Katie* is 40, and has two kids. She has taken care of the home and worked part time while her husband, a medical specialist, brought in the bulk of the income and managed the finances. When they separated late last year, she had no clue about their financial position, no idea about investments or insurance policies, not even which financial institutions they banked with.
Ellen is 46. Her husband, a wealthy businessman, left her for a younger woman, having moved all of their assets offshore and hidden his income in complicated schemes. She has been in litigation for two years seeking support for their three children but has run out of money. She is now working full time and living in a one bedroom apartment whilst her ex husband resides in a house with his new partner and child.
These stories are true, and extremely common. Though we have come a long way since the fifties and sixties, women are still frequently financially disempowered in marriage. And whilst it is easy to look upon these women with disdain – “How could you not know what was going on with your own money?” “How can you just give away your power like that?” – it can happen to anyone who is in love.
Love, you see, is inextricably linked with trust. If we are in love with someone, we esteem them, and part of that esteem is trust. If we didn’t trust our partners, we wouldn’t marry them. And trust is the biggest risk factor for financial security.
Women who become financially disempowered trust their husbands. And they see the delegation of fiscal responsibility as a sharing of household duties. I’ll take care of the laundry, you take care of the bills. I’ll make the school lunches, you choose the investments. I’ll go to Medicare, you do the life insurance.
It is difficult to educate women about how to stay financially independent and aware in marriage. I know, because I was one of them. We relinquish control because we love. We delegate because we trust.
And we can be taken advantage of when things go wrong, because the people we trust aren’t always worthy of our faith.
But hopefully what we can do is to give women our understanding and support. The road to recovery can be tough for people like Kate and Ellen. The last thing they need is our judgement.
*all names have been changed.