When one spouse “cheats” with money

The travails of Financial Infidelity.

When I read this on Get Rich Slowly, I was heartbroken:

My ex took out a credit card in my name and ran up $40,000 debt without my knowledge. Now I’m paying it off. I asked the credit card company to investigate the matter as fraud, but they didn’t. It doesn’t seem like I have many rights. As I found out, there were many secrets behind the numbers. Right now, I’m waiting for the divorce to come through.

It’s called Financial Infidelity and it is tearing apart families. Divorce is painful and expensive — two realities that are exacerbated when one has “cheated” with the shared finances by accumulating credit card debt, making secret purchases and dealing in silent investments.

Though I was not married, I, too have been a victim of this type of activity with a partner. To recover from it — I’ve almost paid off a credit card that was maxed out without my knowledge — one must first get past the anger and get to the business of once again becoming financially whole. Outside of legal action, that means having the discipline to begin the process of paying down the debt.

This article offers terrific advice to help you get on track. For me, one item stood out since it clearly defined my own behavior at the time when I allowed this to happen to me:

Lastly, if your spouse has committed financial infidelity, you may need to take a long hard look at your own money habits and head-in-the-sand behavior.

There are, according to the article (and I agree), two prongs: The Mess and The Marriage. Get your credit report to see if there are any other accounts opened in your name and the complete debt owed. Then, begin the process of repayment. You may need to sell items, get credit counseling, downsize and make other life adjustments. And, if you and your spouse remain together, he or she will need to contribute, perhaps by getting a second job and certainly by getting rid of the items that were purchased. Use that money to help repay the debt.

Then, there is the issue of the marriage. Unfortunately, you could discover that your partner has a spending habit that needs to be addressed, or worse, an addiction that requires him or her to seek professional help. Then, there’s the issue of looking in the mirror to determine how you became so uninvolved in the family’s (and your own) financial matters — daily and long-term — that you did not notice credit accounts, excessive spending and other financial misdeeds going on under your nose. Yes, your partner or spouse probably went to great lengths to keep it hidden, but in all honesty, you may not have been paying close enough attention, either. I know I didn’t, a mistake that I’ll never repeat.

Question: Have you ever been involved in financial infidelity? Did you “cheat” with money? Did your partner or spouse? How did you handle it, and what was the damage?

More importantly, how do you think this type of issue can be avoided in relationships?

Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains or on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter

13 comments Add your comment


May 21st, 2010
8:44 am

AJC, please delete comments when they have nothing to do with the post and kindly instruct people to post on the appropriate blogs.


May 21st, 2010
8:48 am

Now to my comment…

This is VERY sad. But once you “catch” the person, and start to address the bills, etc., what is to stop them from doing it again?

I have seen this a couple of times and the person who is running around spending like crazy and opening credit cards all over town is always very defensive and don’t seem to understand what they are doing is wrong. It’s like they can’t stop and think, “I don’t need to buy these shoes because I am using up the last of my money for the month and we will end up short and unable to pay our bills.” It’s like stupid things like clothes they don’t need and trinkets are very important to them, and being able to pay bills, make the mortgage and save for retirement is no where on their list of priorities…


May 21st, 2010
9:24 am

This person should have filed a police report to charge fraud, not the credit card company. Then, she sends the police report to the credit card company. If she pays it off herself, then she’s a double idiot (once for being with the guy and again for paying it herself)!


May 21st, 2010
9:38 am

This article is insane. If someone opens a credit card in your name without your authorization, it is fraud. All of those charges you did not authorize are the result of unauthorized use. The appropriate thing to do is not to pay off someone else’s debt. They will never learn that what they did is wrong, and it is not your responsibility to pay off a credit card when someone else (anyone else) has stolen your identity.

The appropriate thing to do is to file a police report as you are the victim of identity theft. The second step is to send a letter certified mail with return receipt requested to the credit card company to their designated address for billing inquiries and state that the account is fraudulent and the result of identity theft, that all charges were the result of unauthorized use, and include a copy of the police report. The third step is to dispute the charges with the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). If the tradeline is reaffirmed, dispute it again. If it is reaffirmed again, get a consumer lawyer and sue under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Georgia Fair Business Practices Act.

The last step is to file for divorce. Your ex-spouse may have charges pressed against them for the ID theft if pursued by the credit card company. They may just be sued by the credit card company on the debt. Either way, the debt belongs to the person who incurred it, and they will only learn their lesson if they have to pay it back.

[...] When one spouse “cheats” with moneyAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)You may need to sell items, get credit counseling, downsize and make other life adjustments. And, if you and your spouse remain together, he or she will … [...]

Voice of Reason

May 21st, 2010
12:31 pm

Some of you are missing a huge point…. this person in the Get Rich Slowly article was married to this person. You can’t file a police report…its not fraud…its perfectly legal…and she IS responsible for the debt.

Even if it becomes mandated by the court (during/after the divorce proceedings) that he pay the debt, the debt will still be in her name and if he doesn’t pay it, she still on the hook.

Valentine Wiggin

May 21st, 2010
12:41 pm

Thanks Voice of Reason. You’re exactly right. Seems that the marriage contract makes it pretty much impossible to prove fraud. I know, I’ve been there. I am now divorced BTW. Ended up refinancing my mortgage to pay off the debt. Hard lesson for sure because you think you can trust your spouse, right? At least I did. Boy, was I played.

Haywood Jablome

May 21st, 2010
1:11 pm

AJC, please delete comments when they have nothing to do with the post and kindly instruct people to post on the appropriate blogs like the comment above by HP at 8:44.


May 22nd, 2010
9:08 am

When I was 33, I fell out with a bad heart and entered into a coma for 23 days. When I came out, I began to come around. I wondered why my wife wouldn’t come around. Then my father told me. My ex had forged my name to a ten thousand dollar limit card and gotten some silicone surgery. THen some new clothes after she drained 31 grand out of the checking account and paid off HER debt that I didn’t know about. My father had the gumption to file against her to stop her before she got to my 401 k. She did not work at all. I ended up having a heart transplant and more than one of my doctors think the added stress of her and the divorce made it worse. This is a very serious matter.


May 22nd, 2010
9:54 am

If someone forges your name and applies for credit in your name *even if you are married to them* it is illegal. It doesn’t matter any extenuating circumstances, it is illegal, you can file a police report, and you can have them prosecuted. And it is not your debt.
There are other reasons one might have to pay off a spouse’s debt – i.e., there is a joint credit card and one of them racks up debt, or writes checks from a home equity line, or a line of credit, etc. But if someone forges your name, yes, you can have them prosecuted.


May 22nd, 2010
11:03 am

Ban H.P.’s I.P. address to keep jerks like him from posting.


May 22nd, 2010
11:16 am

atlmom is right – and Voice of Reason and Valentine Wiggin are wrong.

If someone applies for credit in your name (unauthorized by you), it’s FRAUD. Plain and simple. What, just because they’re married to you, you don’t think you can file charges against them? Think again. A woman can file charges against her husband for abuse if he beats her – she can also file fraud charges against him if he impersonates her on credit applications.

Nail the SOB.


May 22nd, 2010
11:39 am

Jane you are mistaken. I work for a credit card company, and we run into this problem all the time. Unfortunately, our hands are tied when this occurs. There is nothing that can be done on our end to help the spouse. They are tied to the debt indefinitely.