In a healthy marriage, the family finances are transparent. Even if one person is responsible for handling the finances, the other is kept abreast of the situation and is involved in decision-making. Finances are discussed openly and both spouses participate in all things financial. Responsibilities may be split or may be handled primarily by one spouse, but there is nothing hidden. There is nothing untoward going on.
When there is financial abuse being perpetrated, it is not uncommon for the abuser to keep tight control over the finances and shut out the other spouse. The abuser knows everything that is going on financially and the abused is frequently clueless, unable to access accounts, not told what is happening, lied to, and often kept on a strict budget.
In the legal world, specifically during a divorce, there are two terms that are used to describe the role of each spouse if they are NOT both involved and aware of the finances.
The “in spouse” is the person who is “in the know” about the finances and handles the majority or all the financial management for the family.
On the other hand, the person who does not handle the finances or is left out is called the “out spouse.”
If we think back to the 1950s when it was traditional for the man to work and the woman to stay home and raise the family, it was not uncommon for the man to handle all the finances. And, in many cases, that set up worked just fine.
Unless it’s a long term very traditional marriage, we don’t see that being the case much anymore. Sure, it still happens and as long as the woman is included in decisions, has access to the accounts and records, and knows what is going on, it’s not a problem.
It becomes a problem when:
- There is financial abuse going on.
- The woman wants a divorce and has no idea what the financial state of the family is or how to manage her own financial life.
Being the out spouse can definitely inhibit one’s ability to leave a marriage, even if there isn’t financial abuse.
I would speculate that in most cases where there is a distinct in spouse and out spouse, there is a high probability that there is financial abuse going on.
If you are in a marriage where your spouse controls all the finances and you identify as the out spouse, I would encourage you to examine your situation and take steps to change it. Being the out spouse will set you up for greater challenges should anything happen to your marriage. Even if there isn’t financial abuse going on, it’s still smart to learn everything you can just in case your spouse dies before you do.
If you recognize that you’re an out spouse, then start taking steps to learn about the joint finances. Ask to be included when decisions are made, ask to see the family budget, ask for access to all accounts. If you are in a healthy marriage, you may surprise your spouse with your sudden interest in understanding the joint finances, but he should be happy to educate and include you.
However, if you get resistance, he refuses, or he gets angry that you want to know, then you are dealing with financial abuse.
If you realize that you are not only the out spouse but being financially abused, then I recommend you begin to address that issue as quickly as you can. Start by investigating, safely, whatever you can about the finances. If he refuses to openly share information with you then there is a high probability that he is hiding things from you.
You have the legal right to access any accounts that your name is on, so suss out which accounts you are on and call the institution to gain access. You also can easily run your own credit report and see which credit accounts are in your name. Additionally, if you file joint taxes, then you can contact the IRS and your state tax agency to get copies of your recent tax returns.
If your spouse is abusive in other ways that could cause you great harm, be careful in doing this research. Use someone else’s computer, or at the least clear your browsing history, and keep paper copies at a trusted friend’s house.
You need to keep yourself safe first and foremost.
He may be notified if you gain access to accounts so be prepared for a confrontation. If you’ve politely asked for access and he’s refused, he will likely be upset that you went behind his back. However, you are an equal partner, no matter what else he says, and you have a right to know what is going on financially in your life.
Once you have as much information as you can safely gather, then you can make your decision on what to do next.
It’s up to you to figure out what is best for you and how to move forward.
If you end up divorcing, do your best to become educated and included in all joint financial responsibilities beforehand. Being the out spouse puts you at a disadvantage going into a divorce. Remember, knowledge is power, and you want to be as knowledgeable as you can be so that you can get the best possible settlement. Starting with understanding the difference between the in spouse and the out spouse will help you begin your journey to being more financially savvy.
Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (https://strongwomenthriving.com/), a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a new book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join our FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/womensurivingfinancialabuse