One of the issues which prevents a woman from leaving an abusive situation is money. This is especially true for Mormon women. In the most traditional LDS homes husbands and wives share a bank account, the wife is a stay at home mom, and assets are jointly held. In the most extreme cases the working husband handles all finances, with the wife knowing little about the specifics of their financial situation. This may put an abuser in the position to inflict financial abuse along with other types of abuse.
Financial abuse can range from the simple – guilt and shame inflicted on the wife for spending “his” hard earned money. To the extreme of not allowing the wife a credit or debit card, giving her only a minimal allowance, with the husband retaining all assets in his name alone.
In attempting to improve an abusive marriage, or in making plans to leave, it is important to prepare for what the future may hold. (In my mind the preparations for improving an abusive marriage or leaving are the same. If your husband doesn’t respond well to your attempts to improve the marriage, things could escalate quickly and you won’t have time to prepare.) Your situation is probably already worse than you could have imagined, so it can be difficult to think how it could be any worse and how you might possibly prepare for it. First I’ll provide the general financial preparations for any woman dealing with abuse. Then I’ll provide information more specific to LDS women.
With every step keep things as secret as possible, and ask those you confide in (keep this to as few as possible) to keep your secret as if your life depends on it, because it might. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship, the abuser reacts unpredictably to their loss of control and power.
-Open your own bank account. This is a big first step, but one that is very important. It felt deceptive and dishonest to open a bank account without telling my husband. That alone was a warning sign of the oppressive hold he had on my life. As an adult woman I am free to do simple things like opening a bank account. If you don’t have access to the money you need to set up an account you’ll have to patiently save bits here and there. Save birthday money, keep the change from shopping trips, when paying for groceries with a debit card get cash back, you can even buy items and return them asking for cash. This is not dishonest, in most states the wife is entitled to 50% of all assets, you are beginning to take hold of your 50%.
-Get your own credit card. Opening your own bank account and establishing personal credit is necessary before you can get a credit card. It is important to have it in your name only, so that when you leave you retain it. All joint accounts and cards can be easily cancelled or abused/maxed out by your husband. Often a divorce does damage to your credit, so getting a card in advance may be the only way you have a credit card post divorce. Even if you think you won’t get divorced, take this step just in case.
-Find out as much as you can about your assets and get copies of all important financial documents. This includes having copies of your tax returns and some kind of record of your husband’s pay to establish child support amounts. Make copies of investments (including mortgages and 401Ks), bank statements, credit card statements and other loans from the month you leave. That way you have a record of what state the account was in when you left, making it more likely that you won’t be held responsible for your ex’s financial temper tantrums. Get the title to the vehicle you drive, make copies of birth certificates, immunization records, any important papers that you will need. Often abusive husbands will destroy important items in an attempt to control, or in retribution. (For this same reason remove important heirlooms and other vital items when you leave the relationship, they may not be there later.)
-When you leave, that day you walk away knowing you may never be able to go back, scared for yourself and your children, you should take all money available. A friend who had escaped an abusive marriage warned me, “Take all you can, because from that point forward he won’t give you anything willingly.” You may hope to get child support, alimony, and give your husband the benefit of the doubt, but all bets are off when you leave. Their power is suddenly shattered and they will react unpredictably. It can take months, perhaps even a year or more in the worst cases, for financial issues to be settled and those payments established. You need enough money to get you through the transition.
-DON’T spend irresponsibly, or splurge. You may have to account for the funds that you take. If you can prove that you used the money for living expenses for yourself and your children a judge is less likely to make that money an issue. Another reason not to splurge – you don’t know what is going to happen. The best laid plan you have in your mind is not going to go off without a hitch. There will be unexpected problems and you need to have extra money on hand.
-Other miscellaneous preparations connected to finances: change all passwords, get a disposable phone not connected to your family account, copies of contact list/addresses and phone numbers, contact your local domestic violence hotline and ask for help with your safety plan.
– Continue paying tithing. You need God’s help in this endeavor. If you are paying your tithing you will ask for His assistance with greater faith, knowing that you have been faithful in your commitments to him.
– Establish a good relationship with your bishop and Relief Society president. The week before you leave is not the time to call your bishop to save your marriage and ask for his support, financial and otherwise. If you are reading this post with any amount of seriousness you should be counseling with your bishop, IF you trust him. If you have good reason not to trust your bishop then by all means don’t give him the opportunity to put you in greater danger by telling your husband your plans. Even in this sad situation where you don’t want to confide in your bishop, try talking to your Relief Society president. She may be more compassionate and understanding. Again, be wise and don’t trust those who aren’t trustworthy. Establishing relationships with the bishop and RS pres early on can provide you with solid support later when you will most need it. If they know you and your faith and understand the situation, they will be in a better position to help you and know what you need when you may be so stressed that you aren’t able to think clearly. You will also give them the opportunity to watch your husband and observe the warning signs of abuse for themselves.
-Ask your close family and friends what kind of help they can provide. How you discuss this with them will vary depending on what kind of a relationship you have with your family. Hopefully you will trust the closest members of your family with this secret you’ve likely kept from them. Telling people who love you unconditionally about the abuse will make it easier to bear and easier to tell others who can help you later, like a lawyer, a therapist, and domestic violence advocates. People who care about you will casually offer to help, but when it comes to actually doing it, they may weaken. Ask in advance what specifically they are willing to help you with. Would they provide a place for you to stay? How long? Will they keep your precious items (scrapbooks, journals, photos) safely stored? Would they be willing to give you money if you needed it? If so, ask them to put it on a gift card now so it is ready when you need it. If you need help when they’ve had a big car repair bill your could find yourself without the support you were counting on. I was devastated at several points when those who promised support and encouraged my leaving were not willing to help when the necessity arose.
-Prepare to work. Unless you have a trust fund or a full bank account, you will need to work. Prepare for this by getting all the education you can. Learn how to use a computer, take an employment class, update your resume, take part in activities that you can add to your resume. If you can, get a job now, even if it is just a few hours a week. It will add to your resume and will be one less thing you have to do during the transition phase when you will already have so much to deal with. It will also help you build up your personal bank account. This can be a tricky thing to negotiate, depending on your husband’s perspective on working outside the home and the ages of your children. Pray about this, think about your abilities, and the Lord will lead you to what you should do. You can do this, the abuse may have damaged your self confidence which makes seeking a job difficult. A job can help restore your self esteem and remind you of the wonderfully talented person you are.
-Build up your food storage. This is not something I thought would help me leave my abusive marriage. After all, I can barely carry those buckets of wheat to the garage, let alone take them with me when I left my marriage. My food storage came in handy not on the day I left, but later. When child support and alimony aren’t enough to get through those inevitable financial surprises, having basics like canned chicken, flour, oil, and sugar means that I can make chicken noodle soup, bread, and cookies even when there’s not a dollar in my wallet. This enables me to feel a bit more peace when I need it during this time of crisis.
This list is probably overwhelming. I want to cover as many things as possible so that you can prepare as well as possible. There is no way to accomplish all of this in a week. Do a little bit at a time, before things get worse. It would be wonderful if you made these preparations and never needed them. Care for yourself and your children by preparing.
*I am not a lawyer. Nothing in this post implies a legal guarantee. If you want to be legally sure and adequately prepared seek legal counsel. Often legal aide will give you advice on these matters even if they don’t accept your case, or if you’re not ready to file for divorce.
If I’ve left anything out please leave a comment below.