5 November 2019
AUT Research Shows How NZ Legal System Can Perpetuate Financial Abuse
New evidence from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) shows changes to the Family Court are needed to help protect
women and children from financial abuse. The findings follow recommendations in July by New Zealand’s Law Commission to
change the Relationships (Property) Act.
Financial abuse happens when someone uses financial resources to control and terrorise another person. Often, this form
of abuse occurs within intimate relationships. It is more commonly perpetrated by men against women, with devastating
consequences for women and their families.
In 2018, AUT Senior Lecturer in Finance Dr Ayesha Scott interviewed 15 women about their experiences of financial abuse
after the breakdown of their relationship. Scott says the findings show the importance of this research.
“Financial abuse is an evasive, invasive and largely invisible problem for New Zealand, where we simply don’t talk much
about money. The silence leaves women vulnerable to this type of violence, which is further perpetuated by our complex
financial institutions, and our slow and costly legal system,” says Scott, who believes such research can lead to a
better understanding of how financial abuse occurs and how to stop it from happening in the future.
Scott’s work shows financial abuse can vary in character and intensity. For instance, a husband or boyfriend might
control his partner’s spending or restrict her access to bank accounts and cash. Or, an intimate partner might refuse to
pay for things his family needs or prevent his partner from earning money herself. Sometimes, financial abusers use
their partner’s name to take out loans or accumulate debt. Post-separation, ex-partners might refuse to pay child
support. It is also common to see perpetrators engage in lengthy legal battles with their ex-partner, knowing it will
put her under financial strain.
Financial abuse can happen during and after a relationship. Many women highlighted the complicated nature of their
household financial matters, particularly citing trusts, which can be complex and opaque, as a vehicle for abuse.
Participants also pointed to loss of income, the impact on their future employment prospects and their mental and
physical health, as well as the inequity of the eventual relationship property settlement. They said the often
expensive, time-consuming and traumatic process of legal self-representation can exacerbate the violence they face. Even
after separating from a partner, women spoke of being ‘trapped’ by either Family Court proceedings, a lack of financial
security or, for the mothers interviewed, their child-care arrangements.
Ayesha Scott will present her initial findings at the 2019 NZ Law Society CLE Family Law Conference in Auckland this