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Court considers husband’s financial control over his wife

This article was written by Paul Russell and originally appeared on

When spousal support and property division are being considered by the court in divorces, financial abuse must also be weighed as a factor, says Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman.

She says a case heard earlier this year by the Supreme Court of British Columbia is a good example of where this form of domestic violence could have been explored more thoroughly by the judge.

According to court documents, a woman was seeking a divorce, spousal support, uneven division of family property in her favour and damages for personal injury arising from assault and battery by her husband, after more than three decades in a marriage that she claims were filled with physical, mental and emotional abuse.

Though her husband gave conflicting testimony, the court found her to be a more credible witness and ruled he owed her $15,851 in unpaid support, another $14,410 in retroactive support, along with $1,400 per month in spousal support to be paid indefinitely.

“The [husband’s] financial control over the claimant was an element of family violence that she endured,” the judgment reads. “This impacted her upon the breakdown of the relationship as he took all the family’s money, and she was unaware of what financial obligations they had towards the house.”

This case pushes the issue of financial abuse to the forefront, says Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law.

“Reading through the ruling, you can see that the judge is very understanding of the concept, though the analysis by Justice Neena Sharma did not go far enough,” Tsinman tells

She says she is pleased to see the judge recognize that the financial abuse was a serious issue that lead the court to reapportion the property in the wife's favour.

Tsinman says it is also interesting that the trial judge accepted the woman’s explanation for why she didn’t seek legal representation sooner, as the financial control exerted by her husband affected her ability to make choices.

“It is relevant that one aspect of the abuse she suffered from the respondent was financial control,” the judgment reads. “Combined with her addiction issues and the nature of their relationship, I find it reasonable that she would have been substantially incapacitated for some time and would have been unable to take the step of seeking legal counsel.”

Only after the woman broke away from her husband and sought counselling and social assistance was she was able to get back on her feet, says Tsinman.

According to court documents, the man confirmed that just before separation, he removed all of the funds from the joint bank account as he “couldn’t let her have any money” because she would spend it on drugs.

“By controlling all the money in the house, the husband was basically supervising her survival, which is why it is economic abuse,” Tsinman says. “At the same time, he did not provide her with enough money for food or other essentials.”

Because financial abuse happens on various levels, Tsinman says it can be difficult to identify.

“It can be very subtle, and you often can’t really see the control,” she says, giving the example of a female waitress who does not complain when a male customer comes on to her.

“She will just smile and accept it because she’s thinking of her tip, as we all require money,” Tsinman says.

Tsinman says she hopes that more lawyers and judges across the country consider financial abuse in future cases, noting that she is pushing to have the tort of economic coercion recognized by the courts.

“The more counsel presents financial abuse as a form of domestic violence, the more likely this issue will be pushed ahead,” she says.