Big bad marriage trouble. How can I get us out of trouble and not get fooled again?
April 17, 2010 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I missed the clue train.

My husband and I have been married for almost nine years and we have one giant recurring problem. For our entire relationship, even before we got married, he's been full of nasty financial surprises.

I can't say I didn't have any warning, that's for sure. Years ago, when we were dating, I found a withdrawal of $100 from my checking account from an ATM that I'd never been to. I asked "Sam" if he'd taken the money out and he said he hadn't, so I told him I was going to the police. I thought that someone had lifted an ATM card from the mail and somehow figured out my PIN. Sam came with me to the police station and sat with me as I gave a statement. The officer who handled these things told me that they would pull the video from the ATM and get an image of who made the withdrawal and go on from there. When we got home, Sam told me that he was going down to the station to turn himself in. I dropped the charges and thought it was a one-time thing.

Wrong. Months after our wedding, I found out that Sam had put our (thankfully short and relatively inexpensive) honeymoon on my emergency credit card. I didn't know there was a balance on the card at all until a collections person called me at work and asked why I hadn't made a payment. The answer was that I hadn't put anything at all on the card, and Sam had been racing me home to get the mail; I'd never seen a statement and didn't know about the debt. But, Sam had been laid off literally six days after we got married - two days after we returned to work - so I forgave him.

A couple of weeks after that, the gas company called. They were after more than $1500 in late payments or they were going to cut off the heat. I had the gas utility put in my name, took the money from my personal savings account and had a giant fight with Sam. But then I forgave him again. After all, the poor man was still unemployed in spite of trying his best to find work, and he was depressed.

The stakes went up a few years back when our kids were born. We spent a night last year at my mother-in-law's house because Sam said that the electric company was investigating a line to our house that was throwing sparks. It turned out that he hadn't paid the bill for five months and they the power had been shut off. I transferred all of the bills into my name, took charge of all household finances and insisted that we go to marriage counseling. I also insisted that we talk to my husband's mother about these troubles, because she's someone who a) he respects and b) is very good with money. He swore that that was all - he didn't have any credit card debt or anything - and that we didn't need to worry.

Since taking over all of the bills last year, I've had both of us transfer a set amount to a joint checking account on pay day, and I use that to pay the bills and the mortgage. I pay my credit card bill out of my own account. However, Sam has been paying a couple of accounts, one from PayPal and one from a bank, out of the joint account, which has irked me. We've been struggling to pay our household expenses and mortgage because daycare eats up a major chunk of our income. I've cut just about everything I can think of, but I've still had to pull money from savings frequently to make the bills and pay for daycare.

Tonight I asked Sam how much he had on his balances. I was especially concerned because I thought that maybe he was only making minimum payments and that his debts were significant. Sam said that he only owed a couple of hundred dollars and wouldn't have any balances left at the end of the month.

Cue a phone call. I answered it and found, you guessed it, a collections agency. Sam got on the line and gave them permission to talk to me. They told me that Sam was late on more than $600 in payments. I asked for a total balance and they told me - as Sam frantically shouted that he was withdrawing his permission for them to discuss the account with me - that he owed almost $4000.

I'm at a loss. Seriously, I have no idea what to do. The trick is that aside from all of the bullshit surrounding finances, Sam is a fantastic husband and father to our kids. I've got health issues - big ones - and Sam has been unfailingly supportive. He's considerate, sweet, with unending patience with the kids, and just an overall good guy, except for this one, glaring area.

I asked Sam if he actually wants to be married, and he said that he does. I told him that I'll expect credit reports monthly from him, with the first one tonight, and will need access to his accounts on-line - all of them. I'm assuming I'll be able to identify any account that he has open from his credit report.

What might I be missing? I have the mortgage in my name alone, so I don't have to worry about losing the house. I'll admit that I'm worried even more because I'm afraid that the things that are wrong with me will kill me, and then Sam will land the kids on the street.

Will the credit reports give me the information I need? What else should I insist on? Is another go at marriage counseling even worth it. I'm so furious that I can't see any possible justification for what he's done.

Is it possible for me to write a will leaving financial care of the children to someone else, or to a trust, in the event of my death instead of to Sam? What else should I do, beyond eating half a pack of cookies and having three glasses of fizzy wine?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (74 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The problem is, you guys suck at communicating.

Demanding access to all your husband's accounts won't fix the underlying problem with your communication. If he can't be honest with you and you can't trust him to responsibly handle his financial affairs then I just don't see much of a future for you.
posted by ged at 6:39 AM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't put it like ged put it. I would put it this way: your husband sucks at telling the truth. It may be only about this one (fairly significant) thing, but he has abused your trust over and over again. It sounds like you've taken the right steps to deal with it and have been understanding, which is, I think, what a good spouse should be, but I'm at a loss to tell you what you should do now. Whatever it is, though, it has to involve a big change.

I guess the typical AskMe suggestion of therapy really applies here. Not couples counseling - you sound like your reactions are pretty normal, if forgiving. He needs to deal with his inability to control his spending as well as his lying, both of which sound like addictions to this layperson.

But really, I just wanted to express my support. I'm sorry this otherwise-great person is treating you this way. It's really hardest when everything is perfect save for one glaring flaw. Best to you and your family.
posted by nosila at 6:45 AM on April 17, 2010 [15 favorites]

Well... this is sticky.

Let me just relate the story of a couple I know (and I promise that I am neither member of this couple - honest!).

Said couple was (happily?) married for 25 years, during which time the husband had numerous secret affairs and maintained what was essentially a double life. Because the couple were married, he also was able to take out several credit cards and list both his wife and stepson as joint holders without their knowledge.

I know, right? Without their knowledge. It seems like it should not be possible. It seems like they should have had to sign off on that, but yet they both attest that they never had any idea. In fact, the son didn't even know about it until he attempted to buy a house a few years after the divorce...but we're not there yet.

Eventually, this couple became basically untenable. They divorced in the most acrimonious of ways as soon as the wife found out about all of these secrets. In the wake of the divorce, however, whatever thin thread was tethering the husband to reality utterly snapped. He basically ruined his fights, arrests, hookers, a boat, a new Range Rover, narcotics, a semi-permanent suite at the Ritz-Carlton...

That's when the collections calls started.

The (now ex-) wife started getting the most insistent, harassing calls from creditors that you can imagine. She found she was on the hook for $300,000 on one card.... $500,000 on another....even $750,000 on a card.

She was already divorced, and she had no idea these cards had existed. To her knowledge, all joint accounts had been dissolved. In fact, two of these cards had been taken out AFTER their separation. Because she was still listed on them as a contact, and because the creditors could not get hold of this husband, she was responsible.

The calls got worse. They kept calling her at work. They threatened to take her to court, have her wages garnished. She did not run up one cent of that debt, but the banks did not care. Neither would the banks remove her name from the cards -- since the husband had been the one to take the cards out, only he could remove her name and he could only do that once all debt had been resolved. The banks initially would not even tell her how much was owed on the cards, since she was not the primary card holder. How ridiculous is that? They wanted to hold her liable, wanted her to pay, but would not tell her how much? She only found out the amounts after lawyering up. The husband also dropped off the face of the earth and stopped paying alimony.

The son, meanwhile, found himself unable to secure a mortgage because his name was attached to some credit card with a $500,000 balance on it, taken out when he was only 13, and about which neither he nor the mother had any idea existed.

The son eventually got hold of the husband (this was before he vanished completely) and got his situation resolved. The wife was not so lucky. To this day, her credit is in utter ruin and will never recover. She is being threatened constantly with legal action and jail time over her ex-husband's mounting debts. Debtor's prisons? Yeah...if they really want to, they can still send you there.

The husband was able to cause all this ruin solely by virtue of being married. Be warned.

If I were you, I would run for the hills.
posted by kaseijin at 6:46 AM on April 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

"Is it possible for me to write a will leaving financial care of the children to someone else, or to a trust, in the event of my death instead of to Sam?"

Yes. It is in fact quite common to do this in case of both parents' death (physical custody to one person, financial trusteeship to another) partly because it keeps more people involved in your children's life, partly because it can be hard for guardians who love the children to make good money decisions sometimes, partly because the person best-qualified to care for them may not be well-qualified to look after the money. (And partly because some people are shady.)

You will need to consult a lawyer; assuming you're in the US, in most states (probably all), the spouse has a right to a certain share of the estate unless particular steps are taken, and you will need to be careful to set up the will(s) so that Sam will not have access to the children's money and so that he cannot challenge the will in court. (I might even go so far as to have him sign an affidavit at the time you sign your will, stating that he understands why he's being written out of the will and that he has a money problem and he agrees to this for the good of the children or something. It isn't a magic bullet, but it would at least show a judge that he was well aware of what you were doing and why.)

Personally, I would cut off his access to all account, have his paycheck direct deposited, and put him on an allowance. You also need to "freeze" his credit report and put fraud alerts on both your credit reports, so that he cannot get new credit. If he fraudulently uses your credit cards or anything again, I think you do have to go to the police.

It sounds like he's pretty compulsive when it comes to money. I don't know a lot about that, although other MeFites do I'm sure, but it definitely sounds like there's a deeper psychological/money problem. Good luck.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:46 AM on April 17, 2010 [22 favorites]

(Oh, put fraud alerts on the kids' credit reports too. Parents stealing their children's identity for credit access is sadly common.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:49 AM on April 17, 2010 [19 favorites]

As an addendum to the above tale:

I made it sound like this couple were fabulously rich. They were not. They lived in an $85k house in a pretty run-of-the-mill Texas suburb that was past its prime. They were comfortable, and they had savings... but they did not live an exorbitant life. They were both nurses, if that helps you put things in perspective.

He just capitalized on what good credit they had built and went completly bonkers.
posted by kaseijin at 6:50 AM on April 17, 2010

Take control of all the finances. No joint accounts, no credit cards in his name, nothing. The only money he has access to is the cash that you give him weekly to spend. If he doesn't have access to any money electronically, there's less damage that he can do. Don't forget to change the PIN number on your cards to something difficult for him to guess. Don't cosign anything.
Does Sam work? Assuming that he does, make sure his wages are paid into your account.

Marriage counselling is probably a very good idea. A half decent counsellor will be able to help you guys get to the bottom of this. His behaviour is could have a very negative effect on your lives, so he doesn't just get to cop out. He's been lying to you for a long time and needs to offer you some kind of justification for that. Once you now why he gets himself into these messes, you can start working on that. If there are kids involved, then you need to be doubly sure that this is sorted.

Regarding wills, you're best off dealing with a lawyer that you can deal with verbally.
posted by Solomon at 6:58 AM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

I'm no financial expert, but, particularly if you're intending to stay married to him (I wouldn't, not just because this is a mess, but because of the duplicity involved), I would close any joint accounts and cards and make sure he has no copies of your cards or access to them. Put all the bills in your name, and your name alone, and ask him to give you a check every month. He's shown that he's not to be trusted with access to joint money. I also might make our continuing marriage contingent on his getting some sort of counseling or therapy--it sounds like there's more at work here than normal fiscal irresponsibility.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:59 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't part of your question. But what is he spending these, sizable, sums of money on?

He's creating debts while you pull money from your savings accounts to pay the day-to-day stuff and also to cover whenever you discover another debt your husband has created.

As he has been lying to you consistently about money, I'd wonder why you think he'll ever stop. Personally the $100 ATM withdrawal would have been the last and first straw.
posted by selton at 7:01 AM on April 17, 2010 [11 favorites]

I'm really surprised no one has said DTMFA. I mean, Sam has been flat-out lying to you and throwing major disrespect at you since day one. He is toxic. Sure, you've been married for nine years, but I bet you wouldn't have married him if you knew about his financial irresponsibility, right? You've gone to marriage counseling and apparently that didn't help. What are you waiting for? This will end badly. I think the biggest problem here is that you're (admirably) worrying about your children, but you need to worry about yourself, too. It sounds like you want to put safeguards in place but what you need to do it be proactive about this. Divorce him and kick his ass out.

Get a lawyer.

Also, he stole from you and you continued to date him. What?
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:02 AM on April 17, 2010 [28 favorites]

As folks above have pointed out it's not only you but your kids who are at risk. The house may be in your name, but the debts can cause you to lose everything. This man needs help, and you have a real decision whether to remain in the marriage or not - but don't underestimate the risks to you and your children.
posted by mozhet at 7:07 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Take control of all the finances. No joint accounts, no credit cards in his name, nothing. The only money he has access to is the cash that you give him weekly to spend. If he doesn't have access to any money electronically, there's less damage that he can do. Don't forget to change the PIN number on your cards to something difficult for him to guess. Don't cosign anything.
Does Sam work? Assuming that he does, make sure his wages are paid into your account.

I'm sorry, but, no. I think this is ridiculous advice. Get rid of any joint accounts, don't cosign anything with him, sure. But that needs to be the beginning of the end for you guys. Giving him an allowance isn't going to save your marriage, it'll make him resent you. Taking his paychecks so you can spend them responsibly? I get it, but again. Toxic behavior to a marriage. He'll hate you for it.

The trick is that aside from all of the bullshit surrounding finances, Sam is a fantastic husband and father to our kids. I've got health issues - big ones - and Sam has been unfailingly supportive. He's considerate, sweet, with unending patience with the kids, and just an overall good guy, except for this one, glaring area.

No, he's not a great husband. He may be a great babysitter, but he sure isn't husband material. He's not a "good guy" either, he's a liar and a thief. Think about this seriously. You want to protect your children, but you apparently want to keep him around. You know where children learn their fiscal (ir)responsibility from? Their parents. You know which parent kids listen to about stuff like this? The one that buys them all that Neat Stuff. That'll be him. With your money. I'm kind of against trust funds in a case like this, because you're using it as a future safeguard when what you should be doing is putting as much distance between this guy and your kids as you can.

What happens when/if your big medical problems lead to huge medical bills? You'll have more than enough to worry about when/if those hit. Also, setting up funds for the children to use if their father ends up taking care of them? I'm sorry, but this is their dad. I wouldn't be surprised if he engineered them into giving him money. It's happened before and it'll happen again. Make sure it doesn't happen to your children.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:16 AM on April 17, 2010 [13 favorites]

Also, he stole from you and you continued to date him. What?

Yes yes a million times yes. If these lies and secrets and total disrespect involved other women you wouldn't still be with him right?

You are clearly extremely forgiving and that is a wonderful virtue. To a point, and you've long since crossed it. Sam, since the first time he FUCKING STOLE form you, has been banking on this forgiveness. He lies and lies and lies and lies until you catch him.

You mention serious health issues he suports you with. With all the money he's stolen you could have hired a lot of support.

He is putting you and your kids in more danger than if he was just cheating. He has a compulsion and little to no regard for how it impacts your family. Eventually he will run out legitimate sources of credit, if he hasn't already, and that's when your actual physical safety is compromised.

Get out. Separate your finances and protect your children.

If you love him and want to forgive him again, do it after he is living somewhere else. He's the one that needs counseling. If he can make it a year on is own without getting underwater, than consider taking him back.

(and don't listen to any excuses about how he can't make it on his own/have a job that's part of being a god-damn adult. Who are the only people you should consider being married to)
posted by French Fry at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2010 [12 favorites]

If you still are still considering staying with him, would you consider a divorce anyway? Just to separate the financial liability you'd be under? I don't know if you can control him sneaking around for a new credit card, etc. You can't fight him on this - trying to out maneuver him on a daily basis- wondering if he's sabotaging you and your kids. You're either on the same team or you're not. But if you're not, financially at least - perhaps a lawyer could explain how to protect yourself.

You wish his behavior would change, now that he sees how devastating this is for you and your kids. But you can't control that. What you can do is control what you do, now that you see something is devastating you and your kids. He might not be able to change, but you can. Mourn your situation, but handle your business. Protect your kids.
posted by anitanita at 7:40 AM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

You need to think about what is making you make excuses for this thief and liar over and over again. When I read the first part of this question (he stole from me but he turned himself in so I dropped the charges and married him anyway, he stole from me again shortly thereafter but I felt bad for him cause he was laid off after that, he didn't pay the gas bill but "the poor man was still unemployed in spite of trying his best to find work, and he was depressed") I almost thought you were trolling because your behavior is so unbelievable to me.

I hate to be one of those people who says DTMFA and get therapy, but at the very least, I really do think you need to talk to a professional about why you are letting yourself getted repeatedly walked all over by a criminal.
posted by amro at 7:42 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would cut off his access to all accounts, have his paycheck direct deposited, and put him on an allowance.

I couldn't agree more.

InsanePenguin, lots of couples work this way. My parents have been doing this since they got married in 1967. My father isn't irresponsible with money, but my mother gives both him and herself an allowance. Boundaries are good; that's money that is not to be tracked or accounted for. They can both safely empty their allowance accounts without ever worrying that they're endangering the grocery budget or the mortgage payment. It's how they stayed sane when they had very little money.

Making that allowance cash instead of an account seems perfectly reasonable in this case. OP, your husband has amply demonstrated that he has a serious problem with money. If he isn't willing to let you do this, I doubt you can make this relationship work. I think this is the ultimatum you have to give him. Rather than resenting you, I think he will probably be relieved.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your husband is a pathological liar. I don't think this calls for couples therapy. I think it calls for your husband to go into psychotherapy for this serious problem.

If you were married to an alcoholic you wouldn't go into couples therapy, you'd get your spouse to go into AA (or some other similar treatment regime). This is similar. He needs help. If he refuses to get help, then I'd say DTMFA for your own safety and sanity, and that of your kids.
posted by alms at 7:50 AM on April 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

This wasn't a clue train you missed, it was a clue tank brigade. Sam has LIED to you, again and again, about STEALING from you, again and again.

If you want to stay with him and make this work, take his name off of everything that he could possibly have access to - bank accounts, credit cards, gas bills, Netflix, anything.

Does he recognize this is a problem? Does he think this is a big deal, or does he think you're overreacting?

In such a serious case, I think that speaking to a lawyer just for a few hours may be worth it, as they would have more specific advice as to how to protect yourself and your children.
posted by amicamentis at 7:52 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry about all of this, and communicating is a good idea and everything know that you're married to a liar and a thief and someone who is seriously jeopardizing your kids' futures, right?

I also thought that you may have been a troll when I began reading this question. It just seemed unbelievable that anyone would put themselves and their kids in this situation. PLEASE: get your credit reports (I hope there are no more surprises there), get a lawyer, and extricate yourself from this awful situation. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me multiple times?
posted by meerkatty at 7:55 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I asked Sam if he actually wants to be married, and he said that he does.

Well, of course he does. You keep fixing everything for him and he doesn't have to be responsible for a goddamned thing.

I had a boyfriend like this once. He actually went to county jail for a while, for stealing a check from a business and forging it. I swear he was HAPPIER in jail than he was in the real world -- he had no responsibilities there, and if that also meant he had no rights, oh well!

I'm really sorry. But you need to cut this guy loose.
posted by shiny blue object at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

InsanePenguin, lots of couples work this way. My parents have been doing this since they got married in 1967. My father isn't irresponsible with money, but my mother gives both him and herself an allowance.

But your father never had a problem with fiscal irresponsibility and stealing from your mother, as you admit. It's a different animal here.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2010

i'm marveling at how he went with you to the police station and let you file a report!
posted by elle.jeezy at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2010 [16 favorites]

While the financial irresponsibility is obviously cause for concern, the more serious cause for concern is the fact that he's committed crimes (stealing your money is a crime) and continually lies to you. In each case you listed, he only comes clean once it's clear he's going to get caught. Meanwhile, the amounts involved keep getting higher.

I'm sorry, but I don't see this improving no matter what you do. Somehow he thinks you're stupid enough not to catch on to any of this. I mean, not paying the gas and electric bills and then just taking you to your mother-in-law's house instead of saying, "Hey, we need to pay the electric bill"? Giving you permission to talk to the debt collector and then trying to take the phone back once he realizes they're actually going to tell you how much he owes? Why the hell would he even do that?

Since he keeps lying to you about it, I would fully expect him to try to work around any system you try to set up to keep him in check. Frankly, I would expect there to be other bombshells waiting for you in the meantime - is he stealing from others? Is he stealing from his employer (if he has one)?

He needs professional help. These problems run deeper than just being bad with money. I understand your health issues make this even more difficult, but I have to think you're not trapped with this guy. You might want to consider the idea that part of the reason he wants to stay in this marriage is because he figures as long as he is supportive of you through your health issues and good with the kids, he knows you'll forgive him, every single time. There are a lot of women who wouldn't put up with this, and he probably knows that.
posted by wondermouse at 7:57 AM on April 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

Sorry, but the ATM theft wasn't a mistake. That wasn't loose change on the dresser. It wasn't an accident. This might sound extra trite, but money is more than just what it can buy, it is a measuring tool. The $100 has measured his honesty and found it lacking. Get out, get out now. You aren't his mommy, needing to monitor how he spends his allowance. Later on a huge shoe will drop. It might be steel toed and attached to a loan-shark, bookie, or auditor. This continuing series of events might leave you and your children homeless.

I'm sorry.
posted by Classic Diner at 8:04 AM on April 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

You might want to consider the idea that part of the reason he wants to stay in this marriage is because he figures as long as he is supportive of you through your health issues and good with the kids, he knows you'll forgive him, every single time. There are a lot of women who wouldn't put up with this, and he probably knows that.
This, a thousand times.

I’m sure that you could do everything you can to take control of all the finances and he’d STILL find a way to scam you. I seriously would not put that past him and I don’t think you should either. I think you’ve had your head stuck in the sand for way too long and you really have to figure out why. I think you definitely need therapy for yourself to figure out how to deal with this on your own. Sam is not your partner in this; he does not want to change or he cannot change. He cannot change if he does not have serious consequences put on him and that’s what you need to figure out – what those consequences are. This isn’t going to stop just because you put safeguards on your accounts; this will only stop when he sees how terrible his actions and decisions are, and takes responsibility for them. That’s a tall, tall order that likely only long-term therapy can help, but would only work if he wants to change. And do you honestly believe he does? Really?

Things are complicated by the fact that you have health issues and you obviously need support dealing with that. And you have kids to take care of. If you were to get a divorce, what would you lose? What would you gain? Would you lose his contributions to the household income? Would you gain peace of mind? Do you want to be married to him? Why? If he wants to stay married to you (or is he lying again?), what does he have to do or else you’ll get a divorce? Those are the kinds of consequences that I’m talking about.
posted by foxjacket at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2010

What might I be missing?

You're missing the part where you haven't been able to outsmart him for the entirety of your relationship--either he's been successful at hiding what he's doing or, when the hiding fails, you forgive him.

You need expert help: lawyer, personal therapist for each of you, couples' therapist, financial advisor.

But more than that, you need to prepare for the very real possibility that this will not work. Whereas in the past when your strategies haven't worked, you've forgiven him and moved on to the next disaster, you need to get to a place where you'll stop that. If he can't stop the behavior, you have to stop the marriage.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:12 AM on April 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was coming in here to say what anitanita said - that is, maybe the best thing would be for you to divorce him but stay with him. Marriage is a business deal, and he is not someone you want to be in business with. Your relationship is completely separate from that and there's no real reason that part can't continue as long as your finances are no longer entangled with his.
posted by hazyjane at 8:26 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your relationship is completely separate from that and there's no real reason that part can't continue as long as your finances are no longer entangled with his.

But should she really be in a relationship with someone who is so untrustworthy that she can't leave cash laying around? What if he steals her jewelry and sells it?
posted by jayder at 8:34 AM on April 17, 2010

Also, I just thought of a question posted here a few days ago--from a person whose mother had opened a credit card in her name (thread). It's come up more than once. I see that one or two comments have already mentioned this possibility. If you don't get full cooperation from your husband to address his serious problem (a tall order), you have to expect that he will do to your kids what he's done to you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:37 AM on April 17, 2010

Well, I hate to be the one who says this straight out, but it appears someone needs to. So: what is he spending the money on? The first thing that came to my mind was - other women. Strippers, or girlfriends, or something. He obviously has no problem at all lying to you, so he probably lies about other things, too. You need to investigate that possibility.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:40 AM on April 17, 2010 [11 favorites]

And btw - you deserve better than this.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

What might I be missing?

I'm going to go with "he'll start opening credit card accounts in your kid's names" for $1000, Alex.
posted by rr at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

But should she really be in a relationship with someone who is so untrustworthy that she can't leave cash laying around? What if he steals her jewelry and sells it?

I don't think whether she should or shouldn't be a question that has a clear yes or no answer. It's her choice, and it sounds like she really wants to stay if the financial thing can be sorted. It sounds like the husband is a good caregiver so she's certainly getting something out of the relationship part of the whole thing.

If it were me I would insist on getting those statements, though, and making sure the stuff he's spending on isn't a dealbreaker in and of itself - i.e. strippers and other women, etc if you care about that.
posted by hazyjane at 8:46 AM on April 17, 2010

Does your husband give any signs of mental health problems? I know two people, one who is bipolar and the other who suffers from schizoaffective disorder (my son) who, in their manic phase, spend without control, wrecking their financial status. Neither is a rapid cycler, so their manic phase can last for months. They hardly remember what they did with the money: I know one of them left a $500 tip for a twenty dollars meal.

Have your husband talk to his doctor, to rule out a physical or mental problem that would influence his behavior.

As for the lies, I do not seem to feel as strongly as the other commenters. I agree that not being truthful to each other is not good for the marriage, but sometimes a person lies on impulse, then fear of the consequences makes harder to take the words back and the problem magnifies. I think a lot of us have been less than 100% truthful 100% of the time. Is there something in his early life such as domineering parents that pushed him to instant lies to protect himself?

Therapy for him seems appropriate.
posted by francesca too at 8:52 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

To be honest, it sounds like you (maybe because of your health problems?) think and have thought that you couldn't find anyone better than Sam, even though he lies and steals from you, and has from day one.
You didn't miss the clue train, you willfully ignored the clue train. You knew that he did these things, but you forgave him, it's not as if you just never knew he was pulling all this stuff. This is more than just about money, this is about basic trust.
You aren't being tricked anymore, you have no reason to trust him, but you choose to believe the things he says, or at least act as if you believe him.
Also, what is he spending this money on? That's something you didn't mention that is somewhat important to assessing his situation.
If you really want to stay with him and try to fix things, which I honestly don't think is a good idea because he steals from you and lies to you, you need to start by NOT trusting anything he says about finances ever. Anything he says about money, don't believe it. You can control your behavior first and foremost. Then you need to cut him off from your money completely. Talk to a lawyer about how you can do this completely and effectively.
posted by ishotjr at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

if you're going to stay together, he needs to have zero access to his or your paycheck except through you. I have some good friends who did this (til the marriage ended through death). She had run up several thousand dollars on a credit card before they were engaged. He paid it off, and they agreed she would cash only, and he would give her x amount of money a week, to cover groceries, gas, and other expenses. Of course the amount fluctuated (with gas prices, etc), but this worked very well for both of them, with no resentment. She found it much simpler, too.

Sam has compulsive spending problems. And where is this money going? He needs individual therapy, right away, and you both also need to be in marriage counseling together. I think you might need a lawyer to protect your own and your kids' finances. And, yeah, fraud alert to freeze his credit and probably your credit is the only way this is going to work--he can't be trusted, and he should know that.

I am very sympathetic to you wanting to stay with him, both because of your health issues and because of your kids. The divorce possibility, but where you stay together, is an interesting idea as well.

So, anyway, this is what I think:
1. Make sure you know where all the money is going, every dime.
2. He's in counseling, as soon as possible.
3. Your in counseling together.
4. Freeze/fraud alert on both credit lines, and your kids'. There's no doubt to me he'd go there next (if he hasn't already).
5. Power of attorney/trust for kids to a trusted friend or relative who is not Sam. Financial guardianship, maybe?
6. When your kids are old enough to understand, they need to know this too, because Sam might start back up after you are gone.
7. No credit or accounts in his name; he gets a reasonable weekly cash allowance for expenses to cover everything, including gifts, lunch out, no exceptions.

If he's not willing to do each thing here, then, DTMFA.

Though, even if you divorce, you still need to freeze the kids' credit and figure out the financial guardianship issues.

I really feel for you. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your guy has been hiding these things from you. I have to agree that you can treat this like he's been cheating on you. The emotional manipulation is there, the disregard for you and your children's safety is there, and the selfishness is there.

In my opinion the only way that he can save your marriage is to agree to direct deposit of his paycheck and a cash allowance from you. He has shown not to be trustworthy for anything else. If he resents that then he cares more about the money than he does for the relationship.

Don't give him a combined account, there is always the chance of racking up overdraft charges. Do what you have to to make sure that he can't open a card with your name on it, and protect your kids too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:08 AM on April 17, 2010

My sympathies, truly. I agree with those who suggest getting him checked out by a doctor, see about a mental disorder or substance abuse. I didn't notice anything in your post about worries for your children's safety when they are with him, or worries that he's going to harm other people or himself, and I'm going to assume you are right not to have any concerns in that regard-- for the moment. But he really does sound kind of unbalanced or irrational or something, going a long way back. That thing about goig to the police station with you when he was guilty all along is really scary to me. You don't know what he's going to do if there's ever a big crisis. Keep yourself and your children safe, above all.
posted by BibiRose at 9:33 AM on April 17, 2010

Well, I hate to be the one who says this straight out, but it appears someone needs to. So: what is he spending the money on? The first thing that came to my mind was - other women. Strippers, or girlfriends, or something. He obviously has no problem at all lying to you, so he probably lies about other things, too. You need to investigate that possibility.
He may well have another wife or a mistress stashed somewhere for whom he's paying the bills. Or he could have a serious gambling problem. Whatever the problem, if you were not married to this man, if it was some stranger who'd stolen your identity and occasionally drained your bank accounts, you'd have him arrested, no? You are married to a thief. He is probably stealing from others, too (perhaps that's why he was "laid off" from that last job - he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar). Aside from counseling, you might want to consider something drastic, like hiring a private investigator to do a thorough background check on this guy. Sure, it's sneaky, but it's not like hubby has been upfront and honest with you all along.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:02 AM on April 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

Where did the money go? What did he need to buy that he couldn't ask you for that first $100 all of those years ago, a withdrawal that he didn't admit to until the jig was completely up. Where has the money gone over all of these years? Do you really know that he was laid off? How has his work history been in the years since?

He's lied to you since the beginning of your relationship, and he's put your finances, and your families future in danger. There's something going on that he will not admit to - something that this money is going to.

I once dated a guy who turned out to be a crack addict. He was great fun, he cooked me breakfast every morning, he rubbed my feet, he was sweet and caring - and I couldn't leave any money laying around without it disappearing. Change from purchases? Gone. Money for groceries? gone. My valuable jewelry? Gone. His lies were masterful, he knew exactly how to avoid confrontation and make it worth my while to not ask the big questions. Eventually the evidence became too much for me to ignore.

I think it's time for you to ask the big questions. Does he disappear for hours at a time? Have you actually been to his job? Does he spend a lot of time with his "friends?" In the garage? Does it take him a really long time to run "errands?" Is he willing to take a drug test?

The money is going somewhere - and it's been going there for years. It will continue to keep going there until you either get him to 'fess up and stop or you leave him. You've given him enough chances, don't you think?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:20 AM on April 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

I would get therapy and frame the problem as "lying about money." It's not a lack of communication, it's not compulsive spending (though maybe that's a cause, it's only one option): it's "lying about money." Find out what's going on.

Besides that: get ongoing access to his credit reports (yourself, not printouts he gives you); pull your children's credit reports; then put fraud alerts on everyone's account; make sure a fraud alert like this covers a potential home-equity loan; consider having him be the one to pay back the money himself on his off hours (second job ahoy!) or with his discretionary funds; then once everything is clean, lawyer up and get a "post-nup" to protect yourself and a trust or something for the kids.
posted by salvia at 10:34 AM on April 17, 2010

Also, consider the question above, what if he's stealing from his employer?
posted by salvia at 10:35 AM on April 17, 2010

If he is out of control but is aware enough of his impact and feels remorse I don't see why he doesn't just allow you to manage his finances. It can't be any worse than what he is doing now that's for sure.

There used to be a show called "Maxed out" I think that tried to help people who seemed like nice people but just didn't know how to manage their money. Buying things left and right.

And when you see them, they don't seem like bad people at all.

I don't want to paint your husband as a villain because I don't know him and from what you say he is a wonderful husband.

But you need to protect yourself.

I had to do that with my family who borrowed and borrowed over the years.

Now I have nothing to give them honestly.

Its a bottomless pit for some people. There isn't enough money even if someone gave them millions.

The sad things is that even after you explain things they simply don't really get it and might even get nasty with you.

So I had to stop giving even though it hurts me not to give. Also, I realized that they wouldn't give me simply caring words and love that I wanted when I was at my lowest point in my life.

Your husband has to "get" you either through counseling or through further talk.

Love isn't based on finances but its a big issue if things are going badly.

Just like love isn't based on sex but its a big issue if things are going badly.

So it needs to be addressed.

I really understand your pain. You have to be strong and aim for a successful outcome regardless of how wonderful your husband is. For yourself, for your family.

I'm not saying to leave anyone, just that if he doesn't comply with BASIC responsible behavior that everybody else knows is right then he is getting away with things.

And maybe he doesn't take things seriously because you are so forgiving - a good quality. But my weak spot too.

Show him this metafilter thread......if he is open enough.

To open his eyes hopefully.
posted by simpleton at 10:45 AM on April 17, 2010

I agree with everyone who says that you need to start with acknowledging that you are married to someone who habitually lies to you and steals from you as a matter of course. You must accept this as a clear, objective fact if you are to forge the healthiest way forward in protecting yourself and your children emotionally and financially, which should be your absolute number one concern. (Saving the marriage is an optional and extremely distant second concern at best, and only if it does not come at the literal and figurative expense of the well-being of you and your children.)

I also agree with the folks who have brought up the question of a mental health evaluation. A good friend of mine's ex-husband behaved very much the same way throughout the nearly 20 years of their marriage; turns out he was (is) bipolar, with a side of borderline personality disorder. He ultimately refused any ongoing psychological or medical care, which is why she eventually divorced him. He's since moved on to a variety of new scams to supplement his compulsive spending, despite being perpetually broke and unemployed/underemployed.
posted by scody at 11:03 AM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your husband is a liar and thief.

Sorry. Don't pretty it up and call it "nasty surprises". The financial security of you and your children is less important to him than his need to lie and steal. Call it what it is. Don't pretend, or let him pretend, it's anything less than being a thief.

First things first. You protect what little is left of your credit and your children's credit. He gets locked out of every account and fraud alerts go on everything. He's an adult and can make his own choices (hopefully, those choices include therapy). You need to provide whatever financial security you can for your kids. That includes providing for a responsible financial custodian if something happens to you.

Next thing, do you want to be married to this person? If you do, then you need to decide what you're willing to accept. It seems likely that he will never correct this behavior. Consider whether you're willing to spend your lifetime cleaning up his financial messes.
posted by 26.2 at 11:04 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom unfortunately had some debt issues. She is not a bad woman but she did open credit cards in my name when I was a kid which affected me when I was buying a house in my 30's. Protect yourself and your kids now. Your husband has shown time and time again that is word means nothing. He WILL lie again. I promise you that.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2010

Everything I could say has been covered above, but in case you don't have it handy, the place to get a free credit report from each of the three bureaus is You're entitled to one free report from each bureau per year.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 11:10 AM on April 17, 2010

This is going to be harsh.

you're likely concerned because of your health problems that you can't get anybody else. or maybe the health problems are mental and compounding the issue. Or maybe you think that the kids will be devastated.

But you really need to consider splitting up with him, because you're putting your fear and anxiety above the welfare of your kids.

Even if you make these steps, lying is likely to continue. He could wind up going to a mob loanshark or worse. He's untrustworthy, and I'm actually as concerned about your enabling as I am about his lying.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:26 AM on April 17, 2010

Do you love him?
Do you really know him?
Does he make a good living, is a reliable worker?
Do you just disagree on spending, so he spends behind your back?

Where did the money go? It could be going to drugs, alcohol, dating other women, gambling, or just stupid high living. You need to find out. Look at the credit card records. This sort of need for cash indicates that there's something more than poor management. I say this from sad experience with a family member.

I was married to a man who was/is totally irresponsible with money. Lots of lying, mostly by omission, to me about his financial status before the marriage, and more after. If he has 50 in his pocket, he'll take somebody out to lunch. He'd be in hock to me for bills, and loan money to friends. I paid 75% of the bills. As I tightened up the finances, he became increasingly mean and rude to me. It just kept getting worse, little by little. He's a loving Dad, but never paid 1 dime in child support, never paid his portion of our child's health insurance, never had money to help pay for the birthday party at the water park, or school clothes, etc. Always, always promised to pay for things, and, in his memory, believes he did. I had to fight and scheme and game-play to get him to pay his share of child care and other expenses. He seldom explicitly stole from me. (Took cash from my secret stash, left a worthless IOU) If he'd been nice to me, I might have stayed in the marriage, but he basically became verbally abusive. And he screwed around, which I only learned after we separated.

Get your credit report, and his, and do this again monthly for the next several months, in case of missing reports.

Set up a trust for the kids, so that if anything happens to you, any insurance money, inheritances or savings gets managed by someone else.

Meet with a financial adviser and a therapist. Before I married my ex-, I knew a bit about his finances, and we met w/ a counselor who is also a lawyer. Best move I ever made. We set out some clear understandings about money, and, thankfully, had a pre-nuptual agreement. If you stay together, you need some clarity on how the 2 of you will spend and save. It would be fair for you to ask him to kick in extra on the bills, since you've worked hard to save, and you've had to bail him out.

I'm glad I'm not married to my ex. He wasn't nice to me. Because I'm a good money manager, and work hard, the divorce wasn't a financial train wreck for me. But money isn't everything. Divorce was really hard on our child, and on me. Nobody's perfect, and if you choose to try to make it work, that's not crazy. If you choose to end it, you have plenty of reason.
posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on April 17, 2010

Sorry to weigh in again, but definitely look at the credit card statements. Did he buy items? If so, does he still have them? Did he use the credit card to pay for things that were originally supposed to be paid in cash? If he's putting regular bills on the credit card, where is the money that was put away for those bills? Not trying to be a broken record here, but people who habitually siphon off money for their own purposes become experts at laundering cash. I highly recommend that you hire an accountant to go over these records for you - they can spot the money trail far easier than you can.

I also want to say that you should listen very carefully to what he says as his debts are revealed. Does he attempt to play on your sympathies, as he did with the initial $100 debt? Does he emotionalize the issue? Obscure it with some other crisis?

I have a feeling that once you start down the rabbit hole, you will be astounded at how deep it goes. I'm truly sorry you are going through this, but better late than never.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:08 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sad to say it, but I know a similar story to the one that kaseijin told - secret debt taken out in her name, a divorce decree that held her in no way responsible for the debts, but still she is nearly broken underneath a wave of creditor pressure to pay debts she can't even imagine. I would make moves to protect myself immediately - consult a lawyer to find out how you prevent yourself from being potentially taken down were he to take out credit in your name, or your children's names. It might sound excessive, but I think everything you've recounted sounds pretty damn excessive on his part.

No person who steals from you over and over again and lies about it is really a wonderful husband and father, he just plays one on TV.
posted by ukdanae at 12:50 PM on April 17, 2010

There are two possible answers to this problem, and it comes down to how you answer this question: Which is more important a) Your marriage, or b) you and your children's future?

If your marriage is more important than do the stuff with therapy, etc, though don't expect miracles. Take away all ability for him to get to you or your kids money. Anyone who would steal from his girlfriend and wife would steal from his children.

If you and your children's future are more important than you know what to do. Get the hell out.

I'd take the kids and get away from him for a week. Stay with family or something and tell him that you've got some serious thinking to do and that he is not to contact you under any circumstances. Hang up on him if he calls. This is to both you and your husband time to think.

But what ever you do you MUST take action and it must be a Big Change. He's walking all over you with bigger and bigger feet and he won't stop unless there's a reckoning. you're the only one who can give it to him.

(And by all means, enjoy the cookies and the fizzy wine!)
posted by Ookseer at 12:55 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few people have mentioned the possibility of legally divorcing in order to separate finances while continuing to live together, be partners, whatever you want to call it. If you do this, please look into whether or not you'd be considered to be in a common-law marriage, and what financial implications that would have, in your geographic region.

I hope that you are able to get yourself out of trouble; forget the "us".
posted by ecsh at 1:01 PM on April 17, 2010

My first response is DTMFA but if you're not willing to do that, the only way this is going to work is if you take complete control of both your finances and put him on a cash allowance.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2010

Oh and get all the bills sent to a private mail box that only you have the key to.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:21 PM on April 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

You want to stay with him because he's so helpful with your health problems? What happens if you end up needing to pay your own health insurance and he siphons off the money for that, leaving you with a preexisting condition when you try to get insurance again? You can't trust this guy to take care of even paying the electric bill if your health was to prevent you from doing it yourself.

It will be a lot easier to leave financial care of the children to someone else and have it stick if this guy isn't your spouse in the event of your death. Who knows, this might have something to do with why he's so eager to stay with you. This guy seems to have a special talent at making money disappear, and he probably feels like he'll be able to get it out of wherever you try to secure it from him.

When you get divorced, be sure to change the POD beneficiaries for all your accounts, get new credit cards with different numbers, and keep an eye out for identity theft. Next time, don't let him sweet talk you out of dropping the charges.
posted by yohko at 3:08 PM on April 17, 2010

i disagree with nearly everyone here:

"The trick is that aside from all of the bullshit surrounding finances, Sam is a fantastic husband and father to our kids. I've got health issues - big ones - and Sam has been unfailingly supportive. He's considerate, sweet, with unending patience with the kids, and just an overall good guy, except for this one, glaring area."

If you kick him out over a few thousand bucks, I think you will be making a big mistake, for yourself and your children. Nobody's perfect. Take steps to deal with this particular problem. And weigh that problem in the balance with what he gives you.
posted by londongeezer at 4:02 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow. I hate to break the news, but even IF you do all the things you suggest regarding your finances (ie remove his access to your accounts, give him an allowance, etc.), there will be another addiction pop up. Your husband is not a healthy man. He needs serious help. Some serious, prolonged counseling on his own to get to the root of his problem. As it stands, he is just one big headache (that you do NOT need in your delicate health situation). I even got a headache just reading this, can't imagine what's it like to live with someone like this, who you have to sleep with one eye open around!

My suggestion for the short term is a separation at the very least. Like 6 months or so. He needs time to figure out what the hell he's doing with his life and how he's hurting his wife and family, and you need time to regroup and hopefully gain some self-worth. You are short-changing yourself big time. If his taking care of you is what is keeping you from leaving, take the money you're using to take care of him and bring in someone like a nurse aid to help you a few days a week. During the separation, make sure he has no access to your funds and follow the advice of others on the board (freezing accounts, etc.) You must get away from this person for a while. He is your biggest health hazard.
posted by GeniPalm at 5:53 PM on April 17, 2010

londongeezer, the money isn't really the point. It's that he's stealing it from her, has been since before they were even married, lying to her about it as much as he can get away with, and covering up as much as he can. She knows about a few thousand bucks, but given the pattern he's established, I have to think there's way more this guy is hiding. We don't know where all this money is going, and it doesn't sound like she does either - he's taking money out of their joint account and using it towards his PayPal account and some other bank bill, whatever that's actually buying.

Something's clearly way more important to him than being honest with his wife. Sure, maybe she doesn't care about all that as long as he's physically there for the family even if his secret escapades are draining her savings and causing her so much stress, but this guy is leading a double life, possibly criminal (beyond the obvious illegality of his stealing money from her using her ATM card way back when). It's really not about a few thousands bucks.
posted by wondermouse at 6:07 PM on April 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Londongeezer, it's not a matter of kicking him out over a few thousand bucks. She needs to kick him out for being an unrepentant*, habitual thief and liar.

Saying "it's only a few thousand bucks (that she knows about, so far)" is like saying "it's only a few bruises" if the issue was physical abuse.

A good marriage is built on respect, honesty, and looking out for each other. The OP's husband has shown that he doesn't respect her, that he won't be honest with her, and that he's willing to repeatedly cause harm to her through his actions. As other have indicated, he may be putting on the front of being a good husband, but he isn't one.

To the OP, I'm sorry you're going through this, but if you stay with your husband, you're going to be seeing more of this and it will likely get really bad. Listen to what the others here are telling you.

*(He may claim to be sorry, but if he's kept up the same pattern of behavior for over nine years, he's clearly not repentant.)
posted by tdismukes at 8:27 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

He's got a serious problem. Perhaps he's mentally ill. Perhaps he has a gambling problem. Perhaps it's drugs. Whatever, that needs to be worked on. By him.

As long as you're married you're jointly liable for whatever he does, financially speaking.

Probably the only way you can protect your assets for your kids is putting them into a family trust with clear rules on what can and can't be done with those assets, who the beneficiaries are, and trustees who have nothing to do with your husband.
posted by rodgerd at 9:18 PM on April 17, 2010

Um, this guy needs to go. He's a thief, I'd go so far as to say gigolo.
posted by paultopia at 12:18 AM on April 18, 2010

I agree with londongeezer. Metafilter is so willing to tell people to walk out on serious relationships, but I mean, that's advice coming from people who don't know you, have only heard your side, and have had all of minutes to reflect on the situation that you've been involved in for years.

I don't think this is really about money. Could it be that Sam is somehow accustomed to feeling guilty and ashamed about something he's done? All the time? And has to keep that going because he doesn't know how to function in a relationship unless he has a reason to feel bad about something and some kind of secret? Now, he can change, it takes time and effort is all.

Sam is a fantastic husband and father to our kids. I've got health issues - big ones - and Sam has been unfailingly supportive. He's considerate, sweet, with unending patience with the kids, and just an overall good guy, except for this one, glaring area.

See now. I don't know, maybe he's afraid to take on & resolve this one, glaring problem. One can get used to being a screwup, it's like an addiction almost. Or does he have some kind of anxiety thing about it? In times of great stress I haven't paid bills for months.. not because I couldn't, but because somehow every little task became overwhelming. If you have health issues that might stress him as well, I'd imagine. So maybe he's unconsciously creating a different situation to be stressed about (bills) to distract from stressful things that are much harder.
posted by citron at 2:12 AM on April 18, 2010

Comment from a MeFi who would prefer to remain anonymous:
I am the daughter of someone like "Sam". It was not a good life under that parent. The experience made my mother a sour, bitter person and made me, well, not quite right. To this day I struggle about my feelings about power and my relationship to money; many decisions, important decisions, were made because of the financial impact of my deceitful father like, not going to college and not trusting men. And yes, people who lie about finances lie about other many things.

Please, oh please, leave Sam for your child's sake. It is soul bruising to be raised with a parent like that.
posted by jessamyn at 6:22 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back to chime in again. Recognize that if you do stay with Sam, the only way to control the finances is to become a big ball of paranoia. It's a good idea to get a PO box for things like bills and tax checks, but now you can't put the key on your keychain or he may swipe your keys one day and have them copied. You have to change all of your security questions on bank accounts to things he won't know - but what if he guesses correctly? You tell the bank that he under no circumstances should have access to the account - but what if Sam is a smooth talker and proves that he's your husband and the teller lets him withdraw funds?

He can still sign up for credit cards. He can still rack up incredible amounts of debt, no matter how vigilent you are. And you will still be responsible for it, as you are married to him. You can be the most careful, watchful mother ever, and he can still ruin you and your children's credit if he has not already done so.

It's not entirely about the money - I don't think AskMe would be encouraging this woman to leave her husband if he suddenly had a $8,000 debt from a hospital stay, for example. It's the fact that he cannot be trusted, and has never (ever!) shown himself to be trustworthy.
posted by amicamentis at 6:43 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nobody's perfect.

Lying to and stealing from one's wife of nearly a decade is not merely an "imperfection."

This isn't about a spouse wasting a few thousand bucks--that's something that a couple could probably work through by setting up a budget and figuring out a way to keep the over-spending spouse accountable (both agree to put the over-spender on an allowance and the other spouse handles the family money, or something like that). This is about a spouse habitually creating financially dangerous situations for his family, not taking steps to include his partner in solving the problem, and not seeking help to end the behavior. The most recent episode included him shouting to the credit card company to revoke the OP's permission to access his information. He persists in trying to hide his behavior from her rather than seeking help. This is not an imperfection. It's a serious, potentially ruinous situation for the OP and her kids.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:09 AM on April 18, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Here's what I've done so far:
-Pulled Sam's credit report. It's not as awful as I'd feared - besides the outstanding $4000 balances on the card the collection agency called about on Friday, there's another account with a $700 unpaid, late balance, and that's it. I realize that's pretty bad, but I'd prepared myself to find something like $20K and was relieved to see a smaller amount than that.
-Got online to the account with the $700 balance - Sam logged me on, as I'm not on that account - and looked through the past year of statements. Sam told me last night that the initial charge on that account was for self-publication of a book (which happened several years ago) and that he hadn't charged anything on that line of credit since. Although I've only seen the past year of statements, he might be telling the truth there. What I found was a series of $39 late charges, followed by payments accompanied by $15 charges for paying over the phone. Over the past year, he's racked up hundred of dollars of charges for, basically, nothing but not paying the damn bill on time and the joy of paying my phone. I had Sam close the account with the $4000 balance, so I don't know how to get past statements for that card. Sam claims that he ran up the charges during a move in 2007, which is possible. The power of compounding interest and the fact that bills don't disappear if you ignore them could account for the balance. I pointed out to Sam that you can pay the bill right online for free. Honestly, I have no idea why he's been making phone payments. It doesn't make any sort of sense.
-Pulled my own credit report. Everything is as it should be - no mystery cards or balances. I still need to pull the kids' reports. I'm thinking of doing it from work tomorrow so Sam won't know I've done it.
-Changed all passcodes to financial accounts, including the joint and savings accounts and the stock brokerage account that I have for our kids.
-Consulted a private detective. I'm still deciding whether to go that route. I found out the rates and some of the services that are available and said that I would call back in a couple of weeks; I figure that right now Sam might be watching his steps and it could be better to give him time to get back into his regular routine, whatever that might be. I don't think there's another woman or a man or a Real Doll or anything - with the kids and his work schedule, Sam would really have to work to fit an affair or a drug habit in, but I recognize that I've been clueless enough that what I think could be dramatically inaccurate. At the same time, privacy is very important to me. Hell, I could have found out about all of this mess months ago except that I don't open Sam's mail.

Things I'll do in the next day or two:
-Find a lawyer. At the very least, that post-nup seems like a fantastic idea. I need to know how to get a trust set up for the kids and to make the trust the beneficiary on my life insurance, etc. Also, I need to see if there's a legal way beyond divorce to stop me from being responsible for Sam's debts - would the post-nup do it? Sam is on the title to the house but not on the mortgage; my credit is pretty much flawless and Sam's is a wreck, so I was able to get a much better rate on my own. I need to find out if there's more that I can do to protect the house.
-Find out when Sam's therapist appointment is - he said that he made one for this week - so that I can go along. I don't intend to sit in on it, just to accompany him there so I can be sure he goes.
-Get a safe deposit box at a bank. I'm less concerned about Sam swiping my bills from the mail to hide balances because I handle everything online. But, I could use a secure place to keep some papers as well as some credit cards.

Several responses mentioned getting fraud alerts put on credit reports. Is there a way to do this free? I saw some pay services on Equifax, etc - is that the only way to go? Also, is there a way to prevent someone from opening new lines of credit? Would a fraud alert do that?

What else ought I be doing?

The horrible, hilarious thing is that Sam was raised by parents who were excellent with money. Sam's parents always have been responsible with money and made sure that their kids were set up to have a decent future. *I'm* the one who comes from a family where my parents ran up $70K in credit card debt, on crap like clothes they didn't need and jewelry, then got a home equity loan to pay it off, then ran up the cards right over again. Not that I saw any of that.

Sam's parents have bailed him out of trouble in the past, but there was never anyone to get me out of trouble but me. With that in mind, I'm not paying Sam's credit balances. I've done that enough. Not to mention that I honestly can't pay them and keep up with the bills and mortgage, and the kids' home comes first. Also, hilariously, Sam's mother seems to think that I'm the one who's running up the balances. The last time this happened, she told me that maybe I didn't need the new clothes I'd been buying. I told her that I'd lost 50 pounds and that my old clothes were literally falling off. Then I showed her the thrift store receipt for the clothes I'd bought. Suddenly, she had nothing to say. I probably can look forward to more hilarity with her soon.

Also - I have to tell you that I'm wild about Sam. We've been together for almost 17 years and I'm still crazy about him. Our kids are crazy about him, too. Even though I'm so angry right now that it's hard for me to even look at Sam, I want to make this work if at all possible. But I can't let it cost my kids their future. I just can't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:36 AM on April 18, 2010

Something that you didn't mention - what does he think about all this? Does he see that it's a problem? Does he feel guilty? Does he want to work on this, and does he seem truly repentant? You can drive him to the therapist's every week, but if he does not want to change he will not change.

I think that a lot of your ideas are smart, if you are set on staying with Sam. But it seems like you are playing the role of babysitter rather than partner. I think the private detective is not unreasonable.

I'm glad you're meeting with a lawyer- I think that is a smart move to put someone trusted as the beneficiary.
posted by amicamentis at 10:52 AM on April 18, 2010

Of course his mom sees you as the one with the problem. If it were Sam then she might have to come to terms with the fact that she raised a son who has a problem, and that might not be something she can face. Some people would rather live in denial.

I know that you're crazy about Sam, and honestly he seems like a pretty nice guy. You still need to be very careful. I agree with amicamentis, his attitude is going to be key. If he is repentant, humble, and honestly wants to change then I think you can consider staying with him as long as you take drastic steps to protect yourself and your kids. On the other hand if he is denying, blaming other circumstances and not owning up to his mistakes I think you need to proceed with extreme caution. I think humility is the key. Admitting that he has a problem and then doing whatever it takes to make it right. If he's not willing to do that then I'm afraid you will just be facing this same situation over and over.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:25 PM on April 18, 2010

Good for you! Hope someone has an answer about the free fraud alerts.

One thought. Couples therapy vs. therapy for him. Either is better than nothing, but couples might be better. It makes SURE the focus is on what you want. It'd be a better forum for issues like "I need you to TELL me about stuff" and for discussing how you are too angry to look at him. Throw in the facts that his parents are like you, your parents were like him, and his parents are now blaming you. It sounds like a very interpersonal issue that might come out faster in a muti-person forum. Couples therapy can be a decent way to address a problem that primarily lies with one person but plays out interpersonally (e.g., hiding something). I know it's tempting to think "he's the person with the problem; he needs to go figure this out!" But therapy isn't so much about "fixing" someone(s) as about helping client(s) find a solution that works for him/them. If your desires aren't in the room, the solution that works for him might not be the one that works for you with him. So, even if the first step is to push him to go to therapy, maybe keep couples therapy in mind as a backup plan if his behavior is not shifting In the ways you want, or if your (totally justified) feelings of mistrust and anger are not going away.
posted by salvia at 2:07 PM on April 18, 2010

Wow, good for you for being so proactive and accomplishing so much in such a short time!

Putting a fraud alert on your credit reports should be free--I had to do this a few years ago when my passport and social security card were stolen. I just called them up and told them what happened, and the fraud alert was placed for free and the bureau I spoke with (Transunion, I believe) notified the other two bureaus for me. A few months later I tried to apply for a credit card and they called me to verify it was really me, so it worked perfectly. In your situation, without a burglary to report, it might be a little more difficult, but it should still be free. Also, it's only really recently that they've been pushing all the pay-for credit monitoring services--that's not the same thing that you're looking for, so don't let them talk you into paying for it. But I think you should call them rather than try to do it online and accidentally get stuck paying for something you don't want to.

FWIW, I don't think it's any accident at all that Sam's parents bailed him out and he has trouble with money, and your parents were profligate but you're good with money.

Best of luck to you.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:08 PM on April 18, 2010

*I'm* the one who comes from a family where my parents ran up $70K in credit card debt, on crap like clothes they didn't need and jewelry, then got a home equity loan to pay it off, then ran up the cards right over again. Not that I saw any of that.

For a long time I've been afraid that I would end up in your position (with a husband that I love but I can't feel secure), because I come from a similar background. I think this may explain why you have continued to forgive what others would see as gross violations. You've been living with this your whole life; it didn't start with Sam. Sam is in serious need of therapy to regain his lost integrity, and you could use your own therapy as well.
posted by Danila at 5:35 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know I'm the odd one out here, but I don't think this is as big a deal as everyone else in the trhead seems to think it is. Your husband sounds like a man with an issue to me, rather the malevolent character he's being painted to be. Certainly it would not be a deal breaker to me.

This seems like shame-based hiding behaviour to me. I can see how the (poor) decisions your husband made could easily have snowballed into the kind of lying and cover-up Sam has been engaging in.

I would take the following steps:

* Insist on full disclosure. Tell him that you have taken the 4.7K on board, but you're prepared for much worse, and that he has 24 hours to make full disclosure to you. If you find out about any additional debts after the 24 hours, you will file for divorce.

* Take full financial control of all of the money. That does not mean take full responsibility; he needs to sit down with you weekly to review payments so that the family finances are shared, even if access to funds is not.

* Put him on a cash allowance. You lie like a child, you get treated like one. Maybe in a year he can earn back a debit card.

* Consult a family attorney with your husband. He is not your enemy and arrangements for the children are a shared problem. By all means, take every step to protect them with a trust, but hiding this from your husband isn't going to help unpoison your well here.

* Insist on restitution. He owes your family savings almost 5K. Getting it from mummy isn't an option, so he better come up with Plan B, even if it takes two years.

* Do whatever else in this thread you or other people have mentioned that will make you feel more protected. But disclose them. Those actions are a consequence of his actions and he should be made to face them.

* Couples therapy, without a doubt and post-haste.

I'm sorry, I know it's not very dramatic and it probably isn't responsive to how you're feeling, but I hope it's useful.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:34 PM on May 8, 2010

This AskMe may be of relevance. Good luck!
posted by magstheaxe at 9:10 PM on May 16, 2010

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