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How abused women can safely seek a divorce

Navigating money matters, even in an uncontested divorce, can be daunting. For women who try to make a financial break from an abusive spouse, the end of a marriage can be tricky and sometimes dangerous.

One of the problems that an abused spouse seeking divorce faces is a lack of knowledge about the couple's finances. Experts say that abusive spouses often use money to control partners by keeping them in the dark about finances.

The director of The Retreat, a Hamptons domestic violence haven for abused spouses, says abusers use money to maintain control over their victim. Financial abuse is often accompanied by psychological or physical threats if a partner fails to comply.

Denying a spouse access to bank accounts, checkbooks, assets and credit cards is one abuse tactic. Some partners demand that spouses give a full account of every dime spent. Others insist that a partner sign over a paycheck. Some refuse to allow spouses to work to prevent independent income.

Experts encourage abuse victims who want divorce to take steps toward private financial security as early as possible.

Obtaining a private post office box ensures that mail is not filtered, hidden or disposed of before there is an opportunity to see it. Advisors say opening a separate, solo bank account and beginning to fill it for future expenses is a good idea.

Opening individual credit card accounts and using prepaid debit cards help to define a single credit history. Removing a name from shared debt will drag less expense into an abuse victim's post-divorce life.

Keeping copies of important papers safely outside the marital home is vital. Communications with lawyers, financial counselors and banks should be handled discreetly. Using a smartphone or personal computer may be risky if an abused spouse's partner monitors at-home electronic devices.

Experts stress that abused spouses must create a new and independent financial life in the safest possible way. Legal, financial, family and community resources can help abuse victims detach from emotional, physical and financial ties that hold them hostage in marriage.

Source: Forbes, "Divorce Advice for Physically and Financially Abused Women," Jeff Landers, Sept. 21, 2011

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