Financial Ruin for Women

When Marriage isn’t A Fair Financial Partnership 

The statistics have made headlines in recent years: women lose major earning potential when they stay home—even for a short period of time—with their kids. And of the many complaints women (or men, if they’re filling a non-traditional role) can have about fair division of labor—who’s in charge of grocery shopping, kids’ appointments, school meetings, laundry—perhaps the most serious, with the longest-lasting effects is the access to finances.

I sat down this week with the authors of The Empowered Woman’s Guide to Divorce, Dr. Jill Murray and Adam Dodge. Dr. Murray is one of the nation’s leading experts on unhealthy relationships. She has published a number of books on unhealthy relationships and mental health. Her therapy practice is based in Laguna Niguel, California. Dodge is a former divorce attorney who now devotes his career to empowering women to represent themselves in family law proceedings as the legal director of Laura’s House where he advocates for the legal rights of domestic violence survivors and their children.

Murray discussed the reality of what she sees in her practice—and it isn’t pretty: “many women are not equal partners in their marriages, in financial decisions or [even] have financial access. They’re not even on the titles of their homes, or they’re given allowances by their husbands. Or they don’t have access to finances through a checking account, or debit card or even a savings account, anything like that.  They don’t have pink slips to their cars. They’re told to sign the back pages of joint tax returns. They don’t have the opportunity to look at the document.”

Sound scary? It is.

How We Got Here

It’s a statistic that’s widely cited but worth repeating: women outnumber men in college. It’s almost inconceivable, then, that 43% of women drop out of the workforce after having children. The sad fact is that it often makes more sense for the female parent to stay home (since men traditionally earn more). With this as the baseline sad reality, it’s not hard to understand how women just stay outside of financial/professional issues. Unless their partner lets them in.

The Big Question: Is it Loving?

Murray says that partners owe it to themselves to ask the hard questions. And top of that is, “is it loving behavior”? Is your partner loving? Are they showing you loving behavior? Being locked out of the family’s financial life, being financially hamstrung, being policed in your finances, being demeaned or called names, even being touched and grabbed offensively are all signs of a partner who is not being loving. This behavior isn’t just a warning sign, it can also be important in deciding divorce settlements.

It can be easy, in the solitude of the home, in the throes of a toddler breakdown, in sweats in the aisles of a grocery store, to feel that you somehow earned this place so far from financial freedom and the workforce. But this is where Murray puts some responsibility on the partner whose life hasn’t changed as dramatically. Marriage is a partnership and showing love is not about controlling your partner.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.