Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old and another who was quite literally ghosted by her own husband.
If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, share your thoughts, experience or advice about, drop a line to [email protected] with ‘Divorce’ in the subject line. All stories that are published will win a Dermalogica BioLumin-C Moisturiser, valued at $119!
This week we talk to an Auckland based woman who had her life turned upside down during the pandemic after problems had been brewing with her husband for months, if not years…
When Kate* and Dean met in a London pub while on their OEs, they made a pact that they’d keep travelling once they’d settled back down in NZ.
And they did – every year they squirrelled away their annual leave and took at least one big overseas holiday. Thankfully, they both had jobs that paid reasonably well, and they were very careful with their spending, which made their travels – and a beautiful wedding – possible.
Their goal was to buy a house by the time they were 32 and start trying for children by 35 and while they worked to a fairly strict budget, they each kept a bank account of their own where they had a bit of money to play with, however they wanted, as well as their shared account.
Kate says it was ideal for their different approaches to spending. “Dean was more of a big item spender,” she tells. “Like, he wouldn’t often buy clothes, but then he’d spend $350 on a pair of shoes, or a grand on golf clubs or something.”
On the other hand, Kate would rarely spend over $100 in one go. “I just liked being able to buy a random pair of earrings, or some dirty drive through food on my way home without him seeing every little purchase I’d made. It definitely meant less arguments – especially because we were spending about the same overall, just in different ways!”
But their finances took an unexpected turn shortly after they’d turned 30. Dean had been complaining about his work for months – he said his boss had it in for him and he was obviously under a lot of stress. It was clearly getting to him and he was often short with her when he finished for the day. Then, one day he came home, very excited, announcing that he’d quit and was going to do his own thing.
But rather than sharing his excitement, Kate was shocked – and a little pissed off.
“We’d really knuckled down in the last year or two to try to get a house deposit together,” she tells. “This was pretty huge – I mean, he was going from earning a decent salary to starting his own business and not having a regular income. Everyone knows that’s tough. You always hear stuff about it taking years before you start making a profit. I would have been happy to go through that and support him – particularly coz he was hating his job! – but it was the fact he didn’t even discuss it before he quit that made me really mad.”
Dean was rightaway annoyed and disappointed right back at Kate over the fact that she didn’t share his excitement and he stormed out of the house. He argued that he was about to make more money than ever before, but instead she doubted him. Why couldn’t she be more supportive? Why did she think so little of him?
Over the coming year it’d be something she heard from him a lot – that she’d never been on board and wanted him to fail. But while she was trying to be positive, she was worried. Dean was working in an importing based business, and had seen “the mistakes his old company made and how he could do it so much better,” says Kate.
But now, Dean seemed more stressed out than ever. While Kate pushed him to tell her all the details of how things were going, in case she might be able to help in some way, Dean was reluctant to tell her anything and would quickly change the subject. He’d stopped making transfers to their joint account, constantly talking up massive payments that were due. “This way of getting paid going to be irregular, but massive,” he told her.
Instead, something always happened – some guy was always screwing him over, there was a problem at customs, or an accounts department was screwing up. Soon, he was asking to transfer a little buffer of money for his personal account so that he could do normal things like get a beer with a mate etc. “He was so casual about it – how it didn’t matter how things looked right now, he was about to get some huge payments,” tells Kate.
She trusted him – he’d give her details of the payments that were due – and she started getting her salary paid directly into their joint account, stopped transferring anything to her own account and curbed her spending even further.
Which is when Covid-19 hit, and suddenly, Dean’s business was surely in trouble with its reliance on importing goods. But strangely, Dean didn’t seem worried. “He called his business, ‘pandemic-proof’, but wouldn’t elaborate any further.” In fact, he didn’t seem to be too keen to talk much, full stop, and Kate worried that their relationship was starting to really go south.
They somehow limped by for months – occasionally Dean would transfer money into the account saying he’d received a down-payment, but Kate had given up on any hopes that they may be in a position to buy a house anytime soon, particularly as Dean didn’t seem likely to be able to provide proof of an income.
One day, a letter turned up addressed to him from a bank that was different to the one they were with – and while she didn’t think too much of it, she questioned him about it. “He said he’d opened a business account with them because they were better for business banking,” tells Kate. Dean later said some payments had come through but he couldn’t transfer from that bank without incurring big fees, so he’d instead pay for groceries and bills from that account, while rent automatically left their shared account.
But then came a week that would completely change their relationship.
Dean had told Kate he needed to go to Tauranga because that’s where a container of stock had come in, and he needed to be there to coordinate things. But, early the following week, his phone pinged while they were watching TV. It was the Covid-19 tracer app – he’d been at a location of interest that made him a close contact.
“I saw the notification, but not where the spot was,” says Kate. And unfortunately, after scouring the Ministry of Health’s website, she discovered there were no locations in Tauranga. But there were a few in bars in Auckland’s CBD…
“I had such a bad feeling about it,” tells Kate. So she waited until he was in the shower, then started going through his things. “I was looking for, I think I thought I might find a receipt or something that might make things clear.” Instead, she found the password to his online banking, with that rival bank.
She suggested to Dean that they try to keep separate while he was awaiting his Covid test results, so he went to the spare room after his shower, while she took her laptop to bed, waited for the light in the spare room to turn off, and logged into his account.
There, she got far, far more than she bargained for.
Yes, as she had feared, Dean hadn’t been in Tauranga for two nights the week previously – instead there were transactions for a hotel in town, plus a number of charges to bars – including the one she’d seen listed as a place of interest.
“It’s so vivid, but also a real blur, y’know?” says Kate, through tears, remembering that moment.
Because, not only had Dean lied about where he’d been (and she could only imagine the reason he might have been holed up in a hotel room for a couple of nights, going to bars where he was clearly buying drinks two at a time), but his bank statements told a very different story to what he was telling her about his finances.
Dean did have some spending money, and yes, he was buying the groceries, paying for her WOF and incidentals that came up (as well as some spending that looked far more frivolous than the way she was now living to make ends meet) but he wasn’t using money that he’d earned. He somehow had a loan of $75,000 and he’d nearly spent it all.
“I went to the bathroom thinking I was going to throw up, but instead I just sat in there, shaking,” Kate tells. She wasn’t sure if she’d been there five minutes, or five hours – time had lost meaning. “I was even in too much shock to cry,” she says.
Without looking at the clock, she stormed into the spare bedroom.
“I screamed, ‘you f****ing asshole’ and put my laptop down in front of him,” she remembers. She’d intended on staying there, grilling him, but instead she felt so repulsed by him she had to leave. “It was like this adrenaline surge – I had to get out. I just picked up my wallet and keys and drove to my mum’s house.”
In the following days, Dean denied the whole thing – and changed his online banking password, but thankfully she’d taken screenshots. He then conceded he’d stayed in Auckland instead of going to Tauranga, but claimed it had been for a stag do and he turned it around on her, saying she’d been so obsessed with every expenditure they’d been making that he feared she’d put a stop to it and he’d miss his best friend’s big day if he told her about it.
“It disgusts me that he got his friends to lie about it,” she says. “I know there was no stag do. The wedding wasn’t for six months.”
Kate emailed her landlord and let them know she was moving out and Dean would be responsible for the lease. She packed up as many of her own things as she could and moved into her mum’s spare room, while her friends encouraged her to get a lawyer.
And just as well she had support, because from there, things only continued to go downhill. Over the following months, Kate would be visited by debt collectors as she watched their joint savings disappear to pay the loans that Dean had racked up from different banks and lenders. He’d used their savings – and proof of her income to take out numerous loans, and despite Kate not being aware of them, as his wife, it was a shared debt. While Kate had entirely curbed her spending and hadn’t bought a new item of clothing, dinner out or unnecessary expense in over a year, she was now also responsible for his debts, and was now completely in the red.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” she says. “I felt like such an idiot – and so many people said things like, ‘didn’t you think it was weird how he did X…?’ or questioned me about things that had happened, which didn’t help. I thought he was going through a rough patch, but we were married and I trusted him and I thought we’d figure it out. He never touched our savings account, and I figured if we were really in trouble we’d have dipped into that.”
Since their breakup she’s learned more and more – including the fact that yes, Dean did quit that day to start his own business, but he did so because he was on his final warning at work and had been called into a disciplinary meeting. He quit before they could fire him. His business looked doomed to fail before it even started
Now, in a new year, Kate is trying to make a fresh start. Financially, she’s in a better position – now just owing her mum a small amount after she set her up with a bond on an apartment and some furniture to start over. She’s mindful of what she spends though – she hopes to pay back her mum and go on a holiday when the borders open.
Dean however, from what she’s seen and heard seems to be in a much better position than her – financially and on the surface at least anyway. His new girlfriend – the one he took out for a few nights in town – apparently has no shortage of cash and is “investing” in her boyfriend, financially backing him while he gets his business back on track. She’s even surprised him with a recent trip to Rarotonga.
“It’s hard to not be incredibly bitter,” says Kate, who says she is sharing her story because of all the shame and anger she feels. “My lawyer says he’s seen this happen more often than you think. I’d only heard of women being ripped off by internet scams – mainly old women, or younger, lonely women preyed on by men. I’d never heard of a husband scamming his own wife!”
Kate says she doesn’t want to be pessimistic about men as she moves forward with her life, and she’s not sharing her story to scare women or “make them start going through their husband or boyfriend’s phone/email/bank statements”, but she wants women to know this can happen, and if it’s happened to them, they should forgive themselves.
“You make vows and you literally promise for richer or poorer,” she says. “You are open minded and trusting and loving because of those vows. You can’t punish yourself forever for sticking to that.”
*Names have been changed