Domestic abuse and money

It’s about money, whether the headlines are horrific cases of bride burning, or a knockout in an elevator with an NFL sports star. Despite the myriad reasons women have been posting on Why I Stayed, many of them boil down to not enough money to leave.

Sure, many of us can answer because I loved him, but I think that the next time he smacks you around, if you had, say, a cool $5 million in the bank you’d think twice about whether love was enough. If you have children, or haven’t worked in a while, or your spouse is making more money than you ever saw before—more than you have any hope of ever making, well, you’ll try to make it work.

Money gives you a much better chance at safety, from beginning to end. When I got a court order of protection, the process server rang my husband’s doorbell a time or two, even though he was living 4 doors away and I could see he was home. What a surprise that he never answered. No, despite what you see on TV, court process servers don’t sit outside waiting, or go to any of the other places you could tell them the husband would be—they never even asked me. But when I filed divorce papers, I paid a private server, and the service was delivered in two days (they nailed my ex at church).

If you have money, you can pay for a better hotel to move into (rather than trying to find a bed at a shelter). You can stay at a residence inn until you find an apartment with a doorman or a security system. You can write a check for the security deposit. You can buy a mattress and some basic furniture. You can eat out until you equip a kitchen. You won’t have to make the humiliating move of begging family, and you won’t need to be somewhere where he can easily find you.

If you have money, you can choose a good lawyer—your pick of lawyers. And if you have money, that attorney won’t be hounding you to find a way to pay, and won’t jettison you because the money ran out and the settlement is too far away. While I know good, caring, and savvy divorce attorneys, like most of the rest of the world, you’ll get more attention if you have money. If you don’t like that lawyer, you can afford to fire him or her and hire another one, with no fear about a second retainer fee.

You can pay for health insurance. For many women, finding themselves off the policy with no employment is terrifying and can certainly be life threatening.

With money, you can pay for the therapy you and your kids are going to need. Without money, you’ll stay and hope for the best, or that you can make it okay for the kids. Or maybe you’ll be talked into couple’s therapy, so the abuser can find another opportunity to make it (“at least partly”) about you. With decent therapy, you can restore your self-esteem (which most abusers are expert at taking apart) and find out you weren’t an idiot or a professional victim or a weakling. Like all victims of abuse and bullying, it had nothing to do with anything you did.

With money, more people will believe you. Most domestic abuse victims should be prepared to lose most of their friends. Maybe, maybe if the guy looks like a thug, is twice your size, and smells in court, some people will give you the benefit of a doubt. But if he’s charming, employed, and can speak a coherent sentence, people will believe him and not you. Particularly if you come off as a teensy bit angry—I mean, why should you be a little angry? Well, obviously you’re a bitch who drove the nice guy to distraction. An abuser’s modus operandi is to fool people into believing that he’s not abusive or that he had a lapse and will never do it again. After all, you believed it so why shouldn’t mostly everyone else? He’s a charmer, that one.

If you, too, can pay to look good, more people will believe you. Go to court in a nice suit or dress. Have your face dermabraded and your teeth fixed, with the confidence that money brings, and your credibility takes a pole vault. Nobody is going to say without him she’d be nothing.

If you start talking about what happened? Well, quiet, you’re embarrassing people. Be noble and shut up (so he can go on abusing you by silencing you). When you have money, you’re way more able to speak out. With money, far fewer people are going to give you parenting or behavioral advice.

If you have money, your kids’ college will be taken care of, you won’t be facing retirement on ½ his Social Security, and you can keep the house or get another one.

So, my guess is that at least one of these reasons is why Janay Palmer Rice is staying for the time being. Does anyone believe they’ll still be together 20 years from now? Given the money involved, and the alternatives open to her, maybe the marriage wasn’t such a dumb idea. As long as she doesn’t pay with her life.


About the author

Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA

Danielle L. Schultz, the principal financial planner of Haven Financial Solutions, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a NAPFA-registered Financial Advisor, and a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. She studied financial planning at Northwestern University’s Certified Financial Planner™ certification program. She also holds a Series 65 license (Registered Investment Advisor Representative) and a CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist).

She writes a regular column for Better Investing magazine and is currently working on a revision of their mutual funds handbook. In addition to academic training and professional experience, Ms. Schultz has personally managed Social Security, Medicare, retirement and long-term care issues; college funding concerns; and cash flow and transition planning in self-employment and divorce situations. Her social work background gives her an innovative perspective on financial planning issues; for her, financial planning is not only about money, but also a key component in a satisfying and well-lived life.

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