Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Financially in the dark and in denial

He was sitting across the table from me at a restaurant inside the five-star hotel where he was staying.

“Order anything you want. It’s on me and you need to eat,” he said with a touch of pity in his voice. I could tell that he could tell that I’d been crying. My swollen, red eyes were a dead giveaway.

I kept it simple and ordered the two-egg breakfast with a slice of bacon and toast.

“What are my options?” I asked him, after getting past the introductions and some small talk. I finally picked at my eggs and tasted them for the first time since they arrived via our waiter 10 minutes prior.

He looked at the vanilla folder – my file – and slid it to the side, almost discarding it. He then folded his hands over his plate with his elbows on the table and then looked down for a few seconds.  

“You have no options,” he said, slowly shaking his head, again with a touch of pity. “Your only choice is bankruptcy.”

He suddenly looked more like a financial Grim Reaper than someone who was trying to help a friend of a friend. But the truth is he was a guardian angel. I would meet more of his kind over the next year.

The few bites I’d had of my breakfast were quickly making their way back up. I wasn’t sure if this choking feeling was from the remaining pieces of my broken heart trying to come up through my throat or the scrambled eggs. I felt faint, but I somehow managed to stay conscious and keep the eggs down. My heart was already in shambles.

I agreed to meet him at the urging of a friend who said his friend, an L.A.-based bankruptcy attorney, would review my case for free. He promised complete confidentiality, as if anyone in L.A. cared about my financial fiasco. 

He did more than review my case. He uncovered more accounts, more debt. I was in worse shape than I previously thought. He uncovered more secrets, financial secrets my husband was keeping from me.

No, he wasn’t hiding millions in an offshore account. He was spending every dollar I made, maxing out every credit card (some I knew of, some I didn’t) and using an offshore account for online gambling. It had less than $20 in it.

To his credit, the attorney kept it real. He didn’t bullshit me. He laid it all on the table, literally. He told me to write down three important things that I needed to take action on immediately:
- Get your hands on as much paperwork as you can on the mortgages
- Get as many bank statements as you can find
- Get copies of your tax returns

He gave me his cell phone number and e-mail address. He gave the name of another bankruptcy attorney – someone in my area – who he’d already contacted and who had agreed to handle my case.

Sadly, the above mentioned items were things my husband had stopped allowing me to have in my possession. I was not allowed to get the mail, let alone open it. I hadn’t seen a bank statement in years and I had no idea where he kept the mortgage papers or tax returns.

Following through on the attorney’s instructions would turn into a covert operation.

I felt like a stranger in my own home as I rummaged through his drawers, duffle bags and closet, carefully putting things back in their place as to not arouse any suspicion. He placed certain things in a certain way on top of the papers he was hiding. If something was out of place, he would know I had been there.

There was the paper weight facing east in the second drawer. There was a baseball cap tilted slightly to the side in the closet.

What made the operation even harder is that he rarely ever left the house and I was hardly ever home. He supposedly worked from home and I was actually working. 

I was in the dark when it came to our finances, but I was also in denial. I had put every ounce of my financial trust in my husband’s hands. 

Ironically, my decision to end my marriage had very little to do with our financials. It was at the bottom of the laundry list of reasons as to why I was divorcing him. 

What I already knew in my gut, suddenly became crystal clear as I stared down at my scrambled eggs. I had to move out of the house (with the kids and soon!) and I had to make this financial mess a top priority. We were not only on the brink of losing one house, but two.


  1. I sooo feel your pain, sister. I was in the exact same place many yrs ago with 3 little ones to take care of it. You will make it through and after you do, you will look back and say "How did I get through all of that?" I wish you all the best. I'm following now so I will ck back to see how you're doing! You can find me over at

  2. That's a rough place to start before a divorce. Probably felt like an impossible mission. How far are you in the process now? Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? If not, I promise, it'll be there if you just keep walking one step at a time.

  3. You are a brave and strong woman to have gone through this mess and come out the other side with your heart, humor and spirit in tact. I am so sorry for what you have had to endure. I hope most of this financial wreckage is cleared away now.

  4. Wow. OMG. Unbelievable. I wish I had a magic wand. That is quite a story. Hang in; you will make it through this.

  5. My situation was different, though financial peril has continued to be part of my life for the decade since divorce. I also recall the period of "discovery" - both legal and otherwise - that revealed all sorts of things that I was unaware of.

    There's nothing anyone can say (if they haven't lived some version of it). And maybe nothing any of us can say except focusing on your kids will help keep you sane, and get through whatever you have to.

    Hang tough. Be smart. Listen to your gut. And no denial.

  6. Ugh, ugh and ugh again.

    This makes my stomcah drop to my knees, my heart sink, and my body ache.

    Finances were part of the reason we divorced, and are all of the reason I will not own a home for 5-7 years.

    At least when you have nothing, they have nothing to take.

    I don't even own a car anymore. :)

    But I do have love, and my kids.

    My credit score was a small price to pay for that.

  7. Dang girl... that's awful. It sounds like you were in good hands! You did have an angel! Hope it's all better and getting worked out now.

    And you're learning some new things too, huh?

    ((Big hugs))

  8. Hey Fishy,
    I absolutely love your writing & am so thankful you have the courage to share you story with us. You give me strength!
    Your friend Dishy D

  9. Kimberly: I've since filed for bankruptcy (for myself), went to court and received a discharge. I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. On some days, it's a huge, shiny light, sending me signals on where to go, where to turn. ("Walk this way...") But there are days where I can barely see a flicker of light. Those are the days when I have to reach deep down inside myself and grab a chunk of strength from the reserves. Then I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. :)

  10. Not to minimize anything down to a song lyric, but for the second time this week I feel compelled to say:

    Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

    And I mean that in avoid way. I'm almost a year from where you are and I've never been happier.

  11. I meant to say I mean it in a good way.

    Damn auto-correct!

  12. Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? How many people have to tell this story? Be responsible for your share all the way through... There's no free lunch, and if there were, you'd be a fool to think there wouldn't be a price to pay somewhere.

  13. Anonymous: I'm not asking for a pity party. I hope my story brings awareness to the subject and how important it is to have both partners involved in the finances.

  14. I made the same mistakes in letting my (ex)husband control the finances. Never again. A hard lesson learned, indeed.

    And I don't need a pity party either :) I learned, as you did.

  15. That's right. Never again! We learned the hard way, but at least we learned. Thanks for sharing, Athena!

  16. I just wrote about a smilar topic, Divorce and Taxes. And I learned my lesson when it comes to signing anything! Good luck, youo WILL be ok. I have been divorced just over 3 years and am finally really feeling like I've got some order and confidence about finances and what my future holds. its not easy, but you will proud of what you accomplish. And "Anonymous" is a loser. :)

  17. Thanks Barb! I'm finally feeling like I'm going to be OK. It's been a year since the separation. Will be checking out your article... Thanks again!