Marital finances can be a tricky thing. Do you keep your money separate or combine everything in joint accounts? Does one person run the finances in the household, or are those responsibilities shared equally?
This month’s case study from Family Matters Law Group is a look at how marital finances, when handled wrong, can lead to divorce. It’s a lesson in sticking up for yourself and a reminder that, when it comes to household finances, both parties are entitled to know how much money there is and where it’s going.
A woman came to my office very concerned over the lack of transparency by her husband over the marital accounts. Not only was he not being honest, she had been completely frozen out of any decisions involving money.
In this particular household, the husband served as the main financial decision-maker. He had taken it upon himself to be in charge of all the asset flows and financial obligations. The husband was the one who paid all the bills and did the accounting and budget for the household. In that capacity, he also was the sole owner of all the information about the couple’s banking and investment accounts.
The problem was that the husband would not divulge any information to my client about the marital finances. He claimed that he was “better at it” and that she “wouldn’t know how to do it properly.” For years, my client would faithfully place all her income into the various marital bank accounts, but she had no idea how the money was being used or how it was invested.
While there was never a lack of household necessities, my client was tired of the secrecy. The final straw came when she learned that he had withdrawn all the money from one of her savings accounts and taken her name off a joint investment account, which was supposed to be for the children. She had thought the money was going to be returned (she had given authorization), but it never was. Her next step was coming to my office to file for divorce.
The main issue in this case has to do with shared knowledge in a marriage. While it may be convenient for one person to handle all the money matters, it is still vital for both parties to know what money comes in and how that money is used.
For one person in a marriage not to have any idea as to what bank accounts are open, what bills need to be paid or what investment accounts are running (and how the money is being invested) can only lead to problems. What if something happens to the person handling the money? You could end up with accounts that are forgotten because no one even knew about them.
In this case, lack of knowledge by one party led to malfeasance. Promises to repay money into the accounts were not kept, and it created terrible strain when that secret was discovered. When it comes to money, all parties in a marriage need to know what is going on.
We filed a motion for divorce. It took several hearings to get a final determination, but at the end, the Court ruled in our favor. It was determined that the husband did not have to repay the funds back into the marital accounts, as he had indeed used some of the money for household expenses. At first, my client was upset, especially since one of the raided accounts was her savings account.
However, she was quite pleased with the final outcome when the court awarded her a very large amount of the marital assets as repayment for her losses. My client won the marital home with all of its contents. She also was awarded one-half of her husband’s investment account.
When I first met my client, she was beating herself up over what happened. She couldn’t believe that she had been taken advantage of. She was ashamed that she had not been more assertive in keeping track of and demanding access to her own money.
I was very glad to be the lion’s roar that she needed! In a divorce case like this, it’s not worth it to beat yourself up over past mistakes. It’s vital to find a caring ally who can add strength to your own voice. We were able to repair the damage done and give her the resources to move forward on her own.
If you have a story to tell, we’d like to hear it. Family Matters Law Group has served clients in Henry, Clayton, and Fayette counties, as well as across the metro Atlanta area. If you are searching for a family court attorney, please use our online contact form. We look forward to talking with you.