Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

'Economic abuse' to be put on par with domestic violence

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Women's Refuge says a law change to put economic abuse - such as excessive control over the purse strings - on a par with violent abuse will help to counter the view that only physical abuse amounts to domestic violence.

"Economic abuse" will be included in the definition of domestic violence in major reforms to the Family Court which will go before Parliament for the first time today.

Examples of economic abuse include restricting access to money, extorting or spending someone else's money, or preventing someone from working.

Women's Refuge head Heather Henare said "economic abuse" was an issue for abused women as well as disabled or elderly people with caregivers or other family members who had some control over their finances. She said the change would make it easier for women to recognise it as a true form of abuse.

"A person can be living in that kind of environment, under extreme pressure and stress all the time, but not consider themselves to be abused, because it was not specifically recognised.

Lots of people think that the only way you are abused is physically."

Ms Henare said it was a common tactic for men to exert control over a woman by controlling access to money and giving her a limited amount to meet all the household costs.

"And he comes home and checks the receipts, the mileage on thecar, the phone for toll calls, allthat kind of stuff. That is a frequent controlling factor that men usein violent relationships."

The change will mean such behaviour is treated on a par with physical violence by the Family Court and people subjected to it can seek remedies such as protection orders, which require an abuser to stay away from family members.

Ms Henare said there was often some other form of physical or psychological abuse alongside economic abuse.

However, there is some dispute about whether the change is necessary. Ministry of Justice advice said it would better educate people about economic abuse and could strengthen some applications for protection orders which would otherwise be declined.

Garry Collin, the head of the Law Society's family law section, said it was a complicated area but was common in some cases such as "dial a brides" where somebody brought a bride from overseas and then withheld independence or support.

He said the change was possibly unnecessary because that type of abuse was already covered under the wider psychological abuse.

He was most concerned about other changes in the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill - such as a proposed $900 fee separated parents will have to pay for a mandatory new Family Dispute Resolution Service to try to sort out custodial issues before the courts will step in.

Mr Collin said the Law Society supported the new service but the high fee would be an obstacle to justice for many who could not afford it.

He was also concerned about changes which prevent applicants using legal representation until the court has accepted their case.

Proposed law change

* Includes "economic abuse" in the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act.

* Will allow victims to seek same remedies as for physical abuse, such as protection orders keeping their "abuser" away from them.

* Includes restricting access to money, extorting money, spending victim's money, or preventing someone from going to work.

* Affects abused partners, the elderly, and disabled.

* Previous discussion about including it was rejected because it was considered to be already covered by the wider category of psychological abuse.

- NZ Herald

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