Three Key Steps to Help a Woman Protect Her Finances When Leaving an Abusive Marriage
Chris Brown’s performance and Best R&B Album win at the Grammy Awards earlier this month upset many women’s advocates (including me). Should the Recording Academy really be honoring and celebrating someone who brutally assaulted his girlfriend just three years ago?
But, of course, that’s just the latest in a long string of unanswered questions surrounding the Chris Brown-Rhianna narrative. Chief among them, at least for me, is this one, perhaps the most heart-wrenching and puzzling of all: Why does anyone –and especially a star like Rhianna –stay in an abusive relationship? She has power, money, fame, advisors, fans . . . and yet Rhianna still can’t seem to break free from her abuser.
Unfortunately, many, many other women can’t either.
Over the years, I’ve been retained by quite a few women who, at the time, were in physically and/or mentally abusive relationships. From them, I’ve learned that a variety of different factors can come into play, ranging from the more obvious (fear, low self esteem, economic reasons, etc.) all the way to the more obtuse (denial, a counter-intuitive emotional dependency, social/cultural norms, etc.).
As an outsider looking in, the path forward can seem simple and clear-cut. But for a woman who’s trapped in an abusive marriage, the reasons for staying are very complex and leaving is anything but straightforward.
After all, even under the best of circumstances, divorce is complicated and emotionally trying. For women in abusive marriages, though, the process is exponentially harder. Typically, these women know very little about their family finances because controlling husbands are extremely secretive about financial matters. And, of course, they live under the very real threat of physical violence if their husbands get angry and/or suspicious.
What advice do I have for women in physically and/or mentally abusive relationships?
First, seek help. There are community-based organizations, private counselors and therapists and other professionals who can offer the immediate assistance you need. They’ll help you create a plan that will keep you and your children safe.
My friend, Nancy Salamone is a survivor of domestic abuse, the founder and CEO of The Business of Me and the author of Victory Over Violence. She recently told me about how essential it is for an abused woman to develop a safety plan.
“A woman in an abusive relationship needs to educate herself about the resources in her area, like shelters and legal resources. In addition, she needs to have a backup place to go if the local shelter does not have room,” Nancy stressed. “The bottom line is to have a well thought out safety plan. If you need help in developing one, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. It is important to use a phone that your abuser does not have access to – borrow a phone from someone you trust, but never use a phone the abuser can monitor.”
Then, provided you can do so safely, you can start focusing on these three steps:
1. Establish ways to communicate privately. You’ll need to correspond privately with financial institutions, divorce professionals, your counselor, etc., so secure
- your own post office box. Make sure you –and perhaps also a trusted friend or relative –are the only one(s) with a key.
- a private email account. You’ll have to send and receive emails only from a secure location, such as a public library, Kinkos or an internet café. Remember: an abusive, controlling spouse can easily install spy ware on your home computer.
- a pay-as-you-go cell phone. Once again, be alert to the possibility that your husband may install spyware on any of your phones.
2. Open accounts in your own name. You need to start being in full control of your own money. Start by
- opening a bank account in your own name. Go to a bank other than the one where you and your husband have your joint accounts. Use this account to squirrel away any money you can –and if at all possible, deposit your paycheck and transfer any assets available into that account.
- obtaining a credit card (or preferably several) in your own name. Contact credit card companies and explain your situation. Send them copies of any court orders, since such extenuating circumstances may help you qualify for credit.
- acquiring a one-time-use prepaid debit card. You can buy a prepaid card at a many local retailers, and for a small fee, you can load it up with as much money as you want.
- possibly asking relatives for a loan to hire an attorney and other divorce professionals.
3. Start keeping careful track of accounts you already have.
- Collect all your important paperwork. “Make copies of all important records like birth certificates of your children, bank records, investment statements, 401k statements, marriage certificate and insurance policies,” Nancy advises. “Put those copies in a safe place or give them to someone you trust.”
- Reset all your PIN codes and passwords. Choose number and letter combinations that are not easily identifiable.
- Remove your name from all joint debt so you will be protected from having to pay for anything incurred after you leave.
- If at all possible, don’t sign any documents presented to you by your husband.
And one last word of caution from Nancy:
“Once you have left, never, ever return to the home you shared with your abuser unless you are accompanied by law enforcement or other secure protection,” she explained. “There was a woman who returned to the home she shared with her abuser while her parents were outside waiting. Unfortunately her abuser was there and fatally shot her even though her parents were outside.”
Abuse is about power and control, but you can regain control of your life and finances. I’ve seen women succeed at this again and again. First, make sure you and your children are out of harm’s way, and then you can start taking the right steps towards a new future that’s brighter and financially secure.
About The Author
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC , a divorce financial strategy firm that exclusively works with women across the nation, who are going through, or might be going through, a financially complicated divorce.
He also advises happily married women who have seen their friends blindsided by a divorce initiated by their husbands and wonder (wisely) how financially vulnerable they’d be in that situation. Jeff developed the nation’s first Just in Case(TM): Secure Your Financial Future, a one-hour program, which quickly shows married women how to be prepared in the event of a future divorce with immediate, practical steps. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.
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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