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TaraBy Dr. Tara Polzer Ngwato, a social scientist, social justice researcher and mother of two boys.

A financially independent woman is someone who earns enough to support themselves and their children, who contributes the largest share to family expenditure, and in my case ended up supporting the abusive partner financially.

Here’s how it happened.

I met and fell madly in love with a penniless artist . We married in community of property because, I thought, if I were so poor I would want my partner to give me the respect and protection of community of property.

We had children. My husband argued he couldn’t help with childcare because he needed to build his career and even though he generated no income, his work was of equal worth to mine.

I paid for a full time nanny-housekeeper, played with our kids before and after work and put them to bed at night. I thought it was a temporary situation until his career took off.

My husband started becoming violent. I attributed the aggression to mental illness resulting from childhood trauma. I encouraged my husband to go for therapy and paid for it.

I started to feel the strain financially and had to find another job to make ends meet. I became totally exhausted, both physically and emotionally and was socially isolated.

When I was at my most vulnerable, my husband severely assaulted me in front of the children. He had gone too far and I realized I had to take drastic action to protect us. Little did I realize how drawn out, expensive and exhausting the process would be.

I had to pay for a private lawyer to get divorced. My ex could use legal aid to contest and draw out the proceedings without any cost to himself.

I had removed myself and our children from our shared home (bought by me) and so had to continue paying the bond (providing him with free accommodation) while also paying rent for myself and the kids for the multi-year separation and divorce process.

The court eventually voided my ex-husband’s community of property claims to the assets I had paid for, but I still had to spend additional time and money evicting him from my house.

In retrospect, I should have made different choices along the way:

  • no community of property,
  • using the protection order to make him leave our house rather than leaving myself.

But once those choices were made (and they made sense at the time), the usual support systems for abused women could not help me. I earned too much for pro bono legal assistance, but not enough to carry private legal fees easily. I did not need a shelter; I needed help removing my abuser from my house. I needed the legal system to fast track my civil matters (divorce, eviction) based on their connection with a criminal matter of abuse.

I am not sharing any of this to ask for support or sympathy for our family, rather I hope it will generate discussion and ideas to help others who find themselves in similar situations.

The epidemic of domestic abuse still predominantly harms poorer women and we need to ensure that nothing undermines the support systems painstakingly built for them. If we want to see women rise, we (as women, along with broader society) need mechanisms to protect and support those women who have gained a measure of independence.

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