One in four women (25 percent) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. In the United States, more than five million women are abused by their intimate partners each year. To put that in perspective, five million women is roughly equivalent to the populations of Los Angeles, CA and Dallas, TX, combined.
Most women in abusive relationships want very much to be out of them, but divorce can be a difficult process, even under “normal” circumstances . . . and “difficult” doesn’t begin to cover what women in abusive marriages face when they try to leave. Often, these women live under the threat of physical violence if their husbands discover their plans, and so it’s no surprise that for many, ending a marriage to an abusive, controlling spouse can seem practically impossible.
As a Divorce Financial Strategist™, I know just how trapped victims of intimate partner abuse can feel. Over the years, my firm has had many clients who were in physically and/or emotionally abusive marriages, and I’ve seen firsthand how an abusive husband can gain power over his wife by making sure she’s entirely dependent on him financially. Many such controlling husbands are extremely secretive about financial matters. In these marriages, the wives have very little idea about their current finances, let alone how to begin establishing their independence. These women feel utterly powerless.
I want to do something about that. My new book, Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally- What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During, And After Divorce, is full of useful information for all divorcing women, but the strategies I outline can be particularly helpful for women in abusive marriages who want to regain control of their personal finances.What’s more, I’ve recently announced that half the book’s profits will go directly to a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, Bedrock Divorce Fund for Abused Women, Inc., which I founded specifically to help female victims of abuse and the organizations that support them.
Let me be clear: Women ending abusive marriages need to take all the same financial steps that any woman going through a divorce needs to take. However, in most cases, each step will be much more complicated. For example, an abused woman may not have discretionary access to marital funds, and a controlling husband may demand that every penny spent from a checking account or on a credit card be precisely accounted for.
If you feel trapped like this, there are specific preliminary steps you can take to begin to secure your finances. If it’s possible to do so safely, you should:
- Get a post office box so you can receive mail privately.
- Establish a place outside your home where you can keep copies of all your important paperwork, including bank statements, social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates and documentation of jointly held assets.
- Set up a “secret” email account to communicate with divorce professionals. Use a public computer. A controlling or abusive husband might install spyware on home computers and even smart phones.
- Open a bank account in your own name and start squirreling money away. If you can, transfer all of your assets (paycheck, savings, etc.) into a separate bank account.
- Change all your PIN’s to ones that can’t easily be identified.
- If possible, remove your name from all joint debt so you will be protected from having to pay for anything incurred after you leave.
- Obtain a credit card (or preferably several). Contact credit card companies and explain your situation. Send them copies of any court orders, since such extenuating circumstances may help you qualify for a credit card.
- Acquire a prepaid debit card. These are available at many local retailers, and for a small fee, you can load it up with as much money as you want to have on it.
- If necessary, ask relatives for a loan to hire an attorney and other divorce professionals.
In addition, please be aware of this disturbing new trend: Some abusive husbands are cynically manipulating domestic violence laws to get an advantage over their wives in their divorce. Sometimes, the abusive husband actually claims that his wife is, in fact, the abuser. Alarmingly, this can result in the victim being arrested, prosecuted and even sentenced as an abuser herself. In short, when the perpetrator plays the victim, the results can be incredibly destructive. Nobody, male or female, should manipulate domestic violence laws to achieve an outcome based on lies.
Another significant problem women leaving abusive marriages may face is coerced debt. An abusive husband might secretly get credit cards in the wife’s name, trick her into relinquishing her rights to marital assets, or coerce her into signing financial documents. Any of these underhanded strategies can leave its victim with the devastating consequences of ruined credit.
While women in abusive marriages can face more and higher hurdles than others, there is hope, and a path to financial stability, for all divorcing women. In Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally, I help all women navigate the divorce process by offering practical, step-by-step advice on a wide range of topics, including how to:
- Build a top-notch divorce team
- Organize financial documents
- Protect businesses, intellectual property and personal assets
- Determine if your husband is hiding assets
- Manage pension plans, 401Ks and other retirement accounts
- Negotiate alimony
- Disinherit your husband
Of course, any discussion of financial matters may seem immaterial if you or your children are in physical danger. If this is your situation, please seek help. There are community-based organizations, private counselors and therapists and other professionals who can offer you immediate assistance. Then, once your safety is assured, turn your attention to financial matters. If you have the backing of solid information and a strong team of competent professionals, you’ll begin the divorce process with a clear view to independence and a secure financial future.
--Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC (http://www.BedrockDivorce.com) a firm that exclusively advises affluent women throughout the United States before, during and after divorce. He assists women and their divorce attorneys with deciding on the most advantageous way to divide marital assets and enable them to negotiate more favorable settlements, especially when there are complicated financial and tax issues. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.
Jeff is the author of the new book, Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During, And After Divorce, which provides women going through the crisis of divorce with the tools they need to secure their financial future. What’s more, he is donating 50% of all profits to the Bedrock Divorce Fund for Abused Women, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity whose mission is to help female victims of domestic abuse and the organizations that support them.
All articles/blog posts are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.
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