Hope it never happens to you – the person you trusted more than anyone hits the road with your life savings.
I’d always considered myself pretty street smart. You know, the kind of girl who didn’t have an easy life and had learned many lessons via the School of Hard Knocks.
I married my Prince Charming a little more than 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’d started the Dave Ramsey plan and had been on Baby Step 6 for years: building an 18-month emergency fund.
Life was good – until the day my world was turned upside down.
My prince ran off with the pot o’ gold.
One day I was happily married and on solid financial footing. The next, I was alone and nearly 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.
He left me nearly penniless. In addition to a $50,000 emergency fund, he also drained the checking account, including my last paycheck and the mortgage money. Only my name was on the loan, even though, due to a quirk in refinancing, his name was on the title.
Adding insult to injury, I’d put money in his Roth IRA (he never had one before), covered his life and dental insurance, paid to correct his messed-up teeth, fixed his truck, paid 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.
Coping with the cash crunch
The first issue I had to deal with was how to cash-flow this disaster.
Thankfully, he skipped out in a month when I received three paychecks. If not for that extra couple of grand coming in immediately, and the fact I had a reasonable house payment, I wouldn’t have covered the mortgage. I was also fortunate to have plenty of food, and my car insurance was paid.
When my second check arrived later that month, I was able to pay utility bills. The third went to lawyer fees, which ultimately came to about $9,000.
Putting it in perspective
When something like this happens, there are two things to deal with:
- The emotional side
- The financial side
Any divorce attorney will tell you everything becomes about the money — that’s what happened to me. Your losses will be determined by state laws where you live.
There are several things you can do to protect yourself before, during, and after such a crisis…
1. Get and stay organized. Make copies of your financial documents and keep them in a place only you know about. In my case, some of my critical documents mysteriously disappeared with my husband.
Be prepared to prove your pre-marital financial position: what you had in savings and checking, what your house was worth, what you owed on it, and what you had in retirement plans. Having these documents could mean lower attorney fees.
2. Be alert. If your gut tells you something is wrong, something probably is.
3. Cultivate a wide circle of good friends.
1. Don’t try to figure out the emotional side. Sane people can’t figure out crazy and/or selfish people!
2. Assemble a “Ninja Squad.” For me that included:
- A good lawyer who will set expectations for a realistic outcome and be a bulldog with you, as well as with the other side. 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 – someone logical and straightforward.
- A physically capable friend to offer help 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 without judging you. This process is painful and you’re human. (Thanks, Len, for listening to me that one day via email. I needed to vent a bit!)
- A doctor: I thought I needed help with depression – but the meds I was offered had negative side effects. If you think you need a therapist, you need a therapist! Give yourself permission to grieve and remember it’s 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 periodically for as long as three days.
4. Be prepared for accusations and game playing. I didn’t expect help from my ex in reducing costs – he ran off with my life savings. If something similar happens to you, don’t succumb to anger. Stay logical. Don’t be surprised when the accusations from his lawyer are excessive and unfounded. They will be.
Take solace in the competency of your lawyer and the fact judges see this all the time. And remember 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. Keep everything paid to the best of your ability.
8. Be prepared to lose some mutual friends. The ones you lose weren’t your friends to begin with.
9. Don’t expect relatives to be your allies. If you do get support from relatives, you’re lucky.
10. Consider talking to the boss. If your boss is the type you can talk to, by all means tell them what’s happening, but keep out the details. Your boss is not your counselor. They may need to know, however, you’ll have court dates and other appointments.
11. Don’t hope he’s coming back or wants to work anything out. He’s not coming back. The sooner you realize this the better.
12. Count your blessings instead of your failures. Focus on the blessings. Try to remember this period of time is just a blip in your long life. Try to maintain perspective and long-term vision.
1. Find consolation in the phrase, “Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” But I’ll tell you: Next time, if there is one, my potential partner will have my net worth or better – as well as my income level or greater – or he won’t have a snowball’s chance in a very hot place!!
2. Documentation, documentation, and more documentation. Get and stay organized. It will help in the event of death or divorce.
3. Don’t put anyone on bank accounts, retirement plans, or home title. My ex ran off 35 days after I put him on all three. If you want them to have assets in the event of your death, use a will.
4. If something doesn’t feel right or work with your value system, drop them like a rock. Don’t marry them – run, run, run away as fast as you can. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
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.
It has taken me 10 months, but my emergency fund is nearing what it was, the divorce lawyer was cash-flowed, I’ve taken care of myself and my daughter, and all bills were paid.
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.