Economic abuse is defined in domestic and family violence legislation in every Australian state and territory except New South Wales.
This means that in most places in Australia, economic abuse is recognised as a series of behaviours which might be part of a broader pattern of domestic or family violence (DFV), alongside physical, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse.
However, being defined in legislation does not make economic abuse a criminal offence in its own right. Nor does it mean this form of abuse is well recognised by police, lawyers, courts or society in general. Only Tasmania has criminalised economic abuse, although it is rarely prosecuted.
Some tactics of economic abuse such as fraud, theft, and slavery are against the law as stand-alone offences.
Domestic violence orders and economic abuse
Each state and territory in Australia has a form of domestic violence order such as Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVO), Intervention Orders, Family Violence Orders or Restraining Orders.
These orders are designed to protect victim-survivors and their property. Often there is flexibility to include specific conditions in these orders, although exactly what conditions can be included in the orders, differs in every state and territory.
Domestic violence orders are rarely used to protect money in bank accounts or other assets, but you may be able to request this if this will support your safety and wellbeing.
There are few forms of redress for victim-survivors of economic abuse in the context of DFV.
Victim compensation: State and Territory Governments in Australia each have an agency to support victims of crime with payments and access to counselling support. You can find the agency in your state or territory by searching the ‘Victim support’ category of the CWES Directory. This support is only available where the crime has been reported to Police and in some states, only when the perpetrator is convicted.
Financial institution consideration: Banks and other financial institutions are increasingly aware of domestic and family violence (DFV) and economic abuse. Some of the larger institutions have customer service teams that have had specialist training in DFV. In some cases, and with sufficient evidence, these teams will recommend an economic abuse debt be waived. Some banks will also provide financial support to help victim-survivors get back on their feet.
Lawsuit: Victim-survivors can sue their partner for damages as a result of the domestic violence they have experienced. This is rarely done in Australia and most common where physical injuries have been recorded and the perpetrator convicted. One major hurdle to a lawsuit is that victim-survivors of economic abuse often don’t have money to hire a lawyer. It is also unlikely to be worth suing if the perpetrator doesn’t have much money.
The Family Court can also make orders about the division of property between separating partners, taking into account family violence and economic abuse.
* To find legal advice as it applies where you are, visit the CWES Directory and select the ‘Legal’ category.
You can download this fact sheet in different languages – below.
These fact sheet includes extracts of Australian state and territory legislation relating to economic abuse.
Information about the law is summarised for the purpose of general information only. This information is not a substitute for professional legal advice and should not be relied upon. While CWES strives to keep information accurate and up to date, we assume no responsibility for errors or omissions.