Once Upon a Time, a woman walked into a bank. The bank rejected her card. The bank explained that her ex-husband had deleted her from the account, because she was just a signatory on the account, not an actual account holder.
The woman walked out of the bank, with $47.50 in her wallet. Her divorce lawyer spent years chasing her portion of the money in that account.
The lawyer discovered that the ex-husband’s business had a huge tax debt and overdrafts that the woman had unwittingly signed for a decade ago.
The woman did not end up marrying that divorce lawyer as Charlotte did in Sex and the City, but went on to take great care of her financial health and independence henceforth. The End.
This is actually not a fairy tale, but a true story; one that in my many years of advising women during their divorces, I have heard repeatedly.
Although the details may differ, I’ve noticed over the years that once many women become Stay At Home Mums (SAHMs), and their husbands become the sole family income-earner, the “finances” become the husband’s domain.
I know some SAHMs run the household bills, but the husbands generally seem to be the ones who have control/understanding of the full picture.
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Let me stress generally, and in my experience – I’m not saying this is true of all SAHM families.
And I certainly don’t mean this as a criticism; especially after a couple has kids, it is common, and totally natural, for adults in a relationship to have defined and differing roles and contributions.
None of my clients have been silly women – they have just been very busy women who have trusted their husbands to hold up his end of their deal.
I know a few of my clients even signed documents committing to thousands of dollars of debt that were casually presented to them whilst wrangling a baby out a high chair, or just before bed.
Sometimes, that’s just marriage for you.
But the risks of this division of labour can become apparent at other times, not just in the situation of people who are divorcing.
Anything can happen to anyone, at any stage. I had a client, a young father under forty, who died suddenly and left behind a pregnant wife and two kids. His wife had been “taken care of” for most of their marriage as she concentrated on the children, but an unfortunate consequence of his death was that the wife was now forced to face the financial aspect of their relationship with little prior knowledge – she didn’t even know how much their mortgage was.
Another client was left in a similar position after her de facto was involved in a motorcycle accident, and she found that the banks wouldn’t even speak to her because they were not actually married.