Economic Harm

What is economic harm?

Economic harm (often called financial or economic abuse) is recognised as a form of psychological abuse within the Family Violence Act. It involves behaviour towards a person that controls, restricts or removes their access to money, economic resources, and/or participation in financial decisions. It is experienced in many close personal relationships, particularly intimate partner relationships. It may also include forms of elder abuse. 

"It was like he had an image of a perfect girlfriend, he would decide what I wore, where I went, who I saw and give me as much money as he thought I needed for the things he agreed that I could do."

The voice of experience

Human relationships are complex. There are many things to navigate in a close personal relationship, and one of the most common challenges is money and finances. Discussions about money will surface at some point and are not only necessary, but can be difficult regardless of how healthy a relationship is. There is however, a difference between “money problems” that a couple works on together to resolve, and the financial controlling that can lead to economic harm.

How do I know if this is happening to me?

If you answer yes to any of these …

and/or no to any of these …

... you may be experiencing economic harm.

Understanding economic harm

What is unique about economic harm?
Economic harm is commonly experienced within the context of domestic (or family) violence, but not always. Unlike physical violence it is less visible and does not leave marks; the impact can be debilitating, and affect financial security well into the future. In situations where demands are refused, what begins as economic abuse can lead to other forms of abuse such as yelling, threats and more violent behaviour.
Who does it affect?
Economic harm can impact all ages, socio-economic groups, cultures, ethnicities and genders. It is commonly experienced in intimate partner relationships, in the form of elder abuse, and in other close personal relationships. It may present differently in some cultures due to traditions and beliefs, or the systemic experience of colonisation.
How is it experienced?
Economic harm is experienced in the context of power and control and is often intentional, but not always. Like other forms of violence it can be subtle, beginning with the smallest breach of trust, and then build over time. It can also be a product of intergenerational learning, role modelling, previous trauma, belief systems, limited knowledge, traditions etc. It is most evident when a specific pattern of behaviour is occurring - such as coercion, withholding financial access or support, deceptive behaviour or unreasonable control that limits another persons' economic or financial involvement.
Does economic harm only relate to money?
Economic harm also relates to access to, or use of, resources such as accommodation, transport, employment and clothing. It may also involve limited or no participation in decisions or actions relating to financial and economic wellbeing.

What does the behaviour look like?

Other behaviour may be occuring, particularly if a person is trying to leave the relationship –which can be the most dangerous time.  This could be such things as money or resources being withheld to prevent you leaving the relationship; the car is damaged so you can’t go; your employment situation becomes difficult due to constant harassment; child support is not being paid; court processes are intentionally dragged out etc.

The impact of economic harm

Economic harm has both short and long term consequences. The impact is complex, and cuts across many environments, often leading to years of debilitating economic and social conditions.

Credit and debt

Economic abuse can cause excessive debt and a damaged credit history that lessens one's ability to meet basic needs and can lead to homelessness.

Social isolation

The need for support can increase dependence on family and services, often causing fragmented relationships. Personal safety can also be compromised, requiring a move to a new area, away from local supports. This lack of support, and real choice, can force people into long-term periods of social isolation.


It is common to feel exploited, depressed, distressed, embarrassed, angry and stupid. Shame, fear, low self-worth and self-belief can lead to physical and mental health issues. Anxiety about financial matters is also a problem - excessively worrying about overspending, long after a relationship has ended. Confidence to rebuild a future, have trust and navigate new relationships is significantly diminished.


Remaining in or obtaining new employment can also be impacted by the lack of resources, or poor credit history. It can also be affected by a partner or ex-partner's interference.

Legal system

Legal and other financial challenges around child support, access, and ongoing court costs can also be debilitating both financially and emotionally, and can continue long into the future.

Lack of choice

Any decisions that are made when people are in 'survival mode' can lead to consequences such as even more debt, recordable offences or criminal charges, which can influence or restrict future choices.

The impact on children

In families where harm is occurring, it is often hoped that children are protected by not seeing or hearing what’s happening. There are however psychological, emotional, environmental and economic factors associated with harm that can have a significantly negative impact.

Children’s basic and developmental needs can be disrupted or limited, along with their social and educational opportunities, due to lack of access to finances. Parents or caregivers can become emotionally unavailable and children may need to negotiate issues that occur at home. They can be left feeling responsible, confused and isolated. Their confidence and self-esteem can become eroded, impacting their overall wellbeing and psychological recovery. In the long term, economic abuse can negatively affect a child’s mental wellbeing, and lead to social and/or behavioural issues, depending on their age, the level of harm and the length of exposure.

Finding support

If you suspect economic harm is occurring, and want to chat with someone, family violence agencies are best placed to provide support and guidance.

It is important to take some form of action to stop or address economic harm, but only when it is safe to do so. As it is a form of family violence, we would strongly encourage you to access support to create a plan. Often other forms of violence may also be occurring, and if not, things can still escalate quickly into more controlling behaviours that further impact financial and economic opportunities and can compromise personal safety.

If your safety is at immediate risk, please ring the New Zealand Police – 111

Research and Resources