True Story: How to Cope When Your Spouse Skips Out with All the Cash

(Readers: In February 2012, I received a heart-breaking message in my inbox from Spedie, a long-time reader and frequent commenter here at Len Penzo dot Com. Her husband abandoned her and their marriage — but not before he callously drained the household checking and savings accounts of every last penny. This is her story.)

I’d always considered myself pretty street smart. You know, the kind of girl that didn’t have an easy life and had learned many lessons via the School of Hard Knocks.

I married my Prince Charming a little over two years ago. He didn’t make much money, but we shared the same values, including those regarding personal finance.

About five years prior to meeting my husband, I started the Dave Ramsey plan to help get my finances in order. I had been on Baby Step 6 for many years — which I had attained before marriage — building up an 18-month fully-funded emergency fund that exceeded $50,000.

Life was good — until that fretful day when my world was turned upside down. My prince ran off with the pot o’ gold.

One day I thought I was happily married and on a solid financial footing. The next day, I was alone and near broke, just 23-months into my marriage.

I was 48 years old.

At the time, I was making about $106,000 a year. He was making $23,000 a year.

The damage was devastating:

He left me nearly penniless.

In addition to the emergency fund, before skipping out he also drained the entire checking account, including the last paycheck I had earned, and all the money that was going to be used to cover the mortgage. Only my name was on the loan, even though, due to a quirk in the refinance process, his name was added to the title.

Adding insult to injury, I had put money into his Roth IRA (he never had one before), covered his life and dental insurance, paid for his messed-up teeth, fixed his truck, paid off his back child support and federal taxes, and provided other financial assistance. He was my husband, after all; I trusted him.

I’ve only seen him twice since – in court.

The first issue I had to deal with was how to cash-flow this disaster.

Thankfully, he skipped out early in one of the two months a year that I received three paychecks. (I was on a biweekly pay cycle.) If not for that extra couple of grand coming in immediately, and the fact I had a reasonable house payment for my income, I would have had a tough time covering the mortgage. I was also fortunate that my house was full of food when it happened. When my second check arrived later that month, I was able to pay all utility bills. And my car insurance was paid a year in advance. The third check that fateful month went to the initial lawyer fees.

The ball then continued to roll until all was done. During that time, I lived very close to the bone. My lawyer fees ultimately came to about $9000.

When something like this happens, there are two sides to the coin:

  1. The emotional side; and
  2. The financial side. Any divorce attorney will tell you that everything becomes about the money — and that is exactly what happened.

If you ever have the same misfortune, your losses will be determined by the state in which you live. That is a fact.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself before, during and after such a crisis.

Before the crisis:

1. Get and stay organized. Have your financial documents in a good place. Make copies for safe keeping that only you know about. I found some of my critical documents had mysteriously disappeared. Be prepared to prove what you had in savings and checking prior to marriage, prove what your house was worth and what you owed on it, if applicable, and prove what you had in retirement prior. Having these documents prior to any trouble will enable you to save thousands in attorney fees — even if notarized copies have to be obtained.

2. Be alert. If your gut tells you something is wrong, something is probably wrong. Address it to the best of your ability.

3. Cultivate a wide circle of good friends.

During the crisis:

1. Don’t try to figure out the emotional side. Sane people can’t figure out crazy and selfish people!

2. Assemble a “Ninja Squad.” For me that included:

  • A good lawyer who will set the expectations for a realistic outcome and be a bulldog with you, as well as with the other side, when necessary. Interview several lawyers and pick the best one for your needs, situation in life and personality. Be honest about everything;
  • An old friend who knows you well and will tell you the truth no matter how much it hurts — the kind of friend who is logical and straight forward;
  • A physically strong friend to be a second set of hands when you need it — perhaps a male relative if you have one nearby. I had no nearby relatives so I cultivated a male friend. And I mean a friend, not the kind with “benefits” — which could hurt your divorce case. There are plenty of good men out there without ulterior motives. Don’t be afraid to ask for help;
  • Someone to listen to you rant when the time comes and won’t judge you. This process is painful and you are human. (Thanks, Len, for listening to me that one day via email. I needed to vent a bit!);
  • A good and caring doctor in case it’s needed. I thought I needed help with depression after this happened — but the side effects were not tolerable. (I’ve never done well with pain meds and other medications.) If you think you need a therapist — well, you need a therapist! Give yourself permission to grieve and remember that this is normal.

3. Take care of yourself. Get treated for sleep problems if this arises. Stressful situations are worse without adequate sleep. Don’t forget to eat. I forgot to eat sometimes as much as 3 days at a time.

4. Be prepared for accusations and game playing from the opposing side. Do not expect any cooperation to help reduce costs – he ran off with your life savings and will protect his theft at all costs. It’s short lived in the end. Do not fall prey to anger — as much as possible. Stay logical. Do not be surprised if the accusations from his lawyer are excessive and unfounded, which only adds to the stress and cost of the ordeal. Take solace in the competency of your lawyer and the unbridled fact that judges have seen this many times. Remember that what goes around comes around!

5. Change all email and other account passwords immediately.

6. Get off all social media. You want to put no ammunition in his guns. He will shoot you with it.

7. Work your budget with a vengeance. Keep everything paid to the best of your ability.

8. Be prepared to lose some mutual friends in the process. The ones you lose weren’t your friends to begin with.

9. Do not expect relatives to be your allies or to give you support in any way. If you do get support from relatives, then you are one lucky person!

10. Consider talking to your boss. If your boss is the type you can tell — by all means tell him, but keep out the details — a high level short talk is all that is necessary. Your boss is not your counselor — but may need to know that you’ll be having court dates and time off for other appointments to handle this type of situation.

11. Don’t hope he’s coming back or wants to work anything out. He’s not coming back. He used you as a tax free income source to pay his debts off, get free booty in the process, and thinks of you as a fool. The sooner you realize this the better.

12. Count your blessings instead of your failures. Focus on the blessings. Try to remember that this period of time is just that — a period of time in your entire life. Like all things, it will pass. Try to maintain perspective and long term vision.

As for how to avoid this in the future:

1. I find consolation in the phrase: “Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” But, I will tell you this: Next time, if there is one, my potential partner best have my net worth or better — as well as my income level or greater — or he won’t have a snowballs chance in a very hot place!!

2. Documentation, documentation, and more documentation. Get and stay organized. It would help on many fronts if you or your partner died, became disabled, went through a regular divorce or find yourself in my predicament.

3. I will never put anyone on my bank accounts, retirement plans as a beneficiary, or home title again. I can handle all this in a will without the risk. (He ran off 35 days after I did all three.) I know this is contrary to the advice of many “experts.” Remember that an “expert” comes in two parts: an “ex” is an unknown quantity and a “spert” is a drip under pressure. It’s a new world for us ladies, and there are plenty of males out there who will take us for a free ride and won’t fret one moment – in fact they feel they deserve it and “we should have known better.” Enough said.

4. If something doesn’t feel right or work with your value system concerning your significant potential other, then drop them like a rock. Do it immediately — long before marriage. It isn’t worth it. Do not marry them – in fact, run, run, run away as fast as you can. There are plenty of fish in the sea and lots of good men out there who are not bad folks.

As for me: I’ll be fine. Throughout it all, I’ve remained debt free, except for the mortgage.

I’m still doing the same thing I did back when I built my pot o’ gold: Working hard, living close to the bone and running a tight budget — just like I did to get where I was at.

It has taken me ten months, but my emergency fund is now what it was beforehand, the divorce lawyer was cash-flowed, I took care of myself and my daughter, food was in our bellies, and all bills were paid – without a single thing being late.

It was a rough year and I was unable to invest for my retirement, but to tell you the truth, I’m glad to be rid of him!

On a side note: God/life/karma smiled on me two months after we split with a new job and a $27,000 per year raise!!

Life is good and getting better. Every day.

Photo Credit: Above Top Secret

49 comments to True Story: How to Cope When Your Spouse Skips Out with All the Cash

  • You mention karma. When people are bad with money, and then they steal yours, it’s not like they’ll change. Although you might not see any of that money again, your ex isn;t going to use it well, and it won;t serve him nearly as well as if he’d stayed married to you.
    Oh well, you only lost a guy who wasn;t worth it in the first place. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say.

    Good luck to you.

    • Spedie

      Matt: I had the same thoughts. What he got left with after all was said and done (I got a portion back) is ALL he will ever have. I figure he is a very short-sighted person.

      • Volfram

        You never answered the one big question I had. Did he pay for his crime? Was justice served?

        Did you get back ANY of what was taken? Is he rotting in an 8×8 concrete room with a 300-pound roommate named “Bubba?”

        • Caryn

          Once your name is on the accounts during your marriage he has the legal right to take it. Even if it is not a moral one. Keep your accounts separate so what you earned before marriage remains yours.

        • Spedie

          Volfram: I got $12,500 back. What he did is no criminal type crime. The case laid purely in the civil side of the courts.

          I believe justice will be served for several reasons. The spending patterns he had during the disoovery period was enough to make me vomit. What he has left of my savings will not last him long.

          He lived like he was making nearly what we made together, but on a $23K per year income.

          For him to live, and be free, and take his lumps is the best revenge I can ever have. I mean, looking back on it, why was a 56 year old healthy man, with a bachelor’s degree in business, with many years in the work place, so far in debt and making near poverty level wages?

          My 19 year old daughter makes more at her retail job! Enough said.

      • David S.

        Spedie,

        As a retired (non-profit) housing and financial education counselor, I have a another thought about your ex: I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a career out of this and that you were not the only one. He sounds like a con artist, pure and simple. The type referred to by the singer Sade in her song about a “Smooth Operator”. I’ll bet that he had a LOT of experience before you met him. And I’ll also bet that when he’s near the end of his ill-gotten gains, he’ll be looking for another victim. Most of them have a hard time regaining their footing after this type of attack (yes it IS an attack…). The silver lining here is that YOU had a plan in place and had the tools to recover and thrive. Sadly, many of my former clients have not been as lucky. I am very happy that you were able, as they say, to make lemonade out of lemons. Congratulations!!

  • This is a really powerful post – thank you so much for sharing your story.

    I have a friend who is going through the early stages of this so I will forward him this post.

  • Learned

    Unfortunately I have had the same thing done to me and it wasn’t pretty.

  • Sharon

    OMG. I can’t imagine what I would do if the same thing happened to me. I would probably be in prison though. I’m very sorry for what happened to you, but I am glad you were able to recover.

  • Cindy

    You poor girl! Did you get any of your money back from that scumbag?

    Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. I’m sure it was hard for you but I am also certain your tips will be very beneficial for others who end up in a similar situation!

    • Spedie

      Yes, I got $12,500 of it back, which wasn’t much. It’s weird how one can be married to another for less than 2 years, and walk off with all that money, tax free.

  • Paul N

    Love + Money don’t mix.

    Somehow they should be separated from the outset. You never know what happens in life. Law’s regarding marriage and divorce should be changed to reflect our changing world in 2013. Pre – nups should be made mandatory to take the awkwardness out of one or the other partner asking for one. “What-dont you love me – this means you don’t think its forever” @@

    Keep three fully seperated accounts. His/Her’s/Joint. Share everything 50/50 even if one makes more money. Then If you want “gift” money to your spouse as a treat. We have to make these thing’s seem the norm and “cool” thing to do. There would be a lot less disasters and more starving lawyers….

    All divorce settlements should have a definative finite expiry date. Payments should be on a diminishing scale over time. All expenses for childeren should be shared equally and have limits. No one should have to guarantee a certain “lifestyle expectation” to their former partner. It’s ludicrous.

    Hey… and you really don’t have to get married. There are other ways of being together and they might even be a better solution. Love truly is blind.

    • Spedie

      Thank goodness children didn’t come into the mix. Mine were both grown.

      My ex tried to come after me for alimony! I was flabbergasted. He didn’t get it, nor did he get a cent of my retirement funds.

  • Unfortunately, this is all too common. We just had a friend in much the same boat, except her soon-to-be ex was mean and vindictive with her, trying to ruin her boiler and smear her name. Thanks for the post!

  • That is absolutely horrible. I sincerely doubt my girlfriend would do that to me but that is partly why I want a prenup. It is a crazy world out there with some sick people.

    • Len Penzo

      I hear ya, Lance, but I’m not sure how a prenup could ever protect anyone from a spouse who was determined to skip town after draining the bank accounts! I think the only protection from that is separate accounts.

  • Volfram

    You know, my friends and family keep telling me that my paranoia when it comes to romantic relationships is un-founded, but the story I see and hear everywhere is this one. I never see the version where they skip out on you only to come back three months later and say “Here, I was working on a gift for you. Things got out of hand, but I hope this is worth it.” or “Hey, I was kidnapped by terrorists, but I’m OK, I’ll be home in a week.”

    “It is better to have loved and lost…” is garbage. Anyone who says otherwise is planning to walk out on you 23 months into your marriage and take everything.

  • What a terrible story! Sorry you had to go through all this. I am glad you were in a position to be able to make things work in spite of it all. I want to believe the best in people but have had a few take advantage, not to that extent thankfully, so I am considering separate finances unless both spouse contribute the same amount to a mortgage, apart from that, maybe a shared account for house bills and then each one with his money. Yes it sounds cold but it will definitely prevent such things from happening. Thanks for sharing.

  • CandiO

    Ah the three keys to a happy marriage in my world: 1. Seperate bank accounts 2. Seperate bathrooms 3. He knows he can be right or he can be happy (and he chooses to be happy). Hahaha. But seriously the first one is important. My SO’s first wife ran up 25,000$ (unbeknownst to him) in credit debt while he was deployed and stuck him with it when they divorced.

  • Such a horrendous story–so glad you’ve gotten through things so well! I’ve just decided to move in with my BF (he’s moving into my condo, which I own), and I’m charging him rent and keeping everything as-is in terms of accounts, titles, etc. That won’t change even if we marry someday, even though he makes a lot more than me.

  • Spedie, did you have ANY IDEA this was coming beforehand, now that you think about it? (You’re hinting that you did.)

    Also, has he shown any interest in continuing a relationship with your daughter?

    I couldn’t help thinking that you should have a separate account — aside from the regular ones — that did just have your name on it. Husband is very reliable (married 31 years-plus), but I was told to do this because of death. If your partner dies, and his/her name is on your account, that account can be frozen until the estate is figured out.

    Good luck, and good for you that you kept going. Says a lot about you! (And a lot about him too, unfortunately.)

    • Spedie

      Cindy: I knew something was wrong – call it my 6th sense. I truly had no idea what he was up to.

      He is not the father of my daughter. We were married only 23 months and my daughter is a young adult. My daughters, both of them, think he is scum and want nothing to do with him.

  • It’s a terrible story but you are still alive, have got your emergency pot back and maybe are a bit wiser. Your ex thinks he got away with it and in financial terms he appears to have but in reality, 5 years down the line, you will be the one who has won.

    When it comes to marriage and sharing things, we go the other way. We have joint accounts and plans to build. You can never trust if you don’t try and separating everything into his and hers is just so difficult not so much in administration but it is a clear statement of distrust. If you don’t feel trusted, or trust, why work together to build?

    A next potential partner is not guilty of any offence and you may well say goodbye to him before he has the chance to prove to you that he is worthy. Tarring all men (or women as we know men who have been badly treated by women) with the same brush will just ensure a lonely old age.

    Sorry to be contrary but when you come to think about it, it is only money.

    • Spedie

      This very attitude was the one I had when my divorce attorney asked me about it. I wanted this marriage to last as I am approaching 50. I agree that separating everything and not working as a team would have been a sign of mistrust.

      I figure I did the right thing, and in the long term, I will be okay.

  • This just sucks. I am so glad that you recovered pretty damn quickly! I would love to think that I’d be able to handle a situation like that as well as you did (and you did great by the way), but I think they’d be prying man bits from my hands or I’d have a well-fertilized garden if I found him before lawyers did. Not really (maybe) but that would be the thoughts going through my head for quite a while…

    Anyway, congrats to you for being financially awesome and having an opening for a GOOD man now. What a jerk face…no loss there in the long run. I’m just sorry he made you feel like crap at all. :-(

  • I agree with Glen this is a very powerful post and will send a message out to everyone who reads it. Sometimes the best stories are the true stories, one’s we can learn from so we don’t make the same mistakes. Glad to hear that you recovered. Congrats on the new job and raise. Thanks for sharing this. Mr.CBB

  • Christine Weadick

    You Go Girl!!!!!! A friend of mine kicked her hubby out after she found out he was doing drugs… she wanted no part of that!! She was protecting herself and their 4 kids. He ran her down all over town talking trash. Today she is doing just fine, the kids are all married with kids of their own,all still close to their Mom, and the ex wasn’t invited to any of the weddings and isn’t exactly welcome in their homes……

  • You are a strong woman. Thanks for sharing something so personal. You tips are great, practical, and straightforward. From the way your story ended, it sounds like you are heading in the right direction.

    • Spedie

      Life did smile on me, in many ways. The new job and big raise helped me out of my dilemma. Who says that good paying jobs with big raises cannot be had in this economy?

      LOL, all the way to the bank baby!!

  • Spedie

    Thank you all for you kind words, and questions. I only hope I can help someone in my previous predicament.

    If he was worth a piece of paper, he would have done it himself. Trust no one.

    Spedie

  • new & used 1

    I cant hardly believe what I’m reading here. My wife recently left the coup after 25 years draining everything to the max. Credit cards, overdraft, line of credit. I have been fighting to stay current for the last 5 months and barely getting by with many mortgages, projects under construction, friends that don’t understand and now lawyers that will ultimately get a chunk. Your story gives me hope and I have no choice but to persevere and win my life back.
    Surprisingly I’m grateful that I now make all the decesions on my own and am no longer taken for granted. On line shopping and on line gambling should have been my tell tale.

    • Spedie

      new & used 1. I hear your pain. If you need a remote friend who understands, ask Len for my personal email. Len, it is okay.

      • new & used 1

        Thanks Spedie, I truly appreciate your reply, for some reason today was overall fantastic and for you to respond at the end of my very busy day, not knowing me from shinola clearly makes my day even that much better.
        Sincerely , Thank you
        ps I will ask Len for your email as I would very much like to communicate with you.

        • Spedie

          New; I feel your pain. If len chooses to pass it on, so be it. I feel a mighty thing to help others in our situation, even if only to lend an ear.

          the emotional side is greater than the money side. I know this.

          Spedie

  • Dan Richey

    WOW!!! Don’t know what else to this story. This is so so sad. Can’t believe it went down like that. I’m proud of her for buckling down and making it work. Inspiring to the rest of us.

  • Timrorer

    Spedie is a driven lady. If you knew her (I’ve only known her for a month) you’d have predicted this outcome–though I still am in awe.

  • Wow, what a terrible slap in the face. I’m impressed by your attitude and ability to rebound so quickly. I do think what goes around comes around, so he will get his somewhere along the way.

  • June

    are you kidding?? I will never join accounts with anyone! If I am a saver and he is a spender, when he spends his $$$ then he more than likely will start spending mine. Even if you are married and both working, each one should have their own account and contribute and share the bills. I have seen way too many problems with my friends relationships. She saves he spends. He barely contributes to bills, even though its him who is creating most of the bills, she keeps paying the bills, he spends his money on god knows what and when he is out of $$$ , he takes and drains the saving accounts. There was a couple that I know of, she kept saving, he kept spending and always complained his money was spent on his kids, who lived with his ex-wife and child support etc. and claimed he had no money, she paid all the utilities, the mortgage, even the food that he ate or eating out, while he didn’t contribute a penny to anything(can you say moocher) he only paid for his car and insurance, that’s it! then he convinced her to join bank accounts (I don’t know why, what’s the purpose when he cant even buy a gallon of milk) then he drained her savings of 30 years in 6 months. It turns out while he was mooching off of her, he was spending money on other women, on himself and when she filed for divorce, the guy had a nerve to go after her house and everything she owned, when he didn’t even spent a penny or buy anything for that house or any of the repairs. She should’ve seen the red flags, if he wasn’t even helping with any of the bills and making her pay even for his food, why was there a need for him to be on her bank accounts? so I say share the bills and keep your bank accounts separate, always! these days you cant trust anyone!

    and Spedie I am glad you got rid of the loser!!

  • lucy

    glad u r doing more better spedie.. sometimes is is a person’ BLOOD FAMILY that are mooches and the like.. hard to stay away from them sometimes.. sigh

  • Jay

    My ex took all the cash we had and ran off.

    Still, months later, I got peace of mind that she is gone forever!

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