Lainie was with her husband from her late teens to her late 30s and had two children with him. She experienced coercive control including economic abuse which continues to the present day. Her now ex-husband hasn’t seen their kids in more than 10 years and owes her more than $50,000 in child support. This is her experience.

** Contains descriptions of domestic violence and abuse **

Early days

There were plenty of signs in retrospect. When we’d been dating for a few months, Kyle told me he had attempted suicide after he found out I’d slept with someone else. I no longer believe that to be true. I think it was a way to draw me back in, to make me feel bad about what I did.

Kyle was always limiting my time with my friends. If it was a night out with my friends, he’d want to go home early. Later, he’d do the same when we visited my family. He’d want to leave early and if I said I didn’t want to go he’d call me “selfish”.

I remember going to see my favourite band in concert. I was so excited, and I’d invited friends and a new colleague I really liked. But we left after the support act and didn’t even get to see the main act because he really wasn’t interested but was fully aware that I was. It was embarrassing. I didn’t want the conflict, so I left with him.

Increasingly he just wouldn’t agree to any of my suggestions for weekend plans for things that interested me like music, art or concerts. We would only do what he was interested in and I didn’t challenge this. He wouldn’t let me join a gym because he said he didn’t want to waste money on exercise when it was free to jog outside.

We did some travel and it was all his plan and his way. In the early phases of planning, he asked me, “what do you want to do? Where do you want to go?” And I’d tell him, but we wouldn’t do that. We would end up doing what he wanted to do. We had a fight while we were in Germany. And he just gave me my passport and said “here, find your own way back home. I’m leaving.” I had nothing and I was terrified and very distressed because I had no idea what to do. I think he created that dependence so that I would continue doing whatever he said.

Before we had children, he’d manipulate me to drive a wedge between me and certain friends, telling untruths. Once, he pretended to be me and sent a text message to a friend of mine asking that she “apologise to Kyle” for laughing at him.

He always had to be right. One night when I was pregnant and we’d ordered some Thai food, the delivery guy comes to the door and I was very pregnant and I was very hungry. And he went and got the food from the door brought it in and went through the bag and said, “I can’t find the dumplings. There’s no dumplings.” He calls them up and says, “there’s no dumplings here. You’ve forgotten the dumplings.” And while he was on the phone, giving them a serve, I found the dumplings in the bottom of the bag. So they were there and I said, “it’s okay, they’re here.” But he wouldn’t stop. He demanded they come and get the food and pay the money back. He was always ready to have a fight with anyone.

Having children

When I had our first child I was working as a casual in government. I had left my permanent job because we moved to a new city for his work. He didn’t want me to work at all. He wanted me to be free so that when he wanted to go away for a weekend, I wouldn’t be tied down to a job. But I wanted to work, so I did casual work. Then when I had my first child, of course I didn’t have any maternity leave as a casual, so I just left.

He disrupted my birth plan for my first child, which was in a nice birthing centre. He took over and demanded a doctor which then led to medical intervention and damage including physical and psychological trauma. I wanted to avoid medical intervention; he knew that and was supportive. But after I’d been in labour for more than a day, he raised his voice and started demanding to see a doctor “now”. He blamed my mother because she was calling the Centre to see how I was going. It’s ridiculous but he said she took the time away from midwife who should have been paying attention to me.

He then banned my mother from staying at our home in the early days of my baby first being home. He also told a lie about my mother to attempt to split us. At the time, I believed him and did not communicate as often with my mother. I now know he lied. It was one of many lies.

I was strongly discouraged from doing any personal banking. He said he would manage the finances because he was better at it. He was also very discouraging of me using our computer and said that I would cause problems because I didn’t know anything about computers. He said the software provided was too complex for me.

I’d get blamed for things; it didn’t seem to matter what. One time we got a virus on the laptop that I hardly ever used. I’d done a transfer of $10 into my mother’s group, to put some money in for baby’s gift, and he blamed me for the virus. “That’ll be from you.”

He questioned me about my memory, to the point where I was constantly doubting myself. I even doubted that I would be able to survive on my own, I didn’t think about leaving for quite a long time because I actually believed I wouldn’t know what to do and wouldn’t cope. I’m a pretty high functioning person, but in our relationship, I was never given the chance to take any lead with finances, making any plans, he just controlled my whole life.

During my second birth, which was a planned home birth, I deliberately didn’t wake him overnight when I was in labour because I didn’t want him to take over and interfere. It was after the birth of my second baby that I knew I wanted to be free and leave him. It was my second baby that gave me the strength because I was completely in charge of the birth and I realised I didn’t need him. It was only after when I was free that I realised how controlled I was.

Leaving

It was a difficult choice to leave. I had sought some legal advice, which I didn’t find very helpful, and developed this plan to end it. I was very anxious about that because I knew it was going to be a very difficult time. And sure enough, there were threats of financial ruin, threats of “you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” Really trying to destabilise me.

It ended up happening two months before I’d planned. Kyle said to me, “I think we should break up.” And I said, “yes, I absolutely agree. I’m done.” And he said, “oh, what?” So, I had called his bluff. I was completely burnt out and over it and so I just rolled with it. “This is what’s happening.”

There was a three-week period before the intimidation started; a period where things were calm when he was hoping I’d take him back. When he realised I wasn’t going to change my mind, things started escalating and his behaviour became aggressive.

We were separated but we still lived under the same roof because I didn’t have anywhere else to live and I couldn’t afford to rent on my own. My second child wasn’t quite one-year old, and I couldn’t get them into childcare. That meant I couldn’t work and had no income at all. One day, he removed my credit and debit card from my wallet before he left for work. He did it right in front of me. It was very overt, and I thought how am I going to get money? I’ll have to go into the bank and ask.

I felt very trapped because I knew that the government couldn’t easily provide me a parenting payment. I contacted Centrelink to find out what I would be eligible for and they said that it would take six weeks for me to get a single parent pension. And I said to them, “okay, so what happens if I need to get out of the house and I need some money to pay rent somewhere?” And they said that they could offer like $500, and I was absolutely baffled. I thought, “how do people leave?” There must be so many women like me that are absolutely stuck.

Another day he took the car keys so I couldn’t drive anywhere. Mostly I was in the local area so I could walk everywhere but everything was just a little bit harder because of his actions. And he was showing me he could control things.

By this time, every time I heard the gate squeak – meaning he was arriving home – I’d get anxious. He stopped making mortgage repayments. I couldn’t pay because I had no income, so the mortgage was in arrears. The bank was calling me quite a lot. They were calling him too, but he didn’t answer. I told them they’d get their money. We had agreed to sell the property. But the bank was quite bullying saying it would impact on my credit report. They didn’t know anything about what was happening; it didn’t occur to me to tell them the details of my personal life.

Post-separation abuse

He was very disruptive in terms of the sale of the house. Our real estate agent had a very challenging job because he was providing what he thought was a reasonable price guide for the house. And I agreed but Kyle didn’t. At the auction, on the Saturday, we had one bid and that’s all we had. So this potential buyer was ready and Kyle was refusing to sell and the real estate agent was trying to keep things alive. We were due in Court on the Monday about getting some interim orders around the financial settlement. So I talked to my lawyer to ask for the sale to be forced. And the court ordered the house to be sold and gave me sole occupancy. So I was able to stay in the house until settlement and he was asked to leave.

Of course, he refused to leave and so the police came around. He continued to refuse to respond to the two constables who arrived first but then when their sergeant arrived, who was a giant of a man, he said to Kyle, “If you don’t leave now, I’m going to charge you with trespassing.” And he finally left.

Once the house sold and once settlement occurred, I left the house and moved in with my cousin for nine months. I eventually did get an intervention order when I was at my cousin’s place. The same day the order was served on him, he sent me a message late at night; a photograph of him with our youngest child on his shoulders. That felt very intimidating, and I reported that as a breach even though they weren’t threatening words. It was just like him to try and show he could outsmart the system. It was like he had been with the Thai takeaway food delivery; that drive to outsmart the next person, to challenge the system. Fortunately for me a breach was granted.

He continued to use the system to intimidate me. He knew the rules that permitted him to message me about childcare arrangements, but he would do it late at night and I found that destabilising. So I went back to court and I asked they make an amendment that he could only send messages between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM and anything outside of that would be a breach. And he breached again.

When the divorce was finalised a year later, I think he was monitoring me or stalking me. I had planned a divorce party for a weekend when he was due to have the children. I had it all planned on my separation date with people coming over – none of whom were in contact with him. And he didn’t come and pick up the kids as agreed. It didn’t stop the party, but it seemed deliberate. He messaged to say he couldn’t take them. He said he had measles, an obvious lie because he turned up on my doorstep the next morning. When he turned up the next morning for the kids he had a cut on his forehead. I thought “what’s going on here?” He was in relationship, and I’ve since found out there were other domestic violence orders in place, and he kept breaching and stalking, and there was a warrant out for his arrest and he went into custody.

Family Court

In the Family Court it took two years to get final orders. Two years and $60,000 I spent, for what should have been a very simple, uncomplicated matter, two children, one house, one car. Throughout that time there were text messages saying, “I’m going to ruin you.” He was having his lawyer send letters to my lawyer that we’d have to respond to, to try and drain my finances.

My family lent me the money on the agreement that once the house was sold, I would pay them back. So I was really lucky. I just don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Maybe I would’ve stayed. It’s just so difficult.

Shortly after final orders were done, he stopped seeing the kids. That’s coming up to 10 years now. He hasn’t seen them. The orders don’t prevent him from seeing the children. It’s a choice not to. But he told his friends and family that he was not allowed to see the children that I had ordered this. So he was playing the victim and I was being blamed. For a while, his family were supporting him and in contact, but he’s now damaged that relationship. My kids and I still go and spend time with his mum and dad and his family.

The thing that’s taken me the last few years to really understand, is that he’s using the system for economic violence and further control.

Child support

While I was still living in the former ‘matrimonial home’, as they call it, I contacted the child support agency. They said, “most parents have private arrangements and, that’s what we would suggest.” And I just thought, “are you serious?”

Since day one he’s been manipulating the system, reporting un-truths. He doesn’t report his income to the ATO and tells the Child Support Agency (CSA) that he is earning net zero income. And it seems they just take that as gospel, as if there’s no other way to try and find out where his money is. There’s been times where they’ve been able to secure some consistent payments, but I don’t recall that happening for any more than six months at a time. I have given them as much information as I can, but I don’t feel that it’s my job to do that.

He’s in a relationship with the woman he’s working for; working at her business. I found this out from a friend of his who’s also a friend of mine. This friend is on Facebook. I’m not, because I don’t want him to be able to track me. But she saw he was working at this place and drove past to see if she could see him and sure enough, he was in there behind the counter. But he’s also claiming unemployment benefits, so all I receive in Child Support is $50 a fortnight. When Centrelink grant unemployment benefits, this impacts the CSA moving forward. It’s more lies and just another attempt to outsmart systems to continue his economic violence.

He owes us well over $50,000. I guess the thing I’d most like to see change is the Child Support Agency (CSA). There are so many problems with the way the CSA works. It shouldn’t be requesting that the woman provide information and anything they know about the employment of the non-compliant parent. It should be a system that can access the information they require independently. I think this burden only deters women from participating.

I also think the CSA should be able to monitor transactions in bank accounts to generate a more accurate financial profile of the non-compliant parent without the bank then alerting the non-compliant parent. This happened in my case and resulted in him closing his account.

It also makes me mad that if a tax debt is owed to the ATO and there is a Child Support debt too, the priority will be for the ATO to remove the tax debt from the tax return first, and then the CSA can intercept the ATO to remove a portion that’s owing.

So many options haven’t been on the table because I don’t have that money: getting braces for my children, the option of travel for their sporting interests, being able to participate in specialist programs, the option of private school, regular family holidays, or just being able to save money. I worry about financial security. It’s like the systems have allowed his further control and economic violence.

* All names have been changed.

Support and resources

If you are reflecting on your own experiences of abuse, you may be interested:

  • To explore services and information that may be helpful in relation to experiences of economic abuse, visit economicsafety.org.au.
  • To explore Insight Exchange’s My Safety Kit which includes contact details for services across Australian states and territories that may be able to support you in your next steps.
  • To access counselling and support 24/7, you can call the national sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse counselling hotline, 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Internationally

Disclaimer: Details of this person’s identity have been altered to protect their safety. Whilst great care has been taken to assemble these insights to contribute to improved responses to domestic economic abuse, CWES assumes no responsibility for how this resource is used by other parties.