Could Your Husband Be Setting You Up for Financial Ruin?

There's a quieter form of domestic abuse, and it's called financial abuse. It's when a spouse tries to control you through financial means -- by limiting your spending, cutting off your access to funds, maybe even ruining your credit. Stay-at-home moms are especially at risk. 

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"You run a big risk once you go into that stay-at-home mom role," says certified financial planner Vickie Adams. She has a client with two small children under 3 whose husband cheated on her and is leaving her. She's getting very little spousal support, and because she's been out of the workforce for five years, it's going to be hard to find a job to support herself.

"Financial abuse is one of the biggest factors in domestic abuse cases," Adams says. "It's how some men really keep control of their wives."

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The best way to avoid this situation: awareness. Financial abuse tends to happen slowly, often when moms are busy with small children -- and who can blame them? That's consuming work. And some husbands reinforce the idea that finances are too difficult for overwhelmed moms ... but never let anyone use that stereotype against you.

Here are eight things you should be doing now, which could head off financial abuse and save you more grief later on.

  1. Get inquisitive. You should always ask questions about your financial health and spending, Adams says. She says women tend to be discouraged from being "too" curious, especially if it leads to fights. If that's the case, it could be a strong indication that you're in a potentially abusive relationship. Why else would he be so defensive? There are ways to question without sounding aggressive, of course. But a husband should be willing to be open and transparent about how he handles his finances.
  2. Get a handle on your tax returns. "This is the most important place where women don't participate, is filing a joint tax return," Adams says. That's because your tax return is where your most important financial information is. Not only that, if you file married jointly, you have to sign. "And you should understand what you're signing because you're financially responsible, too."
    Not only that, Adams says your taxes are an important opportunity to understand your financial situation better. You should know what both of you earn, if you're both working. You should know if you have assets that bring income, or if you have investments.
  3. Check your credit reports. Once a year you should check your credit reports, both yours and your husband's. If your husband gets defensive about letting you check, that could be a red flag that he has something to hide.
    Your spouse may say too many credit report inquires can lower your score. This is somewhat true. However, once a calendar year will not damage your score. It's when you have multiple inquiries within the past six months that it becomes a problem.
  4. Make sure you have access to everything. Even if he handles most of the family finances, you should always have access to online baking accounts, statements, checkbooks, investment reports, all of it.
  5. Make sure you're up-to-date on passwords. For anything you have online, check the passwords regularly to make sure he's not changing them behind your back. It sounds horrible, but this has happened to a friend of mine.
  6. Create your budget together. Don't just tell your husband what you need and let him hand over an allowance. Take a more active role and do it jointly.
  7. Retain any gifts, property, and inheritances under your name. Don't add those funds to a joint account. If you received them before your marriage they are yours and will not be considered communal property in the event of a divorce. "You may need that chunk of money someday," Adams warns.
  8. Keep your eyes open. "Look at your husband's lifestyle, his clothing, his hobbies," Adams advises. Notice any changes -- if he's spending more than he supposedly makes, he could be hiding money. Are there statements that used to arrive in the mail that you're not seeing anymore?

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don't be. "Whether you think you can understand or not, you really have to push yourself to be involved," Adams says.

In fact, she says, women are actually wired to handle financial matters -- more so than men are. "We're more capable of handling financial transactions," she says. "And you don't have to be good at math." The same wiring that makes women excel at multitasking enables us to understand complicated concepts and sets of facts.

"Give yourself more credit because you're more capable than you think you are!" Adams says. Maybe make friends with another mom who is on top of her finances (because many are!), and find out how she does it.

And don't be afraid to make waves by questioning things. After all, your husband could be creating a financial tsunami for you and your kids. Feel like you have too much to lose? If you remain passive too long, you may end up losing everything anyway. 

 

Image via ChameleonsEye/shutterstock

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