This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
One of the true benefits of a marriage is that two people combine to form a partnership and compliment one another’s strengths and weaknesses. You might be more of an introvert and homebody, which is balanced out by a more outgoing and social mate. He may be really skilled at maintenance, while she is a great organizer and planner. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of each other’s positive points for the benefit of the marriage, right?
This is why I thought that the most trustworthy and capable hands for my household’s finances were my former husband’s. First of all, he was my spouse. Who better to entrust with everything I owned and with our financial wellbeing than the other person who stood to benefit (or suffer) from the way our money was handled? Secondly, numbers seemed to be an area of strength with him. He was in a math-science field, had taken extensive coursework in math, and I am what you might call “math challenged!”
I balanced his perceived expertise with numbers with my skills in planning, taking care of the home, and trying to attend to his every need. What I learned, however, is that one’s spouse is not always one who can be trusted to mind the nest egg, nor does a math-inclined brain necessarily mean competence in personal finance. I blindly trusted our financial future and security to the man I loved, and naively failed to educate myself about where we actually stood with our money or how it was being handled!
If you can’t trust your spouse, who can you trust?
When he drove a brand new car and filled our living room with top-of-the-line electronics, I trusted that we could afford it.
When we went on trips and dined out, I trusted that our bills were being paid.
When he always had the newest and best computer, I thought he knew what he was doing.
Because I excused myself from the arena of our joint finances, I made myself ignorant to the fact that we were up to our eyeballs in debt, that bills were not being paid, and we were in big trouble!
He hid from me the state of our affairs, I suspect because he was also hiding affairs of the flesh; and, he needed me not to have access to all receipts and statements. I also believe he was living out the childhood he felt deprived of because he grew up in a poor home. As an adult with a fantastic education and good paying job, he had opportunities and access to credit cards and loans that he never enjoyed before. He took full advantage of this new privilege, and I was taken for a ride!
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I did not learn that our stability was as fragile as tissue paper until he had already dropped the bomb of asking me for a divorce! It was as I met with my lawyer for the first time that I was advised that he was filing for bankruptcy, and I would need to do the same to protect myself!
I can offer a thousand excuses for my stupidity, including the fact that I was 18 when we married, and clearly too young and uneducated to know what I was getting myself into. My primary “excuse” is that I trusted the man I married to take care of us. He pushed my involvement away because money management was “his thing”, and I handed my trust over to him without question.
I wrestle with whether or not to call my situation “financial abuse” because I don’t know how much he intentionally screwed up our money or if any part of his actions were vindictive versus purely incompetent. I know that things were hidden from me and that those things were detrimental to my personal credit and financial success, whether with him or not. It wouldn’t make sense to me for him to purposely crash our finances into the ground; but, there is just no telling.
Financial abuse between spouses is typically thought to include:
Hiding of assets from one’s spouse.
Withholding funds from a spouse as a means to control them (to make them dependent, make them stay, and so on).
Misusing funds to the point of causing harm to one’s spouse.
Preventing one’s spouse from holding employment or other opportunities to limit their earning potential.
Here is what I have learned about financial mishandling in a marriage and what every woman should be aware of:
Money management may not be your area of expertise, but you need to do your best to learn as much as you can!
Just because you trust someone doesn’t mean they won’t betray you or that they know what they’re doing!
Although each spouse may have their own domain of expertise within the household, both partners should remain aware of needs and challenges, and share in making the decisions.
If you’re married, you may be considered co-owner of all assets and debts, even if you were unaware!
If you suspect you’re being financially abused or are considering a divorce, you need to get a separate bank account in your name only as soon as possible!
A joint account with a spouse can haunt you for years to come, even if you weren’t the irresponsible one! The debt collectors do not care!
Unless it’s a present for you, your spouse should not be hiding any purchases or financial decisions from you! If they do, what else might they be hiding, and why?
If you’re considering divorce, you need to obtain copies of every financial document, account statement, and anything else you can get your hands on and make copies for your lawyer and financial advisor!
If you suspect that assets are being hidden from you, enlist the help of financial advisor who specializes in forensic accounting to help uncover the truth.
Always do what you can to be able to stand on your own two feet so that you’re never in a position to need someone else for financial support. This has traditionally been harder for women to achieve because they earn less than men and are often the primary caregivers of children; but, when all possible, we need to try to not be completely at another’s mercy!
My experience with financial negligence has certainly made me wiser and more cautious with the management of my financial affairs ever since.
I own the fact that at least some of my plight could have been avoided if I had made myself a party to understanding and managing my marital financial affairs. Although we would like to be able to trust a spouse to look out for our best interest and be honest with us, I know that we can help prevent disaster by remaining involved, sharing in important decisions, and trying to educate ourselves in these matters.
He should not have hidden the enormity of our financial failings, but it is also my fault that I blindly assumed all was taken care of and that he was completely forthcoming. I have re-married, and although I trust my husband as much as I can trust anyone, I still do not share any joint accounts, we split all of our bills, and we are both involved with all financial decisions. I honestly don’t know if I would ever share a bank account with anyone again, and I definitely will remain involved!