I have a friend and family member who recently turned 21. For the past few years, he has worked full time. His father is a very controlling man who doesn’t work and lives off of food stamps, his wife’s disability checks and handouts from his mother-in-law.
He has kept my relative and his other children out of school on the pretense of “homeschooling” them, but does little to do so. My 21-year-old relative does not have a high-school degree equivalency, and it doesn’t appear that any of his siblings will either.
“‘He has kept my relative and his other children out of school on the pretense of “homeschooling” them, but does little to do so.’”
When he started working, his father made him put his paychecks into an account with both of their names, and arranged it so that my relative couldn’t withdraw the money unless his father agreed to it. His father has also, until recently, held onto all of his essential documents (birth certificate, Social Security card, state I.D., etc.).
My relative was kicked out of his father’s house recently, and is now living with another family member. Up until recently, he was under the impression he could not have access to his money because he didn’t have a state I.D., so he recently acquired one.
But when he got his I.D. and then went to the bank to check out his money, he was told his father would have to sign a document agreeing to give my relative control over his own money.
We already know that his father won’t do that. His father enjoys having control, and says he has to keep control over the money so his son won’t “waste it.” It also appears that his father can remove the money at will, regardless of whether my relative wants to or not.
How can my relative get control over his own money? As we see it, it is just not right that a man who hasn’t worked in decades can just have the money my relative worked so hard for.
Concerned Family Member
If your friend’s father still has minor children and they are being kept home from school and similarly controlled, you and/or he should contact the police.
More people need friends and family like you. Your friend only needs one person in his life to advocate for him, and you are that person. He may also be entitled to free legal aid. But he needs to deal with the financial and practical matters first — ownership over his own bank account — before moving onto the longer-term recovery from a lifetime of manipulation and emotional and financial abuse.
Once you name it — domestic abuse, financial abuse — your friend will have a handle on his situation and see it from the outside. He is no longer helpless. The most immediate action he needs to take is to ensure that his salary goes into a new account. He can talk to the bank about his own access to this account, and find out what rights he has to withdraw his own money.
This is a disturbing series of events, and they are hard to read. It’s the reverse of the usual elder financial abuse, which affects up to five million people in the U.S. every year and robs people of their dignity, agency and humanity. In this case, your friend’s father has taken control of your friend’s bank account. But he has been under his father’s thumb since he was a child.
“Taking his son’s Social Security card and state I.D. is a physical and symbolic act of psychological imprisonment. ”
His father used “homeschooling” as a ruse to infantilize him by making sure he did not have a strong social network outside of the family home, and ensuring he did not have the benefit of a good education. Your friend needs you, a therapist to help free him from the psychological bondage that has plagued him his whole life, and support from an organization that helps people who have been subjected to financial control.
Your friend may also wish to pull his credit report to make sure that no loans or bank accounts have been taken out in his name and, assuming there is no fraud, it may be wise to freeze his credit report. If there is fraud on his account, he would need to file a police report. It does happen. This woman’s identity was stolen when she was a child and, at 19. The perpetrator racked up $500,000 in credit-card debt over her lifetime — and it turned out to be her own mother.
Yes, your friend is an adult. Yes, he willingly agreed to add his father to the bank account. But his self-confidence and self-belief have been slowly eroded. Taking his son’s Social Security card and state I.D. is a physical and symbolic act of psychological imprisonment. However, these things can be replaced. The good news: Your friend is holding down a job and living independently, and is no longer beholden to his father for a roof over his head.
Your friend is not a child. Every person has a right to make their own decisions about their finances and their life.
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