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Every woman needs $5,000 in her own account – even if it’s a secret

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Guest post by divorce lawyer Morghan Richardson.

Every married woman needs at least $5,000 in a bank account in her own name – no matter what her husband thinks.

Far too many women are going to reject this mandate as an act of marital treason. Let’s be clear: I didn’t say the account had to be a secret. I leave that up to the individual woman. Nor did I suggest that you shouldn’t care what your partner thinks. In a healthy relationship you should absolutely care about his opinion. But you should have an account, regardless.

You’re an adult. You should have some access to cash in your own name, not because it is a “divorce slush fund,” but for scads of other reasons. Having your own money to budget and spend is part of being a grown up. It should be there for emergencies — what if he dies and the joint account is frozen (it happens all the time)? It should also be a place from which you can spend on the occasional luxury or other expense without having to explain every nickel to your husband. What if those fabulous patent leather Jimmy Choo platforms that happened to be on sale? Or your brother is in (another) jam and asks for help? Money affords you options — even if you don’t believe you need some of those options right now. That feeling is empowering.

But should your account indeed be a “divorce slush fund”?  Maybe. I don’t need to throw a bunch of grim divorce rate statistics at you. If you live in this world, you already know. So let’s get real:

An account held jointly in both spouses’ names can be accessed by either person. If your husband drains the account, a judge may require he pay you back some of it. But that can take months or even years. What will you do until then?  How do you hire a lawyer to make him pay it back?  How do you pay your bills and feed your kids? He may not pay child support or alimony unless that same judge requires him to do so – again, this takes time. How will you make it?

The vast majority of people who come into my office (all of whom are there to get divorced) have an arrangement in which one partner handles the all bills and budget, and the other is oblivious to the family’s income, investments, debt and spending habits. This arrangement didn’t make for a happy union – these couples are divorcing, after all. You don’t have to guess which spouse gets burned in the divorce.

No one sets out to get a divorce. No one sets out to have a car accident, either. But sometimes the minivan gets wrecked, and thank God you have insurance, right? So insure yourself. Get an account for all of the harmless reasons, but also know deep down that you have insurance if your marriage fails.

Another thing: opening an account may serve as a pulse-check for your marriage. If your marriage is open and strong, then why would your husband have a problem with you having your own money? If you feel it is out of the question to even mention such an account to your husband, then you probably need your own funds more than you realize. Does the topic make you nervous? Because turn-about is fair play: I suggest he have an account in his name, too. And maybe he already does.

Up next: Morghan shares a true story of one stay-at-home mom in an abusive marriage who squirreled away $5,000 to start a new life.

 

Morghan Richardson is a family and divorce attorney and mediator in New York City.  She juggles her Queens-based law practice with her other job as the single mom of two preschool-aged boys, Hayden and Ozzie. Her firm is Richardson Legal, PLLC.

 

 

 

  1. Chris
    Chris08-23-2012

    I keep asking my wife to open an account in just her name.

    She would never spend “our” money on something just for herself.

    Everyone should have something that is just theirs to do with as they wish and money is certainly on that list.

  2. Lana
    Lana10-10-2012

    How I wish I had done this! Stupidly, I was the one left in the darkness on all our financial affairs. It’s never too late, though:) I have three daughters and I have plenty of advice to pass to them.

    Thanks, Morghan for this eye-opening article!

    • Emma
      Emma07-16-2013

      Hi Lana – Great you’re teaching your daughters to be more aware and involved. All is not lost!

      Emma

  3. Kelly
    Kelly07-16-2013

    Great, great post. Especially the last paragraph. I’m finally, happily divorced from a man I was afraid to ask anything of- which is why I always knew at the bottom of my heart this would come to pass. Everyone should be prepared.

    • Emma
      Emma07-16-2013

      Kelly – What slays me is that divorce is everywhere, yet few people prepare for it. The chance of an early death is far, far lower than divorcing, yet I estimate that more families have life insurance than do separate bank accounts and funds to liberate both parties should the need arise.

      • Kelly
        Kelly07-16-2013

        Emma, you are so right. Awareness! It is funny that it’s ok to talk about preparing for death, but not divorce. Real life is hard folks!
        Love your site!

        • Emma
          Emma07-18-2013

          Thanks all around, Kelly!

  4. Jeff Landers
    Jeff Landers12-07-2013

    Excellent article!

    I addressed this very topic in one of my weekly Forbes articles on the financial aspects of divorce for women.

    My article – Pros And Cons Of Keeping A Secret Fund In Case You Divorce – can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/jefflanders/2013/02/14/pros-and-cons-of-keeping-a-secret-fund-in-case-you-divorce/

    For more information, please go to http://thinkfinancially.com/

    Thanks – Jeff.

    • Emma
      Emma12-09-2013

      Thanks Jeff! On behalf of women everywhere…..

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