This article was written by Kathy Rumleski and was originally published on AdvocateDaily.com on August 30, 2019
Canada is joining other countries in recognizing that domestic abuse includes economic control, but further steps must be taken to ensure the abused spouse is protected, says Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman.
A BBC article reports that England and Wales have a draft bill that defines economic abuse as “behaviours that control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources.” It can also include controlling someone’s food, transportation and housing.
Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law, says examples of economic abuse that she has encountered include restricting a partner’s access to bank accounts, credit cards and employment, registering assets in only one name or piling up debt under the partner’s name.
“The better you are at scheming, the more ideas you will have to control and limit a person’s access to finances,” she says. “One partner may say, ‘Let’s sell the house’ and then hide the profit in a place the other partner can’t access or even find. At that point, the abuser may announce they want to separate.”
However, the British bill is more elaborate in this area because it aims to provide assistance to the victim, she says.
The proposed British legislation would introduce new protection orders and establish a domestic abuse commissioner, Tsinman says.
“In Canada, you can define it, but now you need to figure out how you’re going to help those who are suffering from it,” she says. “I hope that the definition in the new legislation will give the courts more power to acknowledge it.”
Tsinman is pushing for the development of a new tort of economic coercion to protect women in relationships of financial dependency.
“In other torts I have dealt with, it can take many years and much academic work for judges to start incorporating it in their decisions,” she says. “Now that financial abuse is defined, counsel needs to be creative in how to include it in their practice and use it before the courts.”
Tsinman says along with financial abuse, many spouses suffer from economic coercion, which she says is more subtle than financial abuse.
“It is like a virus within the fabric of society. It’s not just that a partner is noticeably abusive, people may not even realize they are being coerced by either entering into marriage or a sexual act with the notion that if one won't enter such relationship, some economic benefits will be taken away from them,” Tsinman says. “Such abuse is particularly dangerous as it violates one’s human dignity.”
If someone marries a powerful figure, there can be certain expectations because of influence and income disparities, she says.
That sets up the possibility that sexual consent is never really freely given in circumstances of power inequity, Tsinman says, noting that such dynamics also frequently occur in the workplace.
An example would be an employee who is not able to succeed based on ability alone and who may be under the thumb of a manipulative boss, she says.
“Economic coercion is a global phenomenon, and I hope that this subtle form of abuse will be eradicated in the next generation,” Tsinman says.