Pay Dirt

My Husband Has Been Financially Abusive for Years. Now the Tables Are Turning.

I’m trying to make our marriage work, but I’m still upset over his past actions.

Hands holding a piggy bank
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

My husband and I have been married for 11 years, together for 14. Since having our three kids (the oldest is going to be 8), I have been a stay-at-home mom. My husband has always been financially abusive. We used to have a shared account, but he would only put money in it if I asked. He would put in the exact amount, and it could only be for certain things like groceries and sometimes clothing for the children.

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Two years ago, we were going through some hardships in which my husband not only cheated on me but filed for a divorce, closed the shared account, and cut me off completely—financially and otherwise. During that time (until I finally found a job), I was dependent on my mom and my sister for money. The only thing he continued to pay was the rent, because he would be embarrassed if anyone knew his kids were homeless.

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Fast forward two years, I have decided to try to forgive him (he pulled the papers for the divorce). I have not only found a job, but I have been able to save some money, and I am able to take care of my own bills rather than depend on him exclusively like before. The issue is now he is having some financial difficulties, and I could offer to help him with my savings, but I don’t want to. I am still upset over what he did, I want to keep my money (I worry if he cut me off before, he can do it again), and I don’t want to lend him money because he is of the belief that any money I have is also his because of all the years he provided for us and wouldn’t want to pay it back. If I am genuinely trying to make my marriage work, is it fair for me to withhold this money—as well as the knowledge of this money—from my husband?

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—Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Dear Once Bitten, Twice Shy,

Girl, keep your money. You’re trying to make your marriage work, but it’s not going to if you fall into old habits and patterns. What your husband did before was not OK. Period. It was financial abuse, and the fact that he used your children’s wellbeing against their mother is even worse. Your first responsibility is making sure your children are well taken care of, not him. A major part of that includes ensuring your own financial peace of mind, which wasn’t his priority at all.

That being said, it’s a major red flag that you want to save this relationship but don’t trust him. You’re worried he will cut you off again and you’ll be in the same shitty situation before. I’m not going to tell you to leave him, but I am going to suggest that both of you go into marriage counseling immediately. You need to establish a healthy means of communication if you’re going to try to move forward. You also need move past this without feeling like you are punishing each other. Good luck.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

Recently, several members of my family have become suspicious that my sister is manipulating our mother to try to move back into their home. It’s a long story that reads like a villain from a novel, but the gist of it is that my sister has previously threatened to put our mom into a nursing home against her wishes and to sue to get control of their house. (Our parents are elderly and disabled now.) I’ve found my sister is badmouthing relatives to Mom and encouraging her to remove them from the will, in addition to trying to move back in. My mother is very superstitious, so she absolutely will not discuss death-related things with us in detail. Mom will not listen to us about our worries about my sister. My father may, but my mother rules the roost, so what she says goes. What can I do? How can we help protect them from my conniving sister? What steps can they take?

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—Help Save Parents From Scheming Daughter

Dear Save,

This situation sounds frustrating and hard to watch. And it sucks. What’s even more frustrating is that your parents are adults, and they are going to do what they are going to do—which includes listening to your sister if they choose to. However, I suggest the following.

First, make an appointment with an estate attorney and find out what your options are to help assist with your parents’ care. If they are incapable of taking care of themselves, both physically and/or mentally, you may be able to file for power of attorney, which would allow you to oversee both their medical care as well as their finances. Next, join a support group. Aging Care offers a variety of resources to help you have these hard money conversations along with information about elderly care, law, and housing. Even if they continue to follow your sister’s lead, it’s important to be informed of what you can do versus what you can’t, so you can be ready should the opportunity arise.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’ve unexpectedly come into quite a lot of money—more than I need to live comfortably. I want to use it to help my friends out and to do fun stuff with them that we couldn’t otherwise afford, but I feel like every time I offer to spend money on them, I’m being ostentatious. And then on the other hand, if I don’t offer money to help friends fix their problems, I feel miserly. Only my closest friends know about my windfall. How can I be well-off without being a jerk about it?

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—Please Can We All Have Nice Things?

Dear Nice Things,

Sudden wealth syndrome can cause a remarkable amount of stress, make you to feel guilty, and leave you unable to make decisions. You aren’t alone: Many big-time lottery winners struggle after receiving their payouts. Money is personal, and everyone has different opinions and approaches, but there is a name for what you’re experiencing.

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So, how can you move forward without feeling like a jerk to your friends? Spread the wealth, but be cautious. This can look like a few different ways. You can pick up a tab at a restaurant or bar every so often. This is a nice treat because you sharing an experience with someone and creating a memory. When planning a special event or trip with friends, you can spring for the fancier room on your dime. (My goal is to one day pay for my family to stay at California Adventure at Disneyland!) An upgrade is a wonderful surprise that isn’t ostentatious. You can give friends gift cards, send flowers, or pick up other treats to say thank you, acknowledge victories or struggles, or just let them know you’re thinking of them. Finally, you can offer money—but only when a friend expresses hardship in private. You don’t have to hand over a significant amount, but you can ask to pick up a utility bill, a week of groceries, or some other expenses should an emergency arise.

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When you treat your friends, the key is to be generous but not overdo it. You don’t want others to take advantage of you or see you as an escape route. If you are still feeling like you could do more, you can always donate to a cause you are passionate about or start a scholarship to honor a loved one. And make sure you’ve talked to a financial planner about how to invest this windfall wisely.

Dear Pay Dirt,

I was underage when I went to college, and my mother had to co-sign all my loans as a result. Now, over 10 years later, she won’t give me access to any of the online accounts or information for me to pay them back, no matter how much I ask. I know they’ve gone into forbearance a couple of times, though she’s otherwise been making regular small payments. My siblings are now going to have their own student loans, and I’m worried about this affecting my credit score even more than it already does. Is there anything I can do? Could I get my name off them somehow since she won’t let me even access them? I love my mom, and we have a great relationship about everything but this.

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—Loan Detention

Dear Loan Detention,

Student loans can be tricky, since they come in so many flavors. Your first step should be to try to track down your loans. Start with the federal student aid website to find all of the government-owned loans that are currently in your name. That will allow you to go through each one and find out who the servicer is and the amount you currently owe. Then, go to the servicer’s website and create a user account, which will allow you to access your loans to see more information such as payment amount, rates, and payment history. Private loans may be trickier to track down. One other approach might be to pull your free annual credit reports and see what loans are listed there, then reach out to the lenders. If you’re feeling lost, spend some time doing some research to see if you can unearth any information that’s relevant to your case.

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Some lenders will allow you to take your name off as a cosigner, while others don’t. If you are able to take your name off, the lender will walk you through the process over the phone so you can submit the correct documents. If you choose to go this route, you will be leaving your mom on the hook entirely, but it will save your credit. If you aren’t able to take your name off of the loans, you can prevent further damage to your credit by working with the lender to establish a repayment plan. Once the plan is in place, start making payments on time with the full amount owed. You don’t need your mom to save you from your student loan mess—you just need a plan.

—Athena

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