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Is Financial Neglect Considered Abuse?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Financial neglect is often mentioned in the same breath as financial abuse, or else dissolved into the financial abuse umbrella category, but is there a reason these terms are still at least partially distinct? So, Is Financial Neglect Considered Abuse?

Is Financial Neglect Considered Abuse?

When seen as discrete entities, we naturally apply a binary definition to the separation: As implied in the term, financial abuse is a form of abuse, thus, by extension, it’s natural to conclude that financial neglect isn’t abuse, as it isn’t labeled so.

Yet, many would argue that if something looks like abuse, and feels like abuse, then it must be abuse, and financial neglect can certainly fit the bill, so let’s put this term under the microscope and see if we can’t drum up some conclusive answers.

What Is Financial Neglect?

Financial neglect is the failure of a legal guardian or manager of finances to provide a dependent with the financial resources they need for the acquisition of life essentials, such as clothing, water for drinking and washing, food, or shelter.

The caretaker (or whoever assumes the role of financial manager in someone’s life) has a legal and moral responsibility to maintain their charge’s health and well-being. If they fail to do so, it’s classed as financial negligence.

Who Are The Victims Of Financial Neglect?

As is often the case in abuse situations, financial neglect occurs in relationships defined by severe power imbalances. The most common victims are seniors and children, as neither of these groups is capable of safely taking care of themselves.

For instance, let’s say that an elderly person suffering from dementia granted LPA to a family member or friend, but once this person takes over the financial accounts of the senior, they stop paying the care service or stop paying their utility bills.

This is financial neglect.

Similarly, if a legal guardian doesn’t provide their child with enough food, it’s also considered financial neglect.

Defining Abuse

Now, let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of abuse and see if the previous explanation of financial neglect matches up in any way.

Abuse is defined as follows:

  • Bad or improper treatment; maltreatment

I think it’s fairly indisputable that failing to provide someone with the rudiments they need to stay healthy both within themselves and within society is a form of maltreatment.

Therefore, we can conclude that financial neglect is indeed abuse.

Why Isn’t Financial Neglect Categorized Under Financial Abuse?

While the lines between financial neglect and financial abuse do seem to blur at times (and rightly so), some still differentiate between them, partly because financial abuse is already a rather broad term that refers to the following:

  • Having money or property stolen
  • Being defrauded
  • Financial or asset-based coercion
  • The misuse of money or property

While financial neglect is undoubtedly still an abusive behavior, it’s different enough to the aforementioned items to sometimes be mentioned as a discrete entity. 

Some consider the last of the four types of financial abuse, “The misuse of money or property”, to include depriving a victim of financial support, which is definitely a form of financial neglect.

However, when it comes to financial abuse, it’s generally understood that the assets in question belong to the victim, whereas in cases of financial neglect, the victim doesn’t have to be the true owner of the assets, they simply have a right to the support it would provide.

Is Financial Neglect Abusive Behavior?

Is Financial Neglect Considered Abuse?

It’s safe to say that financial neglect is a form of abuse, even if it’s talked about separately from financial abuse, but there’s one instance when things aren’t quite as black and white… unintentional financial neglect.

Poverty: A Possible Exception

The term financial neglect implies that there is money available to support the victim, yet it’s being withheld or used in other ways, but what if no such fund exists?

Poverty-stricken parents and guardians often have no way of providing their children with what most families would consider essentials. They may struggle to put food on the table, repair or purchase new clothing, or even to keep a roof over their head.

Now, is this considered financial neglect? The results are almost identical, but it’s hard to say. It depends on how you look at poverty. 

On the one hand, financial inequality is an unavoidable artifact of our capitalist society, at least in its current imperfect state.

This would mean that the poverty-stricken cannot be held responsible for their financial situation and thus are not guilty of neglect.

On the other hand, some might argue that it’s the individual’s responsibility to succeed and make a suitable living to support themselves and their family, meaning they would be guilty of neglect or at least of failure.

Then again, race, gender, sexual orientation, mental and physical health, and family stability all contribute to the opportunities people get in our society, meaning many of us to have no choice but to live below the poverty line.

As such, in this scenario, when the family as a whole has insufficient funds to facilitate a widely agreed upon basic quality of life, it’s only fair to say that it’s a failing of the state, not the individuals themselves, meaning they’re not guilty of financial neglect.

Financial Neglect In Relationships

We’ve talked a bit about how financial neglect relates to seniors and youths, but it also commonly occurs between spouses as well.

Typically, you’ll see instances of this form of financial abuse when one party is encouraged to give up their financial independence and stay home, usually to look after one or more children.

The other party then takes on the role of breadwinner, giving them total financial power in the relationship.

If they decide not to provide their stay-at-home partner with any money besides that with which to pay the bills and purchase essentials such as food, they’re not just being stripped of wealth, but of their power and freedom.

They have become completely dependent on the working party to sustain them and give them financial freedom, yet their partner is failing to do so.

Remember, though, this is just the typical way financial neglect pays out in relationships. The inverse could be true, with the breadwinner relinquishing financial management to the stay-at-home partner. 

They’ll work hard to bring home a paycheck, but never see a dime of it aside from the essentials it buys such as food and shelter.

Signs Of Financial Neglect In A Relationship

If someone you know is exhibiting any of the following behaviors, it might be time to reach out and help:

  • They’re worried that raising concerns about money in their relationship might warrant an angry response
  • They have frequent arguments with their partner about finances
  • They feel a distinct imbalance of power in their relationship
  • They don’t feel financially secure
  • They suffer from financial anxiety, shame, or guilt

Final Thoughts

Financial neglect isn’t much discussed in our society, even between patients and therapists. In fact, in some respects, it’s normalized, but as a form of covert abuse, it needs to be confronted.

In some instances of financial neglect, the victim may not realize they’re a victim, and the culprit may not even realize what they’re doing is bad, so just spreading awareness of this awful power abuse can have a massively positive impact.

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

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