True Story: My Spouse Skipped Town and Left Me Penniless!

I’d always considered myself pretty street smart. You know, the kind of girl that didn’t have an easy life and had learned many lessons via the School of Hard Knocks.

Then I married my Prince Charming. He didn’t make much money, but we shared the same values, including those regarding personal finance; prior to meeting him I built up an 18-month emergency fund that exceeded $50,000.

Life was good — until that fateful day when the world was turned upside down: My prince ran off with the pot of gold.

One day I was happily married and on a solid financial footing. The next day, I was alone and near broke — just 23 months into my marriage.

I was 48 years old.

At the time, I was making about $106,000 annually. He was making $23,000.

The damage was devastating; he left me nearly penniless.

Before skipping out he drained the entire emergency fund, plus the checking account — including my most recent paycheck — and all of the money that was going to be used to pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, only my name was on the loan — even though his name was on the title, due to a quirk in the refinance process.

Adding insult to injury, I had put money into his Roth IRA, covered his life and dental insurance, paid for his messed-up teeth, fixed his truck, paid off his back child support and retired his tax obligations. After all, he was my husband; I trusted him.

The first issue I had to deal with was how to cash-flow this disaster. I was fortunate that my house was full of food when he left. Thankfully, he also skipped out early in a month that I received three paychecks. Otherwise, I would have had a tough time covering the mortgage.

After my next paycheck arrived, I was able to pay the utility bills and my car insurance.

The third check paid the lawyers.

Thereafter, I lived close to the bone. My lawyer fees ultimately came to about $9000.

When something like this happens, there are two sides to the coin: emotional and financial. Any divorce attorney will tell you that everything becomes about the money — and that’s exactly what happened.

If you ever have the same misfortune, your losses will be determined by your state of residence.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to protect yourself before, during and after such a crisis.

Before the Crisis

Get and stay organized. Have your financial documents in a safe place. Some of my critical documents mysteriously disappeared — so make copies that only you know about. Be prepared to prove what you had before the marriage with respect to: savings, checking, and retirement accounts, and how much you owed on your house, if applicable. That info will save thousands in attorney fees.

Be alert. If your gut tells you something is wrong, then something is probably wrong.

Cultivate good friends. Establish a tight circle.

During the Crisis

Don’t try to figure out the emotional side. Sane people can’t figure out crazy and selfish people!

Assemble a “Ninja Squad.” For me that included:

  • A bulldog lawyer who set expectations for a realistic outcome.
  • An old friend who knew me well and wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.
  • A physically strong friend to act as a second set of hands. And I mean a friend, not the kind with “benefits” — which could hurt my divorce case.
  • Someone willing to listen to me rant without judgment.
  • A caring doctor.
  • A therapist! Remember that grieving is normal.

Take care of yourself. If you have trouble sleeping, see your doctor; stressful situations are worse without adequate sleep. And don’t forget to eat. Sometimes I went three days between meals.

Be prepared for the opposition. Don’t expect any cooperation to help reduce costs — he ran off with your life savings and will protect his theft at all costs. Don’t get angry. Stay logical. Don’t be surprised if his lawyer’s accusations are unfounded. Take solace in your lawyer’s competency and the unbridled fact that judges have seen this many times.

Change passwords. Immediately. For every account.

Avoid social media. Don’t put any ammunition in his guns — he’ll shoot you with it.

Stick to your budget. Keep everything paid to the best of your ability.

Prepare to lose some mutual friends. The ones you lose were never real friends anyway.

Don’t expect support from relatives. If you do, then you’re one lucky person!

Consider informing your boss. If your boss is the type you can tell, do it — but keep out the details. A brief high-level talk is all that’s necessary.

Don’t hope for reconciliation. He’s not coming back. He used you and thinks you’re a fool. The sooner you realize this the better.

After the Crisis

Count your blessings. Focus on the blessings — not your failures. Like all things, this will pass.

Try again. I find consolation in the phrase: “Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Although my next partner will have a similar income and net worth to me — or better.


I’m fine now. I’ve remained debt free, except for the mortgage — and I’m still doing the same thing I did back when I built my original pot of gold: working hard, living close to the bone and running a tight budget.

Ten months after my nightmare unfolded, I was able to rebuild my emergency fund and pay the divorce lawyer, while keeping food on the table and paying all of the other bills on time. Sadly, I was unable to invest for my retirement during that period — but to tell you the truth, I was glad to be rid of my ex-husband!

One last note: Life smiled on me two months after we split with a new job and a $27,000 per year raise!

Life is good and getting better. Every day.

Photo Credit: Above Top Secret