition, victim-survivors can sue for domestic violence in Australia. Civil action can be pursued in cases involving documented physical injuries and convictions of the offender. However, financial constraints and the perpetrator’s financial situation can pose significant challenges to pursuing legal recourse. The Family Court can also intervene in property settlement matters during separations by taking into account instances of family violence and economic abuse.

      Examples of Financial Abuse

      Examples of financial abuse include preventing the victim from working or advancing in their career, sabotaging their job opportunities through harassment or violence, or forbidding them from attending job training. It also involves exerting control over finances by managing all spending, excluding the victim from financial decisions, or restricting access to bank accounts.

      Other forms include withholding money, forcing the victim to engage in financial fraud, accumulating debt on joint accounts without consent, or refusing to contribute to family expenses.

      Further actions include denying funds for necessities like food and medicine, hiding assets, stealing the victim’s identity or inheritance, and exploiting them by making them work without pay in family businesses.

      Additionally, financial abuse can damage the victim’s credit score, manipulate public benefits, file false insurance claims, evade child support payments, or prolong divorce proceedings through dishonest means.

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