True story: How to squirrel away $5,000 to get out of a horrible marriage (and get the kids, house and alimony)

Guest post by divorce lawyer Morghan Richardson, who wrote last week about why it is critical for every woman to have $5,000 in her own account.

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.

This woman didn’t earn the family’s income or even oversee much of the bill payment. Yet for three years she took charge: Unbeknownst to her husband, Anne set up a savings account and had the bank send the statements to a trusted friend. Then she budgeted everything: She figured out how to trim the cost of the groceries and then pocket the difference she saved – even making excuses for needing extra milk during the week. Tiny changes like switching from brand-name to generic products generated pocket change added up. Anne got creative with white lies about losing one of the kids’ sneakers and needing to replace them, then returning the extra pair for cash.  Gifts given to the kids were returned unnoticed or exchanged for less-expensive toys – then she’d save the difference (particularly when the kids were younger and didn’t notice).

During these three years Anne also collected copies of his bank statements, tax returns and credit card bills – proving how much he earned and how much he spent on excessive drinking and other women. She collected cell phone bills and kept records of his drunken and abusive episodes.  Finally, when she’d saved about $5,000, she hired a divorce lawyer. Then – documents in hand — she dropped the divorce bomb in her husband’s lap, demanded that he move out and give her the house and the kids. She also told him that unless he got his drinking under control, she would seek supervised visits from the court. She also received his financial support until she could get a job and start earning her own living.

While the husband  was trapped by his own bad behavior, Anne’s patience and perseverance set her free to make a better life for herself – and her kids.


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 is a veteran money writer, 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,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

12 thoughts on “True story: How to squirrel away $5,000 to get out of a horrible marriage (and get the kids, house and alimony)

  1. I agree that a woman, even in a happy marriage, should have her own savings account. I was lucky (or smart) and had my own savings account and had a good job where I could support myself and my daughter without my ex husband’s support when I kicked him out. But isn’t three years a long time? Yes, she’s happy now, but is the moral of the story to wait patiently squirreling away cash until years later you can buy your ticket out? That doesn’t seem like a smart emotional investment.

    1. I agree with you Nicole! The message isn’t stick it out in a terrible marriage until you can save enough to get out. Rather, I think that there are ways to save money that most of us overlook as being “too small” but they add up. I always find it impressive when someone takes control of their situation and goes for the results they want regardless of the challenges. And, I hope that if someone is reading this who feels like she is stuck or can’t see a way to build her own savings (even just a nest-egg for a rainy day or emergencies) can start to look at her situation differently.

  2. I agree, too, Nicole. What I take away from this story is a) you can get out if you have to, b) money is indeed necessary and powerful, and c) word to the wise: figure out early on how to have your own funds so you don’t have to waste three years of your life with a dick.

  3. This is disgusting.! Anne should be ashamed of herself. Get a real job, stop collecting bs alimony welfare, a filthy goldigger, no shame

    1. You have obviously never had to live in a household with an abusive person in charge
      of things. I don’t think she should be ashamed of herself at all. I disagree with you.
      Her x husband is the one who should be ashamed of himself for being controlling and abusive
      for many years. She deserves every penny she now gets.

  4. In response to comment left by James:
    You have obviously never had to live in a household with an abusive person in charge
    of things. I don’t think she should be ashamed of herself at all. I disagree with you.
    Her x husband is the one who should be ashamed of himself for being controlling and abusive
    for many years. She deserves every penny she now gets.

    1. Disagree. Alimony or any divorce settlement is not designed as reparations for perceived wrong doings during the divorce. The marriage is over. The relationship is over. Time for both adults to move on with their independent lives — separately.

    2. If only the abuser instead of the breadwinner were the one to pay. Most states are no fault, so if Anne were the breadwinner she would be paying alimony to this dick. Where is the justice in that?

  5. I absolutely agree with Emma, stop the reparations and entitlement, get out of the relationship and get a job. Don’t sit on your far ass collecting a handout. Alimony is disgusting and no self respecting person would accept it.

  6. I think temporary alimony could be a fair arrangement. If two intelligent adults come to an agreement that one will be the primary breadwinner and the other work less, stay home with kids, or even work for passion instead of finances, it only makes sense to need time to transition to self-sufficient. 5 years would provide 4 years of (re) training/college/apprenticeship/etc. and then a year for job hunt. After those 5 years, it’s over, regardless of if they were used wisely.

  7. I am working on leaving and have two special needs kids. I will be getting alimony until I can make enough to support us. Plus kiddos like mine have therapies to go to, get sick often, etc. It makes working full time very difficult.

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