In many marriages, it is common to have one spouse who keeps careful track of the family’s finances and another spouse who plays a more passive role. This is true even in marriages where both spouses earn an income.
The approach of deferring finance management to one spouse is fine if the marriage is healthy and the spouse in charge of money is trustworthy. But this practice can also be a way for one spouse to hide spending from the other, or worse, to financially abuse them.
If you are about to go through a divorce and have always left financial matters to your spouse, it is important to discuss this with your family law attorney to ensure that your family finances, assets and debts are independently and thoroughly reviewed.
What is financial abuse in marriage?
If one spouse alone oversees family finances, he or she can use money as a means of control. Consider a hypothetical example of a financially abusive husband victimizing his wife. Both spouses work, but their respective paychecks are deposited into a checking account that only he has access to. Bank and credit card statements are sent to his office, so the wife cannot open them at home. He puts his wife on an “allowance” that can fluctuate at any time and makes her use a credit card so that he can see everything she buys. She is prohibited from having a bank account or credit/debit cards of her own.
If you have experienced any of the above behaviors and/or your spouse refuses to let you independently evaluate the household finances, you may be a victim of financial abuse. At the very least, there is serious cause for concern about how your spouse may be spending the family’s income.
Wasteful spending and hidden purchases
Even in cases that are not clear-cut financial abuse, one spouse may be concealing major purchases from the other or spending in ways that would reveal poor judgment, addiction, or betrayal. If you have concerns about your spouse’s spending habits, it is important to bring this to your attorney’s attention.
What you can do to protect yourself
If you are not the money manager in your marriage, your spouse should nonetheless have no issue showing you any financial information you want to see. If they won’t, that should be a serious red flag.
Once you’ve made the decision to divorce, please discuss your suspicions with your attorney. If your spouse would hide money from you or seek to control you with money, there is every reason to believe that he or she would try to conceal assets during the divorce and attempt to cheat you out of your fair share of the marital estate.