The Moneyist: My husband of 30 years has been hiding income in secret bank accounts — with his mother’s help

United States

Dear Quentin,

My husband and I have been married for 30 years. I thought we were happy. Boy, was I clueless. I just found out a couple of days ago that my husband has been hiding money, an ATM card, a savings account and a P.O. box from me for 10 years.

Here’s how I found out: I had to reschedule a trip to California for him due to his mother being ill. I used his Gmail GOOG, +0.10%   GOOGL, +0.08%  account so he would have access to the flight information while he was gone. That’s when I discovered that he had been paying money to a company I knew nothing about, and had been doing so for a long time. I also found a different email address that he had been using.

When I asked him about all of these emails, he said, “You caught me. I’m a liar and I have been doing this for 10 years. If you want a divorce, that’s fine with me. Do it.”

He has been getting extra money from commissions and profit sharing from work each month, and he was making extra money from recycling. He only gave me a part of it and lied about the rest. He got scammed from a business that he thought would make him money.

His mother blamed me

He asked his mother about hiding money from me. She sent him the funds to open an account, and advised him on how to do it. No big surprise there. His mother blamed me for our moving out of state for over 20 years. I don’t like her, and this was just another reason not to. We could have been paying down bills instead of struggling and have had to pull money out of my inheritance.

He said he was tired of working, and had been unhappy with me for 10 years. I was blown away. I was hurt and shocked. He brought up arguments that had been resolved a long time ago. I am still in shock, and I have been going over everything in my head since he left for California, and started getting angry.

He said he thought that he wasn’t worth $ 2,500 because I said he couldn’t have a scooter. What does that even mean? I am disabled and can’t get a job to make money. I don’t know if we will stay married, but I want to protect the last of my inheritance and two money-market accounts currently in my name. Should I take money out of that account, and put it in another bank where he can’t touch it?

Stunned Wife

Dear Stunned,


Your husband’s behavior is clearly the result of storing up years of fears and resentments. The involvement of his mother not only suggests that she encourages your husband’s injurious feelings, however misguided they may be, but also provides insight into the immaturity of a man who refuses to own his behavior and grow up.

You have two issues to face related to romance and finance. I suggest you enlist legal assistance for both. You need to know what is legally beyond the reach of your husband, and what you can do to protect that in lieu of a divorce or legal separation. Inheritances are not community property, and should be kept in a separate account.

During your husband’s absence, you have the space and time to act. Consult an attorney and figure out your next move. Protect your assets and document all of your husband’s financial secrets. The more documents you have, the easier it will be to pull the plug on your marriage, if that is what you eventually decide to do.

You have at least three big questions: Do you want to be in a relationship with someone whom you can’t trust? Is trust something you can regain with the help of marriage counseling? And do his response to being confronted with these accounts and his lack of remorse even suggest that he wants to stay together?

Lack of accountability

Yes, he squirreled money away for 10 years without your knowing, but he did not seem to take enough obvious precautions to avoid being caught. (With apologies to squirrels.) If you did decide to file for legal separation, he would be required to provide these accounts full. Given his blatant lack of accountability thus far, it seems unlikely he will be 100% truthful.

Surveys regularly conclude that people keep financial secrets from their partners (44% of respondents to one recent poll). Reasons include a desire to control their own finances (an obvious one), shame over how they handle money, unwillingness to share (another obvious one), addiction, and hiding money in case the relationship ended badly.

But secrets like a debt, credit card or rogue checking account pale in comparison to the relatively sophisticated operation orchestrated by your husband. The level of planning reflects his unhappiness with his marriage and his desire to furtively put money aside for a rainy day. It is more egregious given that you have a disability and are unable to work.

What did your husband mean by his comment that he was not even worth a $ 2,500 scooter? Who knows what self-justification he was attempting — that he sees his bank balance and possessions as an extension of his self-esteem and ego? That no one, including his wife, will come between him and the bank balance he deserves?

Instead, ask yourself what you deserve. If you listen closely, you will find the answer.

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

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