When Aaliyah* split up with her partner she suddenly had to contend with “Disney Dad”. While she was struggling to manage daily living expenses as a single parent on a low income, he was using his greater wealth to buy off their children with treats.
“He would lavish them with gifts to make them want to go with him,” she said. “I wasn’t in a situation to take them to theme parks so [he would say] ‘if you come with me, I’ll go here’.”
An Australian Institute of Family Studies study into the effects of domestic violence on parenting found the “Disney Dad” phenomenon of men using money to buy their children’s allegiances while denying the mother funds was a common feature of these separations.
“These were men who often had much greater financial resources and gave gifts, expensive activities or luxury items to children while not making a fair contribution to the children’s day-to-day living expenses,” the report stated.
The report, funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and due to be released before the end of the year, found that financial abuse is part of a “fairly severe” pattern of domestic violence and is used to control and trap victims (who are usually women). It includes scrutinising spending, not contributing adequately to household expenses and saddling victims with large debts.
Financial abuse tends to escalate after separation, as women are subjected to protracted legal proceedings, denied their fair share of family assets, or not paid child support they are owed. While a third of women interviewed for the report suffered financial abuse during their relationship, 60 per cent reported it occurring after they split up. The findings come as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull prepares to host a national summit in Brisbane this week on reducing violence against women and children.
Obstructing or denying access to money has only been recognised as a form of domestic violence under the Family Law Act since 2012.
“Financial abuse is emerging as a very significant form of family violence. I think it’s been under recognised, I think we need more than just research into how extreme it is, we also need to find remedies and ways to rectify the situation,” Rae Kaspiew, the chief investigator for the Institute of Family Studies project, said.
“Pre-separation it is about making sure the woman does not have the material resources to escape abuse. Post-separation it is about making escape as difficult as possible.”
Often women don’t realise they are being subjected to financial abuse. “She thought he was being kind and caring taking over the bills, she didn’t realise that in the process she was losing control of her life,” BaptistCare domestic violence specialist Diane Coleman said. “It’s really important she starts taking back control.”
The Family Law Council has recommended the federal government investigate to what extent ex-partners engage in “systems abuse”, where they manipulate the child support system to avoid paying child support, try to fraudulently gain access to their partner’s Centrelink benefits, or frustrate legal proceedings.
*Name has been changed.
COMMON FORMS OF FINANCIAL ABUSE
– Keeping financial affairs secret
– Controlling household finances and assets
– Monitoring spending
– Refusing to contribute to family living expenses
– Running up debts in the victim’s name
– Denying victims a fair share of family assets after separation
– Engaging in vexatious legal proceedings
– Non-payment of child support
– Siphoning off Centrelink benefits
Read More: Sydney Morning Herald
By: Cosima MarrinerBack to News
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