Moving on from abuse

Regain financial independence

Reclaiming your life after an abusive relationship

Throughout 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, we’ve been looking at breaking free of an abusive relationship. It’s shocking how many women live with abuse, sometimes for decades. The problem is not unique to South Africa. It is global, oblivious to social class or economic circumstances, and has not abated, despite radical changes to the status of women in society in the past 50 years. This series of articles has been designed to give practical information and support to anyone trying to leave an abusive relationship. 

We have covered the dynamics of abusive relationships, barriers to leaving, and making a safe exit plan. This article looks at financial planning – both before and after leaving – and moving towards financial independence. Next year we will cover becoming financially independent post-divorce in more detail.

Financing your exit plan

Before your departure from the abusive home, we have suggested you make a detailed exit plan. Leaving safely is vital for your protection against retaliation. Woman are often harmed and even killed for trying to end a relationship with an abuser. For this reason careful planning is essential, and your exit plan must include your finances. You don’t want to return to the shared home because you are destitute or risk your partner claiming custody of your children because you lack the means to support them.

If you have your own income you are in a reasonably strong position. But you may have been restricted from working by your partner or placed on a meagre allowance. If you do not have your own resources, the effectiveness of your financial planning will make the difference between surviving on your own and crawling back for economic security.

Stash your cash

Unfortunately, this process can take time. It’s hard to suggest staying in an abusive situation, but the better the plan, the better the chance of survival in the long run. If possible on the income or allowance available to you, stash a bit away every week. Do not use your existing bank account, even if it is in your own name. Open a new account with a new bank (not one your partner banks with). Although much banking is done electronically these days, go into a branch and speak to an adviser about your circumstances to eliminate the possibility of correspondence being sent to your home. Bank personnel have dealt with similar situations and know how to help. Try to memorise your new account number so you can access it in an emergency. If your family members or friends are able to help you financially, don’t be afraid to ask. Most people want to help if they can, even if it’s only with a basket of food. Make an inventory of your valuables to see what you can sell for cash.

To your credit

It may be possible to apply for a credit card in your name. If you do, have statements sent to a PO box or a friend’s address and don’t access your account from your home computer. Even if you start with a very small credit limit, having a credit card can help you establish or build credit, provided you have the means to pay it off, and this could be a financial lifeline when you leave. This option won’t be available to everyone, but it’s worth finding out if you are eligible. Your parents or a sibling may be willing to add you to their account. This is not ideal, as they will be responsible for your spending on the card, and you will need to make a clear arrangement regarding repayment. 

Make a budget

Draw up a budget for the first three to six months. If you have somewhere you can stay for a month or two, you will reduce your accommodation costs. But allow for food, transport, toiletries, and basic children’s needs. It’s unlikely you will manage to save enough to cover your outgoings for this amount of time, but it’s important to know what you will need. Someone may offer to pay for a specific expenditure, e.g., your food costs for three months. It’s helpful to have a response that shows you have worked it out.


Then, once you know your needs and your means, you will know what your shortfall is. Some domestic violence support organisations have financial assistance programmes; others offer skills training and work readiness workshops. We won’t pretend the transition from dependence on a partner to financial independence is easy. It is not. But don’t let the fear of the unknown trap you in a dangerous situation.

What next?

Your first priority is finding somewhere to live and ensuring you are safe, either by taking out a protection order against your abuser or moving away, or both. You may also need to consider new schools for your children and focus your efforts on helping them cope with the huge change in their life. But sooner or later you need to think about the future and your own hopes, dreams and ambitions.

Overcoming obstacles

Don’t underestimate the psychological barriers you will face when it comes to finding a job or deciding on a new career. You may struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. A career counsellor can help you shed any negative perceptions you may have about your capabilities, and support you as you figure out your next steps. General counselling or a support group can also help you heal emotionally. 

Educational opportunities

Whatever your level of educational attainment, you may want to consider further education. This could involve additional studies in your field, e.g., pursuing a postgraduate degree, or it could mean a change of direction. You may choose to return to college or university and study something completely different. Or you may undertake a diploma or degree for the first time. If tuition costs are a hurdle, you can explore scholarships and grants for survivors. Online courses represent flexible and affordable learning options. Sites like Coursera and Udemy offer job-relevant content that ranges from free courses to certificates and even degree programmes. Free courses are a great way to get a taste of a subject before you invest your time and resources. You can also fit online learning in around other employment and family obligations.

Finding employment

If getting back into the workplace is your immediate priority, talk to a domestic violence support organisation. Most offer employment readiness programmes, skills training, and assistance with job searches. They will often provide help developing your CV and writing letters of application. If your work experience is sporadic, focus on achievements both in and out of work. Most skills, particularly soft skills (communication, patience, determination, etc.), are highly transferable. Demonstrate evidence of success in one arena, such as a church or social group, and you can convince an employer that your skills are equally applicable in the workplace. Be honest about any gaps, but you don’t have to go into detail. Instead, emphasise personal growth during that time.

Network, network, network!

Don’t underestimate the power of networking. Attend job fairs and connect with professionals in your chosen field to discover opportunities. Say you are interested in moving into the field (or returning to it after a gap, whichever is appropriate), and you’d like to understand the latest developments. Ask for 15 minutes of time. Even busy professionals are usually willing to have a brief chat, whereas asking for a 30-minute meeting may be met with reticence. Almost all professionals relish talking about their business. When you leave, ask if there is anyone else you should speak to, and secure their contact details. 

Financial literacy

If your partner did not let you handle finances, you may feel daunted by simple tasks like budgeting, opening a savings account, etc. There are financial literacy programmes and online courses available that will give you the knowledge you need to take control of your finances. 


Another option is entrepreneurship. Many organisations offer support and training for survivors interested in starting a business.

Set goals

Set goals for yourself. Make them stretching enough to challenge you, but attainable with effort. If they are too easy, they won’t motivate you. If they are too ambitious, you may give up. As you regain your self-confidence, you can set more and more aspiring goals. Get the support you need to take goal-directed action from the organisations and professionals who specialise in recovery from domestic or gender-based violence. Rebuild your personal support system. Connect with friends you may have drifted away from. They will provide ongoing encouragement. Celebrate small victories. Getting a job interview is an important achievement, even if you don’t land the job. It will help prepare you for the next interview.

If you need help NOW

This article is the fourth in our series about moving on from abusive relationships throughout the 16 Days of Activism. Next year we will publish a series of articles delving into financial independence in more detail, covering topics such as financial decision making, saving and investing, retirement planning, and running a small business.

But if you are still in the clutches of an abusive relationship and need help right now, call us immediately. SD Law has deep experience of helping women escape abusive partners. We can serve a protection order on a controlling partner, connect you to support services, and make sure you and your children are safe. Some resources able to provide immediate support and guidance are listed at the end of this article.

At Cape Town Divorce Attorneys, we understand how deeply distressing abuse can be. We also know you can survive it and move on. We’ve seen many clients go on to live peaceful and happy lives after abuse. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email for a confidential discussion.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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