Friday, August 30, 2019

What is Financial Abuse? Six Women Share Their Stories

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay
As someone going through divorce, one of the scariest things was hearing how horrible it would be financially post divorce. Fortunately, there are some friends of mine who shared with me that their finances improved after divorcing, so I shared one of their stories anonymously here. Lots of people replied to that how her finances only were better because she was getting child support from her ex, and only is surviving by screwing him over.

So I shared another story from another friend, where she talked about how divorcing improved her finances, because she went through financial abuse. Many were shocked at that story, and said that financial abuse is really rare.

Others had never heard of the concept of financial abuse, especially as its not something talked about often. But its just as problematic as other types of abuse, even if its less well known. I've talked to so many divorced women and abused women, and financial abuse is extremely prevalent, even if it isn't discussed so often, and it looks different in every case.

I've reached out to some of these women and asked them to share their story of financial abuse, to help educate people about this common, but too infrequently discussed, issue. Here are the stories of six different women and what they went through.

Story 1
The day after my first husband left the house, I went to the supermarket with my three young children. My daughter, then of nursery school age, started crying when we were waiting to pay for our purchases. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was crying because we could finally buy cottage cheese without be afraid of her father's reaction. That pretty much sums up the 13 years of my first marriage. Despite the fact that I was the main bread-winner and had put him through university, he terrorized me and the children over every bill, no matter how small.

But I never would have suspected what happened after our separation. It started with him never paying child support and leaving me to support three small children on a measly teacher's salary. Then it spiraled into a nightmare. Unknown to me, he had taken an expensive second mortgage on the house which left me with mortgage payments higher than my salary. He wrote bad checks with a checkbook from an old account we had had and since he had no visible income, the bank sued me for the money. The fact that we were divorced by then didn't matter.

The list goes on and on, culminating in the fact that I had to take a loan out or become homeless. The conditions of the loan were terrible, and I had to recycle it twice in order to survive. Finally, after more than twenty-three years, I have paid off most of what I owed. But my adult like has been consumed by financial worries and I am afraid to say that I will probably reach pension age with no savings.

Do I regret getting divorced in light of this nightmare? Not at all. In fact, aside from giving birth to my six children and meeting my second husband, the best thing I have ever done is getting that man out of my life. Nothing justifies living with a person who crushes your soul. Nothing.

Story 2

"He is frugal". That was one of the biggest warnings I should have heeded.
"Isn't that a good thing?"
"He is very, very frugal".

So was his dad. He was raised in such a way that having money and being cautious with it was an indication of success or failure as a human being. He prided himself on spending as little as possible on anything and everything. He was a minimalist to a point of illness- two second hand suits, 2 pairs of pants, 4 button down shirts, a t-shirt and shorts to sleep in, and an oversized sweatshirt from his college days.

His viewing money as associated with failure meant serious anxiety when purchasing things. When we picked an apartment he couldn't function. When we bought beds I ate alone for three days while he lay curled up in bed trying to ride out a panic attack. He was so afraid that he would want to return the beds that he insisted we leave the plastic on the mattresses so they were in brand new condition. I was pregnant and it was a scorching summer, and I slept on plastic sweating and sticking for 5 months begging to be "allowed" to be comfortable.

We bought an apartment and had it renovated. He was so pedantic and afraid of wasting money that he cried through trying to approve our kitchen design.

By this point he received an inheritance of $1m.

He didn't want guests because we would have to feed them. He didn't want to go out if it meant spending money so we had a handful of dates in 9 years. If we had a coffee date I was allowed to order a drink but no pastry because he didn't want to spend the money on a muffin.

I asked permission before buying myself an item of clothing or a meal or any "luxury".
Once he decided I was overspending on the running of our home, our children and myself he limited my access to money.
One morning he had left his email open on his computer and the first email was to his therapist asking if rain boots were a necessity for his wife. My feet were getting wet in the winter rains and I asked for shoes that would keep my feet dry and warm.

The real punch came when I filed for divorce. He said he didn't trust me with his money because I would spend out of anger and I had to make lists of things for the house. He would go shopping at ten pm, regardless of what we needed during the day, and if he felt that an item was unnecessary he just wouldn't get it. I was completely at his mercy with no money of my own. I had to add tampons and pads and deodorant to his shopping list.
Eventually I reached out to an org who helps women who are struggling during divorce and they filled my list: sanitary products, shampoo, soap, mascara, deodorant, coffee, yogurt.....

I asked him to make copies at work for me and he had me pay him back (the equivalent of $1). Anytime I was given cash to get something for the children I had to provide receipts and change.

People think that physical abuse is the abuse that counts. I would sooner have had a mark to show my pain than be silent and suffer under the control and whims of an ill man.

Story 3

I supported my husband while he studied. During that time, he was also busy doing things like taking out second mortgages and writing bad checks without my knowledge. When we got divorced, I ended up paying for all of his financial wrong doings because he didn't have a salary and I did. In addition, he never paid child support.

Getting divorced caused me almost thirty years of financial stress. Yet never for one minute have I thought that it was the wrong decision. I would rather be destitute than married to my first husband. If you are in a miserable marriage that can't be fixed, get out.

Story 4

When I got married to my present husband, I had already gone through the hell of divorce and a long fight to get custody of my children. I met my husband online through a matchmaker who suggested that he “had a steady financial situation”. I knew that was an important factor, especially in my case where I was in between jobs, and again and again the judge told me that financial stability was a key in getting my children back. I had asked several times in the beginning of our marriage where his finances came from, and he was ready to explain it. However, I should have noticed that he was abusive in the financial realm when he paid no more than $9 for my wedding ring. I received absolutely no other gift from him for our engagement.
Soon after our wedding, my husband moved in with me into the small one room apartment I had been living in. I was living in Europe, since I was stuck there by European law until my youngest child turned 16. He seemed happy enough coming to live with me, seeing that he had retired early, and most of his income came from the rental of his luxury apartment in another country. I continued paying rent, since it was coming directly from my bank account and unemployment.

As our marriage moved on, and I had gotten a better job, (which didn’t last long), I continued to pay the rent and utilities, and my husband paid for small bits of shopping. When my father passed away, I received a small sum of inheritance money. Seeing that I had become indebted, not for personal reasons, but because of bills that were just too much for my meagre wage or allowance, my husband thought it was a good idea to put the money in his account where he could keep it for me, and it wouldn’t all be taken from the revenue taxes in my native country, as well. That money, I would never see again.

I am now in the situation where not only does my husband say that he earns “so little” (when I have calculated that it is a fraction more than what I make in my new more successful job), that he cannot participate in rent, utilities, or anything else. All money that makes it into his account is hidden.
After rent, utilities, transportation, groceries, insurance and the necessary for my baby, I am left with so little in my bank account, that I can no longer afford to dress myself properly, and I go to work, hoping that I have no meetings, and that I will not be noticed. I often ask to work from home, out of embarrassment. I have recently had to search for another job, just in order to be able to pay for a therapist and cancer treatment which is not provided for by my health insurance.

Story 5

The first time I realized something was seriously wrong in how finances and budgeting were handled in our marriage was when my husband came home and told me that he took out a loan from the bank using our joint account. I grew up in a very anti debt home, and the concept of taking out a loan was an anathema to me. If you can't afford something, don't buy it. My husband knew that, and yet he went to take out a loan, under both our names, without even asking my permission or even what I thought.
That was bad enough, but if it was a one off thing, maybe, just maybe it would have been something I could have lived with. But he did it again and again. And each time he did it, I flipped out at him, and told him never to do that again, never take out a loan without speaking to me first. And each time he went behind my back to take out yet another loan that I was legally obligated for.
 I tried going to the bank to ask them not to allow this anymore, and they told me that they couldn't stop him, unless I made it so that every single transaction in the bank could only be done with both our signatures. That was so impractical it was untenable. I asked around how to stop him from taking out loans in my name and I was told that the only thing I could do was divorce him. And then I did divorce him (the other reasons aren't relevant here) but we still have $40,000 in debt that I'm equally responsible for, when I didn't approve of him taking a single loan, and I don't have a single thing to show for it.

But why was our financial situation so bad in the first place? Well, let's start with the fact that he worked at a very low paying job, even though he actually got offers for better paying jobs, but said he didn't want to work harder than he already was because he wanted to take life easy. And he refused to work during the off season, even though he was given many option to do so, because he "deserved a break". Then, whenever I'd try to earn money, he'd criticize me for going out of the house, mock my job, tell me off for working instead of doing my "real job", which was cleaning his home. He kept saying that I should quit my job and if I just cleaned the house better, we'd have more money.

And then budgeting; I know how to budget and wanted to for years, but he simply refused. Whenever I asked him if we could make and set a budget, he'd yell at me and tell me to stop controlling him. I begged him to at least tell me how much he was spending, so I could know how much I had left to spend, again it was the "stop trying to control" me line. He refused to budget, refused to work with me so I could at least budget, and then he hid the finances from me and wouldn't let me have the sign in information to our bank account so I'd know how much was in it, nor would he let me have information about the multiple credit cards being used, because he didn't want me to tell him how to spend or not.

We'd get to times where we had absolutely no money for groceries, so I'd try to be as frugal as possible, and then find out that he bought an expensive gadget for hundreds of dollars. And then I'd have to bend over backwards even more to be extra frugal and spend absolutely nothing, to compensate for his spending. Some people might claim that this isn't financial abuse because he didn't do things specifically to hurt me or control me, but it definitely is. It's not just "bad money habits" when you consistently refuse to work with your wife regarding money, specifically do things you know that she isn't okay with, and instead make unilateral decisions that affect her, because "you're the man" and get to make such decisions.

Now that I'm divorced, I'm actually doing much better financially. I finally am budgeting for the first time, making sure to live within my means, and managing to do so, and this is with much less income than we were bringing in together.

Story 6

He had me sign for a credit card “in the event of an emergency” I was told. Being trusting I signed the forms not realizing that it was a credit card only secured with my social security number and not both of ours. Once the credit cards arrived, as per our request, there was one issued in his name as well, he contacted the credit card company to change our mailing address. He gave them a P. O. Box number that I had no idea even existed. Several months after he left me I began getting phone calls from the credit card company asking about past due payments. I had no idea there had even been charges made. I asked them if there had been bills sent and they said they had been sending the monthly statements. I asked to confirm the address and then learned of the P. O. Box. There had been large sums charged (I don’t recall how much) so I quickly cancelled the credit card. They actually gave me a hard time about cancelling the one in his name without his permission!

Shortly after he left I began getting calls from an old pastor neighbor of my parents looking for my “husband”. After getting several calls I finally confided that he was gone and I do not know if or when he would be returning. He then asked “well what about my money”, which I had no idea of what he was talking about. He told me the "loan you signed for". Again had no idea what he was talking about. It finally came out that my ex had borrowed several thousand dollars from the older gentleman telling him our daughter needed an operation and we did not have insurance. He forged my name on the loan agreement. He begged him not to tell my parents. My ex gave him what he thought was the title to our car to secure the loan. Unfortunately my ex who was a graphic artist created the phony title. In fact the car was actually leased and not his and was ultimately repossessed.

My new husband and I were faced with financial difficulties stemming from our previous divorces from day one of our relationship. Fortunately we worked together and did our best to resolve them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

These stories are just some of many, many, many. I read a statistic that over 90 percent of domestic abuse situations included financial abuse. And yet it's not discussed. There needs to be more awareness. Finances in marriage are supposed to be a team, not one person controlling the other, using the other, making decisions that hurt the other. Yes, someone may choose to let their spouse be in charge of the bills if they don't want to, and that's ok, that's a choice they are making. But these things need to be a joint decision, otherwise when you control someone else's finances and their financial future, it's abuse.

I know it can be hard to discuss finances with your partner but it’s so important – particularly when you take the step to move in together or get married to try and avoid ending up in the same situation as the stories above. This article I read has some great advice on the impact relationships can have on your finances, and for my UK readers, there is also some information on how you can split your financial connections through a Notice of Disassociation. Unfortunately this only helps after you have settled any joint agreements but it does stop any debts in your ex-partner’s name from affecting you in the future when applying for things like a mortgage.

Have you ever experienced financial abuse? Do you know anyone that was in that situation?


  1. It is a form of domestic violence.
    Blogger at Ask Expert

  2. My first husband made me walk, with a 2 year old toddler, an 8 mile round trip in order to save 3p per tin of baked beans. Then when we got home and I tried to explain to him why this was not OK and why I would prefer it never happened again, he lost it to such an extent that he put an expensive keyboard of his through a window. And that is just one of the more dramatic of many examples.

    When I finally left, I was left with thousands of pounds of bills and overdrafts to pay, whilst he continued to fraudulently claim child benefit for our daughter. And when I finally managed to get that paid to me instead (as I was the one our daughter was living with), he was made to pay child support of... £5 a week. Don't even get me started on the UK's child support system.

    But the ex, in order to try and avoid paying this princely sum (which then only got paid about 1/4 of the time during the 12 years it took our daughter to reach 18), he claimed that she wasn't his and demanded a DNA test. Though he dropped that demand the moment it was made clear to him that, should the test show he was the father, he'd be expected to meet the cost of it.

    Yeah, it really isn't that uncommon. It's just that most of us that have been subjected to it never knew to call it that. We just call it "thank goodness I got out when I did".

  3. These stories are nothing less than horrific. Especially the one that nonchalantly mentions "cancer treatment" at the end!

  4. Thank you for this. Financial abuse of spouses (as opposed to elders) is seldom discussed and it should be. As Varun Sharma said, it is a form of domestic violence.

  5. It is very difficult to read these...particularly since I have a long-term marriage to a man who has proved, over and over, that I can trust him implicitly.

    But there were several questions I wondered about:

    *When did you notice that something was wrong? When you were aware, did you act immediately on it? (I would say no for most of these women.)

    *Did you keep an account in your name only? If you weren't working (or if you were), did you save even a small bit in this account?

    *Did you INSIST on both your signatures being on loans, credit cards and other financial obligations? No matter how difficult that might be... I know the answer to that one. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. And next question:

    *If your signature was forged on ANYTHING, did you immediately point that out, once you noticed? (And no, it's not true that you're responsible for your ex's debts after the divorce. I was really puzzled by that one.)

    *Did you REALLY expect this guy to faithfully pay you child support?? None of these men's actions would say they would do that. I also wouldn't hesitate to change the locks, sell any fancy possessions they left behind, cancel leases, close any and every account and credit card -- and put a notice on my credit report that I was no longer responsible for the actions and debts of -------------. Pronto.

    But what I would say, even more, to all of these women:
    Thank you for persevering, especially on behalf of your children. You have given them a shining example of a responsible and caring parent -- and they won't forget that, as they grow up. Thank you for finally seeing the light and getting out, even if the financial burden was difficult. Money, quite frankly, isn't everything. (But yes, it helps!) GOOD FOR YOU.

    1. I just wanted to say that about being responsible for your ex's debt would depend on the laws where you live, every place has different rules.


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