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

 

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.

Having your own money is part of being an adult

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.

Should married women have a ‘divorce fund’?

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.

Having your own money is healthy for your marriage

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.

True story of a mom who secretly saved and get out of an abusive marriage: 

I know an amazing mother of four children.  She is on her second marriage and this time, the marriage is extremely successful.  She and her caring, supportive husband are both school teachers.  They have two-year-old twins and a house with – literally – a white-picket fence around it.  It wasn’t always this way.

I’ll call this woman “Anne.”

Anne’s ex-husband was an obsessive, controlling and verbally abusive police officer. He drank. He cheated. And when Anne protested, he threatened to use his job to take custody of their preschool-aged kids and make her life a living hell. He also threatened to use his position as the sole bread-winner to hire the best lawyer and steam-roll over her in court. Yet, rather than feeling trapped and overwhelmed, Anne seized control of the situation – by taking control of her finances.

But not in the way you might think.

 

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.

 

 

Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list. Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

12 Comments

  1. Chris on August 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    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 on October 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    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 on July 16, 2013 at 12:48 pm

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

      Emma

  3. Kelly on July 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

    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 on July 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      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 on July 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm

        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 on July 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

          Thanks all around, Kelly!

  4. Jeff Landers on December 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    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 on December 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Jeff! On behalf of women everywhere…..

  5. DarthW on May 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    This is actually an excellent idea. Both spouses should have a separate account with emergency funds to be sure. If I were married, however, knowing what’s in these mutual accounts would not be a secret. Secrets in marriage is a great way to start other suspicions that lead to more suspicions, resentment, and divorce.

    I’ve been friends with more than a couple folks – men and women – whom one, or the other, had no idea the true financial state of them as a couple. If you can’t trust one another to sit down and be up front about finances, it seems ridiculous to even consider marriage.

    • Emma on May 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      “If you can’t trust one another to sit down and be up front about finances, it seems ridiculous to even consider marriage.” — well, yes, but people marry anyway, so this post offers some sounds advice for how to get out of it.

  6. JM on April 26, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Hello! I’m that wife that her husband doesn’t fill her in on the financial happenings. I’ve managed to save some money and I want to open my own bank account. I don’t want him to know. what happens when we file our tax returns together? I have to declare that I have that. And I don’t want him to know about it. What can I do?

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