** Contains descriptions of domestic violence and abuse **
The financial abuse I experienced was after we split. There’d been little things beforehand, psychological things, or he’d grab my hand really hard or leave a bruise on my leg. I’d excuse it because he was drunk. He often came home drunk and then he’d be sorry the next day, so I’d excuse it. But we separated because of his affairs. The last straw was when our son was six months old and I was on maternity leave. I found out he was having more affairs and I thought, “that’s enough”.
We were living under the same roof while we were separated when he threatened me. He said, “when you go missing, your family and friends won’t be able to find you.” So I went to the police about that, and they wanted me to put an AVO out, but I thought, “I don’t know where I’m going to go if I have to leave,” because I was due to start back to work in a month or so and it was a long drive to my parents. So I didn’t get an AVO.
Then one morning he said, “we’re going to the bank. We’re freezing all the accounts. Cause you’re going to end up spending all the money.” By that stage, I think he realized that I didn’t want to get back with him. I wasn’t playing that game. So we went to the bank together. And I felt very trapped, but he said to the teller, “we have to freeze all our accounts, we’ve separated.” And then she took us into a private room and I agreed, mainly because I wanted to stop him getting more angry, because he was always angry. Then he says to the teller, “can I see my wife’s credit card statements?” She said, “ah, no.” I think she must have had some inkling of what was happening. She said, “no, it’s privacy, no one can see her account. Only Laura can see the accounts.” And he got a bit shitty towards her.
At the time we had the house, we had our mortgage, plus we had a joint savings account, we had our separate bank accounts and credit cards. I’m a nurse and when I was working, everything I earned would go into the mortgage account, but I was on maternity leave at the time. He was on $200,000 plus a year so he was on a very high income and I was on zero. And that’s when it all started.
A month later, he assaulted me and tried to kill me. He’d come home intoxicated and tried to give me a hug and I said ‘no, no, get off, you’re drunk.’ He hit me a couple of times on the cheek and pulled my neck up saying, “your brain’s going to be all over the bathroom tiles if you scream for help.” He was strangling me and I was trying to get away to get to my phone to call Triple O. I raced to the kitchen, and he chased me. He was chasing me with a dog lead, threatening to strangle me with it. I had quite a few injuries but I managed to run out the front door.
We live in a very quiet suburban neighbourhood. For some reason, I was worried about the neighbours waking up. Anyway, I went up to the next cross street and called triple zero and the operator said, “go, go where he can’t see you, run down the street.” And then the police came and he was arrested. The police said they were putting an AVO on him but when they interviewed me and took footage of my injuries, they kept trying to imply that I shouldn’t stay in the house. They’d say, “where are your parents?” And I said “miles away, in the country.” They said, “look, its best that you leave, but you have to stay in the state because of your son, because you have a child.” It was all a lot to take in.
The next morning, the police officer on the morning shift calls and says, we’re letting your husband out. He wants to come home to pick up his work clothes and his car keys.” And I said, “I thought he wasn’t allowed to come to the house?” She said, “oh no, no. He can come to the house but he can’t live there.” This was the Monday morning and the court case was on the Wednesday. I got a bit shitty at that stage. This man just tried to kill me and they’re saying he can come back in the house? I asked my brother to come over urgently, he arrived about 30 minutes prior to my husband being released, with him knocking at the door- I was petrified & hid, my brother had to deal with a still highly intoxicated man, who also was not supposed to come anywhere near me if he had consumed alcohol within 12 hrs- however the police allowed him back to our marital home still intoxicated . I don’t know what would have happened if my brother hadn’t been there. But on Wednesday when it went to court, the AVO they put in place meant he couldn’t come to the house for a year; couldn’t come to my workplace all that kind of thing.
Refusal to contribute
He went and lived with friends and then just refused to pay any of the bills; the electricity bill, the water bill, the council rates. It was quite a big house. Thankfully the mortgage was still coming out of the joint account. The car rego was due, but the registration was in his name, and he was refusing to register it, so that was a whole debacle. We’d bought the car together and I was using it to get around, but it was registered in his name. I tried to do the rego myself, but I needed his license number and so on. I was driving around with my baby son in an unregistered car for a week or so, which was not good.
Then the bush fires were on and I was thinking, ‘Oh, god, these fires are quite close,’ and I realised the fire insurance hadn’t been updated either. There was smoke everywhere, it was awful. I was online that night, doing the insurance for the fire you know, but because we’re in a high fire danger area, that was $2,000 and it was just more money flying out that I don’t have. I did text him about it to see if he could pay half and he was just very sarcastic, “Oh yeah, good on ya. You wasted that money.” He was still very angry that with the AVO, that he couldn’t come to the house.
Legal systems abuse
I had got a solicitor before the AVO because I was hoping to start a divorce. I had already started proceedings to try and sort out the house. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it because I was a nurse, I was going to be working part time and wouldn’t be able to afford having our son in daycare 5 days a week. So I just thought, let’s just sell the house, that’s what I wanted: Sell the house, split it 50:50 type of thing and then work out the custody of our son.
But he never responded to that request and then with the AVO, I think he realized he had to have some type of legal advice. When he finally got a solicitor, that was a very difficult time for me. Without my parents, I would have even worse off, ‘cause I had nothing. All our savings were frozen. The mortgage was frozen. I had a credit card, but you can’t pay the solicitor on a credit card when you’re not getting paid. I’d worked my whole life but l was on maternity leave, and it was leave without pay by that stage. So, I had zero and I was just borrowing money constantly. I thought about Legal Aid but the solicitor said because of the house and the savings that were frozen, I had too much ‘means’; too many assets. Not that I could touch them.
If I didn’t have my parents, I don’t know where I’d be. They started me off with a bit of money for the solicitors to help with all the proceedings for the house, and that just went so fast. I feel that was a part of the financial abuse. When you’re trying to split assets and sell a house you have to do financial disclosure, you have to show your taxable income, and my ex-husband refused to do any of that.
The solicitor did say, “I think we have to take it court.” But when you go to the solicitors, you get this letter outlining all these costs of what you may have to end up paying. I remember reading a court case could be up to $200,000. So I thought, ok, I want to avoid court at all costs. I don’t have that type of money. I don’t want to be asking my parents for any more money. I’m not that type of person. I’ve been very independent financially. I’ve been working since I was 18, so I just wanted to avoid court at all costs.
But my ex just wouldn’t respond to the emails, so I was getting the solicitor to respond and write to his solicitor on an almost weekly basis, and they just wouldn’t respond. “We’re still waiting on your tax return. We’re still awaiting a financial disclosure.” Zip, zip, nothing, nothing. And then you’d finally get some response, and it would be, “he’s asking for 70 per cent of everything and Laura has 30 per cent of everything,” just these strange, unrealistic responses. So then we’d have to respond again. And that would cost more money and more time. And the joint savings were being reduced every month for the mortgage repayments.
I had started back to work three days a week. So all of my work income was going towards the solicitor. I had to ask my parents for extra money for the ongoing utility bills for the house I no longer wanted to live in, I wanted it sold. It was costing me more than I was earning.
It was nine months of this. And then I started seeing my new partner, and my ex turned really nasty. He was trying to withhold our son. He was seeing him on weekends, and I would have him five days; it wasn’t a formal court order, just something that I agreed to. But then he was driving around the house, stalking, intimidation, harassing messages, and financially delaying any settlement or agreeance to sell the marital home – all legal delay tactics.
Finally there was an urgent court case and the judge ruled he had to produce the financial disclosure within a month and we had to sell the house, or he was to buy me out, within four or five months.
But that year of legal delays cost me $80,000.
Evading child support
He wasn’t paying any child support either. Zero. Cause I was too scared to ask for it. I thought, “what’s the point of asking him? He’s not even paying for some general things?” I thought, “I won’t ask him, because I’m just going to aggravate him even more.” Then I got a letter from Centrelink asking why I wasn’t receiving child support and I had to explain to them. They were really good. They said, “come in, bring in the AVO and the criminal charges.” The lady was really good at Centrelink when I started breaking down. I had an emotional meltdown and she said, “don’t worry, you don’t have to ask him for anything. Don’t ask him for anything.” Then I started getting the single parenting payment. That was actually very helpful. I should have asked for that a lot earlier, but I didn’t know that it was available. I didn’t know they could do that.
He was still doing a lot of harassing – writing horrible, horrible messages. He would drive around the house, my neighbours had also witnessed this. I went to the police multiple times. One time I went to the police, they said, “Look we can speak to the neighbours, this is probably a breach of the AVO,” but at that stage, the neighbours were on school holidays and they have young kids and they’re all away. So I just said, “oh don’t worry about it.” I didn’t want to cause more issues for more people. It’s already affected my life so much and my parents and everyone else, I don’t want to bring more people into it. But then the AVO was about two weeks away from expiring, I thought, “enough’s, enough.” And the police said, “look, we can do another one for you, but we’ll have to interview the neighbours to say that they’ve witnessed the stalking.” Then they said, “look, you could apply for an AVO yourself, like a personal AVO, through the courts. A personal AVO not a police-made one, and I thought, “Sweet, I’ll do that; then I won’t involve anyone else.”
So then I went to court representing myself. I had a really good friend as my support person. My ex wasn’t there, but he’d hired a solicitor to be there on his behalf. I wanted the AVO to be the same conditions as were already in place; so he couldn’t come to the house, the workplace and so on. But his solicitor said, “no, he doesn’t agree to the workplace because how about if he has an accident outside the hospital where she works? He has to be able to go to hospital.” I was so frustrated, but I just said, “fine.” Then the solicitor said, “he wants to be able to live back in the house.” And I said, “no, chance. No, no, no.” But they said if I didn’t agree, they were going to take it to a hearing, and there’d be another court case and I’d have to be a witness. They said I would need legal representation and it was going to cost me a fortune. And so I just agreed. I’d been waiting in court all day long. I was due to pick up Jasper from daycare. I couldn’t stay any longer. And if it was going to be another court case, I might have needed another day off work as well. I was just trying to avoid more money, more time wasting, and I was an anxious wreck from a year of the ongoing abuse despite the AVO & his criminal charges being laid, I didn’t feel like my self anymore.
The worst thing was then his solicitor said, “my client won’t agree to anything unless you pay for my costs for today.” And I remember thinking, “oh God.” And my friend was there saying, “no way Laura.” I hadn’t brought my own solicitor to save myself money. But then I ended up paying for his solicitor to represent him. I ended up paying $2,000, for my ex-husband’s legal representation on that day. It’s crazy that that’s something I felt like I had to do. I felt like I was being put in a corner because if I didn’t pay, we were all going to be back there in a month, I was going to have be a witness, and I was going to have pay solicitors anyway.
So then the AVO was granted but the judge said to me, “What’s this hospital?” I said, “well, that’s where I work.” And she said, “so why are you taking that off the AVO?” I said, “because he said if he has an accident outside the hospital. That’s where he’ll have to go.” She kind of looked at me and I could tell she knew it wasn’t right. And then she said, “where’s this street?” which is where we lived. I said, “that’s my house.” She goes, “why are you taking that off?” I didn’t say, “because his solicitor said, ‘if I don’t do this, then we’re going to be back here.’” Maybe I should have. Instead I said, “well, I’m going to move out anyway.” Cause I was thinking about moving out because I was so worried about him driving around stalking and all my friends were telling me, “get out of the house, get out of the house.” But I knew I wouldn’t be able to move anywhere because I had no money and the accounts were frozen.
I could tell the judge was thinking, “what are you doing?” Because I started crying and she said, “sit down. Someone get her some water. Are you OK?” I remember just thinking, “just say yes Laura, just say yes,” to get this over with. I said, “yes, I’m fine with that,” as in, the conditions on the new AVO being modified. I actually was not okay with, but I knew if I disagreed it would cost me so much more than it already had; more money, more time off work, my mental health, family/friends having to come to court with me.” So the AVO was extended for a year, but it really didn’t do anything because under that AVO, he could be back in the house. He could come to my workplace.
Luckily, I spoke to my manager at work and she said, “even though it’s a public hospital, it’s still private ground, so if he comes, we’ll get security into the room straight away. So work was very supportive. They’d also just started the domestic violence leave, so I could claim that. Mind you I had to give them all the evidence of the court case and the AVOs and everything. I’m quite an open person, but I can imagine if you’re someone who didn’t want your bosses and your colleagues to know your business, it would be very difficult because you have to hand all this paperwork in and you have to prove what’s happening. Thankfully, I have very supportive colleagues and a manager, but if not, you probably wouldn’t bother claiming for domestic violence leave as it certainly invades your privacy.
So he moved back in two months after that. And I moved out to my new partner’s place but again I was just lucky to have a very supportive partner that said, “come live with me, you don’t have to pay anything, just come here, just be safe.” If I didn’t have that, I’d have to live in the car or I’d be living with friends, lounge surfing, with a tiny baby.
In the end he had to pay me out my half for the house as per the urgent court case hearing. But the savings were already reduced by 50 per cent. If we’d sold it when we first split, we’d both be better off. I felt like this was his game plan as he knew I was on maternity leave and that when I returned to work, I’d be on 10 per cent of what he was earning.
We’ve now gone to a private child support agreement. I didn’t ask for him to pay back the child support he didn’t pay. I just accepted the private child support agreement. He even manipulates that. He pays for day care but the way the agreement is written, it says if both parties agree to extracurricular activity, then we’ll pay 50-50, but he doesn’t agree to anything. I didn’t think about that when we signed, I just thought he would agree. Because of that language used in the agreement he doesn’t pay for anything. I’ve had to pay for the swimming lessons and so on on my own. I do worry that if my ex gets another partner and the same thing happens, then Jasper’s exposed to that environment. But it’s hard, my hands are tied by the legal agreement.
He even refused to divorce me. We had been separated for almost three years and he refused. So then I had to apply for the solo application to pay for all those costs as well. His solicitor wrote to say, “he’s not financially able to pay for the divorce as now he is unemployed.” It was only $400 each. It was nothing in comparison to years of legal costs. It’s $800 to do it through the online system application. But that email would have cost him more to use his solicitor anyway, rather than just paying the $400. I thought, “you have got be kidding me.” When I read that email, I was spitting coffee over my PC at work in disbelief that he still tries to control me financially. He’s made me pay in time and money. Now I just have to laugh. I have no expectations. If there’s a chance for him to cost me money, he’ll take it. It’s over but it’s not really.
I feel that I will never be financially free from him until our son is financially independent himself; he is only a toddler, so many more years of battle ahead.
* All names have been changed.
Support and resources
If you are reflecting on your own experiences of abuse, you may be interested:
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 explore services and information that may be helpful in relation to experiences of economic abuse, visit the CWES Directory.
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).